Bartman-esque catch nearly derails Florida State's CWS quest

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It had been eight years since Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin had guided a team to the College World Series.

But with the national No. 4 seed Seminoles beating Wichita State 11-4 in Sunday's championship game of the Tallahassee Super Regional at Dick Howser Stadium, Martin finally could allow himself to think about returning to Omaha, Neb.

FSU had scored six times in the first inning, chasing Shockers starter Anthony Capra from the mound before he recorded even three outs in the game. Senior right fielder Jack Rye belted a three-run homer, and second baseman Tommy Oravetz hit a three-run double.

"It put us in such a hole," Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said.

Such a deep hole, in fact, that there didn't seem to be any chance the Shockers would come back. Wichita State had stunned FSU 10-7 in the opening game on Friday, but its heralded pitching staff was no match for the Seminoles in a 14-4 loss Saturday.

Now, the Shockers' third-team All-America starter with the perfect record was sitting on the bench before he could even break a sweat in the first inning.

Enter the guy who almost ended up being Florida State's Steve Bartman.

Trailing 6-0 in the second inning, the Shockers had two outs and a runner on first. FSU starter Geoff Parker got leadoff hitter Andy Dirks to hit a popup down the left-field line. Third baseman Stuart Tapley ran toward the fence to catch it. But then an FSU fan stuck his glove over the fence and snatched it.

Dirks hit a two-run homer to center on the very next pitch, cutting FSU's lead to 6-2. The Shockers scored two more runs in the third to make it 6-4.

All of a sudden, it seemed as though Bartman, the infamous foul-ball poacher at Chicago's Wrigley Field, had relocated to North Florida.

"We weren't every happy about it," Martin said. "I have to admit I couldn't think of his last name, but Steve did come to mind. He's in Siberia now."

That's where the FSU fan who stuck his glove over Tapley's mitt might have ended up if the Seminoles hadn't come back with a run in the fourth and four more in the last three innings to break the game open.

In the end, the play didn't unravel FSU. But the Seminoles have endured so much heartache in trying to get back to Omaha that anything that went wrong seemed to be a sign of impending doom. Before Saturday's win over the Shockers, FSU had lost eight consecutive games in super regionals.

"I'll be honest with you, it's been tough," Martin said. "You work hard and have a group of guys you feel are good enough to get there. And we just couldn't get back there."

Sports fans are very unforgiving, so the fan who plucked Dirks' foul ball might have ended up in FSU sports infamy next to former Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix. At the very least, the fan was escorted out of the stadium by security personnel.

"It was a hell of a catch by the fan," Stephenson said. "He took a sure out away from the field. He really impressed his son because he was high-fiving him after making the catch and then passed the ball over to him."

The foul-turned-homer was enough momentum to give the Shockers new life in a game in which they seemed dead.

"When something like that happens, we've got a chance if we keep them under control," Stephenson said.

But it was FSU reliever Ryan Strauss who kept Wichita State under control. After replacing Parker to start the fourth inning, Strauss allowed only two baserunners in the final six innings.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles got a two-run homer from All-American catcher Buster Posey in the seventh and insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings. The score might have been much worse if FSU hadn't stranded 16 runners on base.

After the Seminoles recorded the final out with a ground ball to second, they mobbed each other behind the mound. Posey, one of the most decorated players in FSU history, danced around the pile as if he wasn't sure what to do. It had been that long since the Seminoles celebrated a trip to Omaha.

"It's something I've never felt before," Posey said. "To work as hard as you do with a group of guys, and to get to share that moment with them, it was unbelievable."

It will be the 13th time Martin takes a Florida State team to the College World Series. He'll be seeking his first national championship when the Seminoles open play against Stanford at Rosenblatt Stadium next weekend.

"It's ain't about me," Martin said. "It's about us."

Thankfully, it's not about another Bartman, either.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.