He was wrought with grief after the death of his father on June 10, 2012.
Exactly 365 days later, Rodriguez applied the tag that effectively ended Kansas State’s baseball season in the Corvallis Super Regional.
There was still another inning to play when Rodriguez caught the dart thrown by left fielder Michael Conforto and tagged out his counterpart, Wildcats’ catcher Blair DeBord three feet up the line from home plate to preserve a 4-3 Beavers advantage.
With senior Matt Boyd on the mound in a relief role – just over 48 hours after Boyd had thrown 124 pitches in a no-decision – the Beavers made the lead standup and claimed their fourth trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., since 2005. They’ll be looking for their third CWS title, having won the crown in ’06 and ’07, in their fifth ever trip.
For all of the Beavers, it was emotionally overwhelming to realize a dream that – for Boyd and Conforto, among others – began in that 2007 campaign. Boyd committed to OSU with the goal of winning a conference title (Pac-12 champions, 2013), pitching in Omaha (will be accomplished this weekend) and winning a CWS crown (to be seen, there are seven other quality clubs playing in Omaha in the next two weeks.).
Conforto, the Pac-12 Player of the Year as a sophomore this season, was a member of a travelling team that played in Omaha during the 2007 CWS. He witnessed up close as the Beavers dog piled following their second consecutive championship run.
“I didn’t know I was going to be playing here then, but I remember watching them win it and thinking I wanted to do that, too,” Conforto said.
A day after knocking Kansas State (45-19) around with 21 hits in a 12-3 victory, the Beavers (50-11) mustered just six hits and four runs.
The Wildcats believed to the end that they could win the game, although their offense struggled all weekend against OSU’s stellar starting pitching – Boyd, Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler – though they found plentiful success against the bullpen.
Boyd made sure he would pitch on Monday, telling coach Pat Casey he was ready to come back on short rest following OSU’s 6-2 loss in Game 1 of the Super Regional. Moore and reliever Scott Schultz combined to keep K-State in check in Game 2, while the offense was magical.
“We knew Max (Englebrekt, injured in Saturday’s Game 1) couldn’t pitch,” Casey said. “Matt made it very clear to me that he was ready to pitch and I knew if we got to a situation where it was a one-run game we would go to Matt and keep him on a low pitch count.”
In the series finale, Kansas State went with freshman reliever Jake Matthys (9-2), who had not started a game all season. Matthys lasted 4 2/3 innings, surrendering four runs – two on Danny Hayes homer in the second inning. The rest of K-State’s bullpen held the Beavers scoreless.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, finally broke through against Wetzler in the eighth, scoring twice as the junior lefty’s pitch count climbed to a season-high 131. With two runs in, two outs and DeBord on second, OSU turned to Boyd.
“That is what you are going to see. People have been doing it all weekend, bringing out their Friday guys,” KSU coach Brad Hill said. “It is to go to Omaha, so you are going to bring your best guy out. I wasn’t surprised at all because he was in the bullpen, so we saw him warming up.”
Boyd, a first-year starter for OSU, was a reliever through most of the last two seasons. He was the lone underclassman drafted in 2012 and he predicted OSU would go to Omaha when he announced his return last July.
“I don’t know a better scenario than for a guy who turns down Major League Baseball, comes back to school and gets to go to Omaha,” Casey said. “Hopefully that’s a testament not only to our baseball team, but our university, our athletic department and what we stand for at Oregon State University.”
For the Wildcats, the loss was bitter, yet they refused to make excuses. They were predicted to be the seventh-place club in the Big XII. Instead, they won the conference and were within a big hit of going to Omaha. They were also within a pitch of being swept in the Super Regional.
“They shut us down pretty good, no question,” Hill said. “Their starting pitching really shut us down and we didn’t really do anything on Saturday until the ninth and then we rallied late. We did the same thing late today, but they really held us down as far as their starting pitching, they’re as good as anybody all year long.”