SANFORD – It was one of those majestic fly balls, soaring high into the night sky. Folks at Goodall Park collected their breaths to cheer a home run.

Michael Roth knew better. His sprint carried him past first base as the ball hit off the right-field fence. the time the throw came back to the infield, Roth was safely at second and another run was home.

Sanford Mainers fans cheered anyway. They liked this big, humble and friendly college kid last summer after he arrived from South Carolina to play for their baseball team. A year later, add a couple of big doses of pride and delight to the affection.

Michael Roth is a College World Series hero. He’s the sophomore relief specialist plucked from the bullpen by his University of South Carolina coaches desperate for a fresh arm. He was handed the baseball to start the next do-or-die game. Give up too many runs, kid, and the season is over.

Hold off the Clemson hitters and with more help and a little luck, South Carolina will survive to play another day. An international business major with a 3.82 grade-point average, Roth figured out the situation. In an exchange that gained life among the media, Roth told Coach Ray Tanner he would throw until his arm fell off.

Tanner asked if that meant one inning. “He likes to joke around,” said Roth, who usually was brought into games to get one or two outs, not 27. Starting pitcher? He was recruited for his bat, not his arm.

Roth pitched all nine innings, limiting Clemson to three hits for a 5-1 victory. He could feel his body breaking down in the last inning or two, but his mind was tiring more. “The mental part of pitching is the most draining. I figured I’d keep going out there until someone told me I couldn’t.”

No one pulled him back.

South Carolina advanced to the championship series, beating UCLA. “It was the first major championship for the school,” said Roth, who is a South Carolinian. “It was big.”

Success needs a face and Roth is it. Some call his performance the last great story to close out Rosenblatt Stadium’s run as the site of the College World Series, which will move to a new ballpark in Omaha, Neb. All Roth knows is his Facebook wall almost crashed with 1,500 new friends. He got nearly 80 text messages just after the game. The lefty who busted Clemson batters with fastballs in on their hands and sliders away never signed more autographs.

If he does nothing else in his baseball career, the memories of that late June performance will always be cool.

He’s in Sanford to keep that career going. “I need more at-bats. I want to contribute any way I can (with South Carolina) next year.”

Whoa. Don’t you think the Omaha performance earned you more chances to join the rotation? Roth grinned. “We’ll see. It’s up to the coaches.”

He didn’t bat for the Gamecocks this season at all. “I got plenty of (batting practice) so it’s not like I didn’t have a bat in my hands.”

After returning from Omaha, Roth drove to Maine with his parents from their home in Greer, S.C. “It’s a little bigger than (Sanford). It’s right near Greenville.”

He arrived Tuesday and got his first start in the Mainers’ lineup Friday night against the Holyoke Blue Sox as the designated hitter. He drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. His RBI double came in the eighth in the 8-0 victory. He’ll play in the outfield and at first base in other games for a very good Mainers team.

He heard his first name called out when he settled into the batters’ box for the first time. He heard the applause. Maybe Sanford’s fans were simply saying welcome back. More likely they were acknowledging his pitching from two weeks ago.

I asked if he had gotten his bearings. The crowd at Rosenblatt that day numbered more than 22,000. Many more watched on television. Friday night, 422 sat under Goodall Park’s famed roof.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” said Roth, smiling. “It’s baseball and I’m playing.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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