GREENVILLE - “Whatever it takes.”
Those were the words Clemson coach Jack Leggett used to describe what you have to do to win the Clemson-South Carolina baseball series, which his team didn’t do Tuesday in a 5-4 loss at Fluor Field in Greenville.
USC coach Ray Tanner had a different perspective.
Fueled by Sunday’s controversy over a “hot” bat and the word “soft” used by Clemson’s Will Lamb, Tanner lashed out Tuesday in a heated press conference over what had taken place in a series that took five days to play three games.
“The whole thing was a bunch shenanigans,” Tanner said in the post-game press conference. “I don’t think that’s what this rivalry should be about. It’s two very good baseball teams at the collegiate level playing against each other. That’s where it should start and that’s where it should end. That’s the way I feel.
“We’ve had some great, great games. Tonight was great. That’s what it should be about. We shouldn’t have this conversation. I’m not happy about having it. I’m telling you how I feel. For many years I never tell you how I feel but I’m telling you tonight.”
Tanner’s outburst stemmed from Sunday’s first inning, when USC junior Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a home run. Leggett came out of the dugout and asked the umpires to examine the bat. While this isn’t a completely uncommon move, it’s not practiced very often.
The umpires ruled the bat to be legal, and Bradley continued to use it in the game. After the contest, which Clemson won 10-5 after scoring six runs in the eighth, Bradley said Leggett was questioning if the bat was “hot,” meaning had it been warmed in any way.
“It met standards,” Bradley said Sunday. “I thought it met a lot of standards.”
However, there is no rule in college baseball about warming bats that are made of metal. Tanner said teams in the Northeast tend to use sleeves and other devices to keep the metal from getting cold. When it does, it vibrates. Tanner said no rules were broken.
“(Leggett) called the bat out. I guess when (Clemson’s Richie) Shaffer hit one 600 feet (Tuesday) I should’ve gone out there,” Tanner said. “I didn’t appreciate it, I’m offended by it. I don’t cheat. I don’t allow my players to cheat. I haven’t done anything wrong. I felt like we were called out a little bit.”
Tanner was also upset that Lamb said after Sunday’s game about USC starting pitcher Tyler Webb.
“We rattled him,” Lamb said Sunday. “We thought he was a soft kid.”
USC starting pitcher Michael Roth said on Twitter the next day that “it doesn’t matter who it is about. You call one of us out, you call all of us out.”
Tanner also took offense.
“I don’t appreciate what Will Lamb said about one of my pitchers,” he said. “He’s entitled to say whatever he wants to say. I don’t appreciate it. My players didn’t like it.”
Tanner, who said for years he’s “taken the high road” when it comes to controversy, usually likes for his team to keep its emotions in check.
But after what happened Sunday, he held a team meeting and players aired their frustrations. He told his guys to let their emotions out.
“Our guys are not very happy they got called out,” he said. “I don’t think that’s part of the game and we tried to come in here and play aggressive and play with emotion. It’s not something we want to do all the time but I’m proud of our players.”
Emotions were certainly on display throughout the night Tuesday. Before the game, the USC team huddled around a bat and pretended to be warming their hands.
“We all know what that was about,” said USC’s Christian Walker, who drove home what turned out to be the game-winning run in the eighth inning Tuesday. “We like to keep it loose, keep us laughing. We play the game better when we’re relaxed. It was about the bats and questioning and that whole situation.”
In the first inning, home plate umpire Scott Erby gave each dugout a warning after hearing several players jawing back and forth.
In the ninth, when Clemson scored three runs to cut USC’s lead to one, Lamb was caught on the television cameras jawing with third baseman Adrian Morales after Lamb hit an RBI triple.
When USC closer Matt Price struck out freshman Jon McGibbon with two outs and Lamb at third to end the game, Price made a popular move of pretending to put on an “air” championship belt.
During the press conference, players intentionally tried to fit in words like “heat” and “fire.”
“These guys were affected by some comments and I felt like it was OK (to show emotion),” Tanner said.
Leggett wasn’t nearly as candid about the series’ events. On Sunday, he gave “no comment” on why he questioned Bradley’s bat. Tuesday, he chalked up all the controversy to the rivalry.
“It’s a rivalry and both teams are competitive,” Leggett said. “Everybody wants to win and do whatever they have to do to win the series. Now it’s behind us.”
Tanner, however, said damage has been done to the close relationship he and Leggett have. The two go way back and usually talk before every game. They only shook hands Tuesday and didn’t speak after the game.
“I don’t think it’s what it was, there’s no question about it,” Tanner said about his relationship with Leggett. “I’m not happy with the situation and maybe nobody cares. That’s fine, but I just don’t think what happened was appropriate. I don’t think it’s what this rivalry is about.”
Tanner said that Leggett should have handled the bat controversy differently.
“Personally,” Tanner said when asked how he would’ve handled it. “If I got a problem, I’ll handle it personally.”
The two teams came into the series with a lot on the line. They played two memorable games in the College World Series with the Gamecocks taking both on their way to a national championship.
“As much as we try to take emotion out of the game it’s hard,” Shaffer said. “It’s two passionate teams and they both want to win.”
The Tigers, who won last year’s regular-season series, were looking for a little revenge while USC was out to prove itself.
“We were just a little fired up and (ready to) get back on the field and prove that we were the tougher team,” Bradley said. “That’s a real good victory. I’m glad we were able to get it done.”