June 18, 2013 11:34:15 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
OMAHA, Neb. -- Chad Girodo hasn't had to question anything about his stuff this season.
However, the Mississippi State University senior left-hander had to figure things out in a hurry in the third inning Monday in front of 25,620 people at the College World Series.
After entering a 1-1 game with a runner on first base, the Toronto Blue Jays' ninth-round Major League Baseball draft pick allowed four of the next five batters to reach, and two to score.
"I didn't think I could get my slider over the plate all night, so I was thinking, 'Oh no, what do I do now if the pitch that has worked for me throughout this run isn't going to work,' " Girodo said. "Once again, I needed to not think so much."
Girodo minimized the damage by striking out Indiana University's Casey Smith on that slider to leave the bases loaded and keep the Hoosiers' lead at 3-1 lead.
The three-pitch strikeout in the first inning of Girodo's first CWS appearance came in similar fashion to many of the 34 Girodo has had in the NCAA tournament. Smith was unable to do anything with a biting slider that only got better as Girodo went deeper into a 6 1/3-inning outing that helped MSU stay in the game and rally for a 5-4 victory in a winners' bracket game.
In all, Girodo (9-1) allowed seven hits and two runs in relief of starting pitcher Trevor Fitts. Girodo walked one and struck out 10 to push MSU (50-18) one victory from the best-of-three championship series next week.
"I just thought the story of the game is Chad ... just battling and battling and battling," MSU coach John Cohen said.
Girodo struck out the side in the fourth, stranding a runner at first base. He stranded men at the corners in the fifth by striking out Smith again. He stranded runners at second and third in the seventh by striking out eighth-round draft pick Dustin DeMuth, arguably the Hoosiers' best hitter. Girodo's tight-rope act kept Indiana (49-15) from adding to its lead, which shrunk to one run in the sixth and disappeared in MSU's three-run eighth.
All of Girodo's strikeouts came on a sweeping 75-78 mph slider, which was just as effective against left-handed hitters as it was against right-handed hitters thanks to his ability to back-door it, or throw it to a righty's back foot.
"At the beginning (of the season), when I first started facing righties with (my slider), I knew it was running into their bats, so I was kind of iffy on throwing it," Girodo said. "Then one day I was like, 'It's my best pitch, I'm going to go with it,' and if I get beat then I got beat with my best pitch on that day."
Girodo has used that pitch to become a stopper in the postseason. In four appearances, Girodo (3-0) has thrown 19 1/3 innings and allowed 18 hits, five runs (four earned), and five walks. He has 34 strikeouts, and has three consecutive games with 10 or more.
Even as MSU failed to name a starting pitcher until 90 minutes before the National Anthem, Girodo knew he would be called on and have to face Indiana's offense once or twice through the order. Against a offense that led the Big Ten Conference in every power category, Girodo's main thought Monday evening was don't think.
"Once I start thinking about how to fool the hitter, I get in trouble," Girodo said. "My catcher always yells at me to throw that slider until a team proves they can hit it. Nobody has yet in the postseason."
Fitts, a sophomore right-hander, went 2 1/3 innings in his fourth start, which Cohen referred to as a "quality start." In a system in which MSU's bullpen is its strength, Fitts' outing rejected the normal thinking of what determines a quality performance by a starting pitcher.
"(Fitts) knows what's coming in behind him," Cohen said. "He absolutely knows Girodo is going to come in behind him. But I thought he just did a masterful job of getting us off to a pretty good start."
Girodo is one of several MSU relievers who has accepted his role in a bullpen that has won 33 games. In all, MSU's bullpen is 33-5 with 23 saves. It has 328 strikeouts in 320 1/3 innings (of MSU's 616 1/3).
"We're definitely not the normal plan of starter goes six or seven (innings) and then you bring in the closer situation," Girodo said. "We're definitely not traditional, but everybody knows their own role, and we just work together and do our job when our number is called. If not, somebody is behind you is just as good."
MSU recorded 14 strikeouts, the most for its pitching staff in a CWS game in school history.
"I was just a little upset about our lack of competitiveness in the batter's box, and that's taking absolutely nothing away from Girodo," Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. "He's good. He's really good, but he's not Sandy Koufax, and we've got to do a better job of digging in there and simply put balls in play."
Girodo's 10 strikeouts tied Steve Susce (June 2, 1981, vs. Arizona State University) and Tracy Jobes (June 3, 1990, vs. Georgia Southern University) for the most by a MSU pitcher in the CWS.
"I really had no clue, and it didn't even feel like I had five or six," Girodo said when asked if he knew how many strikeouts he had. "I just try to get in a zone, not worry about anything. It's been going well for me."