Cardinals like to steal bases, which makes Wetzler-Rodriguez battery even more important

by: COURTESY OF ETHAN ERICKSON - Ben Wetzler will start for Oregon State in Monday's elimination game against Louisville.OMAHA, Neb. -- Oregon State's path to survival at the College World Series goes through Jeff Thompson.

The 6-6, 250-pound Thompson -- a right-handed version of C.C. Sabathia -- will be on the mound Monday at noon when Louisville (51-13) faces the Beavers (50-12) in an elimination game.

Thompson, chosen by Detroit in the third round of the recent major-league draft, was the Big East pitcher of the year and a second-team All-American, going 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA, 109 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings and a .169 opponents' batting average.

Why are the Beavers facing the Louisville's prize junior? He threw seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball in the Cardinals' 2-1 victory over Vanderbilt Monday to clinch their super regional.

Also, the Cards have another ace in 6-4, 215-pound junior right-hander Chad Green, taken by the Tigers in the 11th round. Green, 10-3 with a 2.29 ERA prior to the CWS, was not on the top of his game in Louisville's 2-0 loss to Indiana Saturday and was pulled after two innings, yielding three hits and two earned runs with four walks, four strikeouts and 59 pitches.

Thompson "is going to be a big-leaguer some day," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "If you get to Omaha, you know you're going to face good pitching. We have a ton of respect for Louisville, their staff, their players. I'm excited for the challenge for our guys."

• Prior to the loss to Indiana, Big East champion Louisville had won 21 of its last 23 games, the only losses coming back-to-back in the Big East postseason tournament.

The Cardinals are led at the plate by third baseman Ty Young (.333, 57 RBIs), left fielder Coco Johnson (.333) and designated-hitter Jeff Gardner (.331). They have a standout closer in Nick Burdi, who carries a 3-3 record with an 0.78 ERA, a .197 opponents' batting average and 16 saves. He has allowed three earned runs in 34 2/3 innings.

Louisville has 150 stolen bases in 64 games, with center fielder Adam Engle (41) Young (26) and Johnson (22) leading the way.

Contrast that with Oregon State, which has 55 steals in 62 games. The Beavers, however, have allowed opponents to steal only 23 bases in 52 attempts. There will be plenty riding on the ability of starting pitcher Ben Wetzler and Jake Rodriguez to limit the Cardinals' running game.

"The first thing we have to do is keep them off base," Casey said, "and we have to do a good job of holding runners. Benny is good at holding runners on, and Jake is good at throwing them out. It's a pretty good combination for us, but those numbers are crazy."

What does Casey think of the contrast of styles?

"Everybody plays the way they want to play," he said. "The pitching dictates how you can play. If you're a club that likes to run and you don't get people on base, it's tough to run. If you're a team that likes to bunt and you don't get a bunt down, it's hard to move runners. They have a great approach. There's a reason they're here. They're good; we're good. We're going to come to play."

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