LSU STEALS THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES FROM MIAMI WITH A NINTH-INNING HOMER BAGWELL BUSTS OUT ROCKIE ROADS

June 16, 1996

AGONY AND ECSTASY

It was the finest moment in college baseball history. On the
final pitch of the final game of the season, a premed student on
a full academic scholarship hit his first home run of the year,
a two-out, two-run shot that gave LSU a 9-8 win over Miami for
the championship of the College World Series.

The hero of this duel between perennial national powers was
LSU's number 9 hitter, junior second baseman Warren Morris, who
missed 39 games this year with a fractured hamate bone in his
right wrist. A week before the championship game he could barely
swing a bat. Yet on a beautiful day at sold-out (23,905)
Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, he hit a first-pitch line drive
into the first row of seats just inside the rightfield foul pole
off Robbie Morrison, Miami's All-America reliever. It was the
first college title game since 1968 to end on a hit in the
bottom of the ninth, and the first ever to end on a home run.

"I just tried to think of it as an intrasquad game," Morris said
afterward, "and I had to get the runner in from third. I just
hit it on the good part of the bat, and emotion took care of the
rest of it. As I was running, I felt like it was happening to
someone else."

No, this should have happened only to Morris. He hurt his wrist
in October but played through the pain until it became so
intense that he had to have surgery in April. He wasn't supposed
to play again this season, and Tigers coach Skip Bertman called
the injury to Morris, the team's most inspirational player, "the
saddest thing that's ever happened to LSU baseball." Remarkably,
Morris was playing again 29 days after the surgery, in time for
the regional tournament. The Tigers went 4-0 in the regional and
4-0 in the College World Series, making them 22-0 this season in
games that Morris started (they were 30-15 when he didn't start).

Bertman will coach the 1996 U.S. Olympic baseball team in
Atlanta, and Morris will most likely be his starting second
baseman. After the Games, Morris, who was selected by the
Rangers in the fifth round of the draft last week, says he "will
give pro ball a try." When he's done with that, he says, he'll
go on to attend medical school. Maybe then he'll be able to
explain how a player with a major injury could come back so
quickly and do what he did.

Morris's homer capped a thrilling finale in which the Tigers
came back from a 7-3 deficit after six innings to win their
third national championship, all in this decade. Eight teams go
to Omaha for the double-elimination tournament, but expectations
are always so high at LSU that Tigers leftfielder Chad Cooley
said two days before the championship game, "Any other team that
gets here can go 0-2 and get a parade when they get home. We
have to win it all, or there's no parade. We know that when we
sign on."

The expectations are equally high for the Hurricanes, who were
also gunning for their third national title, and their first
under Jim Morris, who took over the program in November '93 and
still must labor in the shadow of legendary Miami coach Ron
Fraser. This was a devastating defeat for the Hurricanes, who
after blowing that 7-3 advantage still took an 8-7 lead into the
ninth, thanks to a two-out RBI single by shortstop Alex Cora,
the brother of Seattle Mariners second baseman Joey Cora. But
when Morris's liner landed in the seats, Cora and some of his
teammates fell to the ground, crying in disbelief.

"This is the greatest championship I've ever been a part of, and
that includes [the '88 Olympics in] Korea," said Bertman, who
was the pitching coach on the U.S. team that won in Seoul. "To
win it that way, that was something you fantasize about."

THE BAGWELL TRAIN

It has been 59 years since the National League last had a Triple
Crown winner, Cardinals outfielder Ducky Medwick, who hit .374
with 31 homers and 154 RBIs in 1937. That streak will probably
reach 60 this year, but at least in Astros first baseman Jeff
Bagwell there's an early-season Triple Crown candidate. At
week's end he led the league in RBIs with 63, was fourth in
homers with 19 (the Expos' Henry Rodriguez led with 21) and was
10th in hitting with a .338 average (Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza
led at .358). Bagwell was swinging as well as he was in the
strike-shortened '94 season, when he turned in one of the
greatest hitting performances in recent memory, batting .368
with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games. "When he gets
locked in," says Houston second baseman Craig Biggio, "he gets
locked in for a season. Then you jump on the train and go for a
ride."

