OMAHA, Neb. – There were two people in Rosenblatt Stadium on Monday night that most were familiar with. Former Nebraska star and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was one of those people. UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole was the other.
While Suh spent time in the television booth and drew a significant crowd looking for autographs in the press box hallway following his interview, Cole and his $2 million arm put on a showcase against TCU.
It was a sight to see.
Cole started strong and didn't let up. He silenced a TCU lineup that was impressive against Florida State just a couple days ago. He was dominant on the way to a 6-3 win that put UCLA in pristine shape to play for the program's first national title.
"Cole was outstanding. To have a chance [to win] I knew we were going to have to pitch with him," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "Cole showed why he is an All-American after the seventh inning."
The seventh Schlossnagle refers to is the only time Cole played with fire. Cole appeared to be fine after six shutout innings. But after loading the bases and showing signs of fatigue, TCU's Taylor Featherston grooved a triple to center field that scored three runs and raised the partisan TCU crowd out of their seats.
Though a little tired, Cole stepped back on the mound with composure and struck out Aaron Schultz to end the seventh inning.
Cole went back out in the eighth and recorded two more strikeouts. He finished with 122 pitches and 13 strikeouts.
"That was very, very impressive," Savage said about rebounding from the seventh. "That's the thing he has shown this season, a ton of maturity. Everyone knows he is a guy with talent off the sheets, but the guy's mental game has gone to another level this season."
That wasn't the case last season, where he was a typical freshman in many ways, and a not so typical freshman in other ways.
For some watching the Bruins and Horned Frogs, the name Gerrit Cole may not have resonated well. But the right-hander had one of the best arms out of high school and headed to UCLA with insane expectations placed on him.
The New York Yankees drafted Cole in the first round of the MLB draft two summers ago, and Savage admitted long ago he didn't believe the righty would head to college. But realizing he still had some developing to do, Cole shocked the nation and decided to attend UCLA.
In his first season, Cole started 14 games and had a 3.49 earned-run average in 85 innings. He also struck out 104 batters and limited teams to a .191 batting average.
There were times last season when Cole would show his young age and be prone to meltdowns. A situation such as the seventh inning against the Frogs on Monday likely would have turned into a disaster situation last season.
This Cole, in a tough situation against TCU, went back to the mound confident, blocked all the crowd noise and took care of business while humming his pitches in the 96-97 mph range that sent the crowd of 23,345 into a frenzy.
"Gerrit was as solid as you could be all night long," Savage said. "You talk about a guy that had great bullpen sessions leading up to the game and was totally focused.
"He's a total team guy that stepped up on the big stage tonight. You have to give him a ton of credit."
Cole once again displayed why he is one of the elite pitchers, and why the Yankees were so eager to sign him.
There was a time when he had the option to play for the professional team he had always rooted for and make a few million dollars in the process.
But in his first fall as a freshman, Cole told me in an interview that he had always wanted to help lead UCLA to the College World Series.
With his dominant performance, Cole made a statement in his first CWS appearance. He also helped the Bruins move closer to winning a national title.
Cole wasn't everything everyone at Rosenblatt had hoped to see.
He was more.