The longest shot in the field, the claimer in a high stakes, paid big dividends for the U.S. baseball team Monday night.
Jeff Weaver, a pitcher who two years ago couldn't find a college baseball team bold enough to invest in him, pitched three shutout innings and earned the save in a 7-2 victory over South Korea before an Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium crowd of 45,278.
Weaver, from Simi Valley, was perhaps the biggest upset among Manager Skip Bertman's selections to the team. But only because the Louisiana State skipper didn't see many West Coast games during the regular season.
"I have to admit, I didn't know much about Jeff Weaver until I saw him in Millington [Tenn., home of the U.S. training facility]," Bertman said. "But he showed us right away that he could throw strikes and do the job."
Weaver, a 6-foot-5 right-hander is, at 19, the squad's youngest player and the only one who started his four-year college career as a walk-on.
Used used mostly in relief, he didn't even make first-team All-Marmonte League as a Simi Valley High senior. He paid his own way to Fresno State, where he redshirted in 1995 before working his way into the Bulldogs' starting rotation this past spring.
From such humble beginnings, Weaver earned accolades as Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year and All-American after posting a record of 12-5 with a 2.51 earned-run average and 136 strikeouts and only 30 walks in 143 1/3 innings.
Against Korea, Weaver came in with the U.S. team leading, 5-2, and gave up one hit and one walk--both with two out in the ninth and a raucous partisan crowd calling for a strikeout.
"I got pumped up," Weaver said. "I was excited hearing the crowd. I wanted that last strikeout. I thought I had it a couple of times."
He settled for a fly ball to center that was caught by Jacque Jones. The United States is 2-0 and next plays against Italy on Wednesday. Cuba is the only other undefeated team in the eight-team tournament.
Weaver pitched in relief of starter Seth Greisinger, who bobbed and weaved his way through six innings with the help of some outstanding defensive plays.
Greisinger, a junior from Virginia, was the Americans' top pitcher in a 31-game exhibition season this summer, but he gave up seven hits and three walks while struggling with his control.
Korea (0-2) had Greisinger on the ropes in the fifth and would have knocked him out in the sixth if not for two spectacular defensive plays.
If the fifth, shortstop Jason Williams recovered a ball he had just booted into shallow left field and nabbed Chea Jong-Kook at the plate trying to score from second.
Chea beat the throw, but catcher A.J. Hinch blocked his way, lifting the runner's foot up and over the plate, then making the tag. "A Mike Scioscia," Bertman called it.
In the sixth, Jones, from USC, made his second sterling, rally-stopping defensive play of the game.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Jones, who earlier sprawled on his chest to pick off a shallow looper, leaped up against the fence in left-center to rob Cho In-Sung of an extra-base hit.
A run scored on the play, but Greisinger got out of the inning relatively unscathed by retiring the next two batters.
Weaver quickly restored order. The only ball he allowed hit out of the infield in his two innings was one that right fielder Chad Allen dropped after making a long run.
Even that was turned into an out on a textbook relay from Allen to Augie Ojeda to Troy Glaus that nailed Jin Kab-Yong at third.
Eight players combined for 10 hits for the Americans, who got home runs from Allen and second baseman Warren Morris.