The Bagwell train suffered a major derailment last year. Through
May 31 he was hitting only .183. "I'd get in the batter's box,
and I'd have no idea what I was doing," he says. "The bases
would be loaded, and I'd be up there thinking, What do I do
here? My hands were all wrong, my feet were messed up. Then
self-doubt came in. I started thinking, Maybe I'm not as good as
last year. Then I was in big trouble. It's amazing. I first
started swinging a bat when I was three years old and I've been
playing 25 years, and sometimes I feel like I've never played
before. How is that? Michael Jordan has a bad game and scores
28. He's always good. But in baseball, you can go 4 for 4 one
day, and the next day you're awful. This game, you deal with
failure all the time. You have to be a pretty strong person to
do that."

Last year made Bagwell stronger. He had never been through a
slump like that, and even though he finished with decent numbers
(he hit .290, with 21 homers and 87 RBIs in 114 games), he says,
"It looks O.K. on paper, but it was ugly." One big reason for
his poor performance: He was going through a divorce that one
teammate says "tore him up mentally."

"It wasn't like I was thinking about the divorce every time I
went to the plate," he says, "but when I get to the park at 3
o'clock every day, I want to have an idea of what I need to do.
And I wasn't doing that. I was thinking about everything else
until finally, one day in June, I just said, That's it--I'm
going out and having fun now."

Having regained his focus, Bagwell drove in 31 runs last July.
On July 30, though, he was hit by a pitch and broke his left
hand for the third year in a row. He would miss the entire month
of August. He hit .313 with five home runs and 21 RBIs from
Sept. 1 on, but the Astros still finished one game behind the
Rockies in the race for the wild-card playoff spot. "It was a
very emotional year for me," says Bagwell. "Up and down, up and
down. But I learned a lot about myself. After last year, I know
now I can deal with anything."

Still, he doesn't want to hear any talk of the Triple Crown. "I
could never imagine myself doing that," he says. "All that
matters to me are the RBIs. This park [the Astrodome] would not
allow me to hit enough homers, plus I'm not a home run hitter.
The only way I could win the home run title is if the whole
league is down--and it's not."

ROCKIE HORROR SHOW

The Rockies must be the Jekyll and Hyde team of all time. At
home they hit like the '27 Yankees--actually, they hit better
than that. Through Sunday, Colorado was averaging 8.1 runs per
game this season at Coors Field; the '27 Yankees averaged 6.3 at
Yankee Stadium. But on the road Colorado is the
second-worst-hitting team in the league (.221), averaging only
3.9 runs per game. Consequently the Rockies are 17-11 at home,
but only 12-19 on the road.

Consider last week's performance: The Rockies went 2-5 on a trip
through Pittsburgh and Houston, losing to such immortals as the
Pirates' Matt Ruebel and the Astros' Donne Wall, both of whom
were only recently called up from the minors. Then the Rockies
returned home to face Atlanta's Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and
John Smoltz. What happened? They torched Maddux for seven earned
runs in 3 1/3 innings of a 19-8 victory last Friday. Then they
clobbered Glavine for seven earned runs in five innings of a
13-12 win on Saturday before Smoltz finally contained them in an
8-3 Braves win on Sunday.

Obviously, the high altitude in Denver partially explains this
home-road phenomenon, but it's more than that. At Coors the
Rockies hit the ball to all fields, but on the road they just
try to pull the ball. As they stagger along in last place with a
sub-.500 record, 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Padres in
the National League West at week's end, it's time for Colorado
general manager Bob Gebhard to reevaluate his club. The Rockies
fully expected to slug their way to the playoffs this year, so
they acquired no pitching help in the off-season, despite
question marks about their top two starters, Bret Saberhagen
(who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on May 28) and
Bill Swift (who, at week's end, had pitched only once,
ineffectively, all season). It was a gamble that wasn't paying
off even before centerfielder Larry Walker broke his left
collarbone on Sunday. The Padres and the Dodgers, their National
League West rivals, have significantly better pitching. Colorado
can't beat those two teams until it beefs up its own staff.

COLOR PHOTO: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP Miami's Pat Burrell couldn't stand to watch as Morris took his home run trot. [Pat Burrell lying with face in grass as Warren Morris runs behind him]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)