WATCH: Noles rally to beat LSU, now one win from Omaha
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A few moments after the last out sailed into catcher Matheu Nelson’s glove, and after the sea of purple and yellow that had just moments before made this place shake, Keith Albert made his way across the concourse at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium and stopped for just a moment.
Then Albert, whose son, Florida State sophomore Reese, had just done much of the heavy lifting in the Seminoles’ 6-4 victory over the Tigers, cocked back his head and shouted, toward anyone and no one, the chant that’s synonymous with FSU athletics:
“F-L-O-R-I-D-A! S-T-A-T-E! …”
There weren’t many left to join in, but that hardly mattered.
Not to Keith or Reese Albert, and certainly not to the FSU baseball players celebrating a win that puts them one step away from the College World Series.
They’re there thanks to a number of heroes, but none more so than Reese Albert, who hit a pair of home runs that erased a four-run deficit and helped to deliver one of the most memorable victories in Florida State’s recent history.
“That really shows you what kind of player Reese is,” said FSU third baseman Drew Mendoza, who hits one spot behind Albert in the lineup.
In the top of the seventh inning, with the Seminoles trailing 4-1, struggling at the plate and seemingly on the way to a quiet, frustrating defeat, Albert showed the Tigers exactly the type of player he is.
He stepped to the plate with runners on first and second base, one out and 6-3, 208-pound reliever Trent Vietmeier standing 60 feet, six inches away on the pitchers’ mound.
What followed was an epic, tense, back-and-forth battle between hitter and pitcher, the kind that had fans from both sides biting their nails between pitches.
Their entire exchange took exactly five minutes, 35 seconds of real time and lasted for 11 pitches – the last of which Albert launched out of the park and off the roof of a building beyond the right-field fence.
By the time Albert crossed home plate, the game was tied and momentum had unquestionably shifted toward Florida State’s dugout.
“There’s no way Reese was planning on hitting a home run,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said after the game. “He just happened to hit the pitch, and the rest is history.”
That approach, though, is exactly why Albert was able to deliver one of the season’s biggest moments.
The Seminoles, under the guidance of hitting coach Mike Martin Jr., have long been one of the country’s pickiest and most patient teams at the plate.
They’re regularly among the nation’s leaders in both walks and hit-by-pitches, and they rarely do opposing pitchers any favors by offering at balls off the plate. Or even strikes that are likely to end up as grounders or pop-ups.
LSU saw it firsthand on Saturday, as the Seminoles walked 10 times.
“We don’t swing at bad pitches,” Albert said. “A pitcher throws a good pitch, it’s a ball and we don’t swing at it.
“That tends to upset them a little bit.”
Vietmeier can attest to that.
Because after running a full count after five pitches – three of them fastballs – the hard-throwing right-hander did all he could to earn that crucial out.
Albert, though, had one major advantage: With top hitter Drew Mendoza in the on-deck circle, Albert figured that Vietmeier was unlikely to throw an off-speed pitch and risk walking the bases loaded.
He was right.
Vietmeier started with a 92 mile-per-hour fastball, low and inside, that Albert fouled left.
Then another fastball, a little higher, fouled off again. T.V. announcers said it would have been ball four, but, from Albert’s perspective, it was close enough that he couldn’t take that chance.
“The pitches that I fouled off were borderline strike calls,” he said. “So I had to swing.”
It’s here that Vietmeier first shows that he’s feeling some pressure.
After stepping to the mound to deliver his next pitch, he then quickly stepped off and took a look at FSU’s Tim Becker leading off from second before gathering himself.
“I feel like every time I fouled one off, he was getting more nervous than I was,” Albert said.
Mendoza saw it, too.
“I think Reese kind of smelled blood in the water,” Mendoza said. “You see it in their (pitchers’) eyes. You see the body language.”
Vietmeier offered another fastball that Albert fouled back with ease.
He then took another step off the mound and took two glances at Becker before, in what might have been his best effort of the at-bat, dialing up a 93-mile-per-hour fastball that Albert sent foul to the left-field concourse.
It was the 10th pitch of the sequence.
“If you foil a pitchers’ pitch,” Mendoza said, “he’s eventually going to come to you.”
He did, just a moment later.
With the crowd at Alex Box Stadium holding its breath and the Seminoles in desperate need of a breakthrough, Vietmeier threw another fastball, 92 miles per hour and exactly where Albert wanted it.
How about a rally in Rouge???
— FSU Baseball (@FSUBaseball) June 8, 2019
“Middle-in,” Albert said after the game. “I kind of knew as soon as I hit it.”
You and everyone else, Reese.
The line-drive shot left the park in seconds, screamed past the oversized billboard celebrating LSU’s national championships and bounced around on a tile roof before finally falling back to earth.
“He finally just gave me a pitch I could do some damage with,” Albert said.
Albert’s teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate with him while a small-but-loud group of Florida State fans echoed that chant throughout the stadium …
“That was a huge at-bat,” FSU center fielder J.C. Flowers said. “That just shows the type of team we are.”
And the type of player Albert is.