Mike Leake dropped his head. Pat Murphy looked up into the stands and took a deep breath. Steve Susdorf’s blast had just cleared the center-field fence, and as the ball disappeared from sight, so did Arizona State’s season.
There won’t be a trip to the College World Series.
There won’t be a sweet send-off for Brett Wallace, Ike Davis and Petey Paramore.
Fresno State dashed those dreams with a 12-9 victory Monday at Packard Stadium, leaving the Sun Devils unfulfilled, their fans bitterly disappointed and Murphy choking back tears.
“I was so certain we were going to Omaha,” Murphy said. “It’s a sad way to end the season.”
What a strange ending it was for ASU. As the teams were warming up, good friends Wallace and Davis got involved in a scuffle that was in clear view of the fans, the Bulldogs and the ESPN cameras. Teammates had to separate the two.
Only Davis, Wallace and Murphy later said the “fight” was staged in an effort to loosen the players up.
“It was fun,” Murphy said. “Most everybody around us knew it was a joke.”
The problem is, those around the program weren’t in on the joke. Instead, fans at Packard were left to wonder if ASU was coming apart at the seams.
It was a ridiculous ploy that didn’t reflect well on the team and the university. You can be sure athletic director Lisa Love wasn’t too happy with the off-Broadway production.
From a baseball standpoint, what does the stunt say about the Sun Devils’ state of mind before the biggest game of the year? Wallace and Davis needed to pretend they were Tyson and Holyfield to take the pressure off their teammates?
That tells you something, doesn’t it?
“They never felt good enough,” Murphy said. … “Maybe it’s because I always feel I have to do more.”
Had ASU won, the “fight” would have been laughed off as another antic from that wacky Murphy.
Instead, he will be savaged again by ASU fans who believe the Sun Devils’ program is underperforming, even though ASU has been to the CWS three times in the last 10 years.
“I thought that the black hole was gone, but now I’ll have to read the letters and the voice mails saying, ‘You didn’t do what (Bobby) Winkles and (Jim) Brock did,’ ” Murphy said.
That’s the price of coaching one of the most storied programs in college baseball.
Murphy wants to return. The question is: Does Love want him back? It’s no secret the relationship between Murphy and Love is strained. Murphy was upset the athletic department didn’t publicly back him when it was announced there would be aninternal investigation of the program.
Love doesn’t like that Murphy often pops off at the wrong time, as he did before the Tempe Regional when he expressed his anger and frustration that the baseball program doesn’t get the support from the administration he feels it deserves.
And if Love is so inclined, there’s a candidate waiting in the wings. Softball coach Clint Myers is the darling of the athletic department after winning a national title, and he coached the Central Arizona College baseball team to a junior college championship.
Murphy knows there’s a groundswell of support for Myers to take his job. It’s why he said this late Monday, long after his press conference had ended:
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s not as easy as you might think to compare us to softball.”
Does Murphy have his faults?
But let’s not forget he was one win away from taking ASU to the College World Series for the second straight year and the third time in four years.
The program isn’t in disarray. A coaching change isn’t necessary.
But when the Devils lose to Fresno State at home, and a silly stunt makes the team and the coach look bad, the speculation will begin.
This could have been a championship season for ASU.
Now you wonder if it was Murphy’s final season.