Underdog days: Fresno State, Turkey

In a great midweek of sports, two Cinderellas continue their quest at Euro 2008 and the College World Series.

Topics: Baseball,

Hey, you. Quit working. We’re in the middle of a great midweek for sports. Fresno State and Georgia play the College World Series finale Wednesday night, the Euro 2008 semifinals are Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, U.S. time, and the NBA draft, which this column finds entertaining beyond all reason, is Thursday night.

And that’s not to mention Wimbledon, which is trundling through its first week.

There are two great underdog stories this week, Fresno State and Turkey — so often mentioned together.

Turkey meets Germany in the first Euro 2008 semifinal Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. EDT. The Turks have been the cardiac kids of this tournament. Ranked 20th in the world, they’ve notched heart-stopping, late-rally wins over Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Croatia, and they go into the match against powerhouse No. 5 Germany — which has played poorly but survived — depleted by injuries and suspensions.

The second semifinal is Russia vs. Spain Thursday, the championship game Sunday.

Fresno State is one win away from one of the greatest underdog runs in American sports history. The Bulldogs went 33-27 in the regular season and weren’t even on the bubble for the 64 team tournament, but they won the WAC tourney to qualify. Then, ranked fourth in one of 16 regionals, Fresno State beat powerful Long Beach State, San Diego and No. 1 Arizona State to become the first 4-seed — the equivalent to a basketball team seeded between Nos. 13 and 16 — to reach the eight-team College World Series.

Once in Omaha, Fresno State knocked off two top-five teams, Rice and North Carolina, to get to the final three-game series against Georgia, confusingly also nicknamed Bulldogs. Georgia won the first game Monday and jumped out to a 5-0 lead Tuesday before Fresno’s bats went wild and rallied to a 19-10 win.

ESPN has been arguing that Fresno State is on the verge of pulling off the greatest Cinderella run in the history of American sports, calling the Bulldogs the lowest seed ever to win a championship if they can do it.

Some apples and oranges going on there. I don’t know that seed alone makes Fresno’s achievement more improbable than that of, say, the 1983 North Carolina State or 1985 Villanova basketball teams. Underdog baseball teams have a much better chance of winning games than underdog basketball teams do.



And if we consider that history did not start in the late ’60s and that some of it is recorded on things other than color video — an idea most TV networks, including ESPN, tend to treat coldly — heavyweight boxing champion Jim Braddock, for one, may have come from further out than Fresno State.

For my money, Fresno State’s got nothing on the 1914 Boston Braves, but no matter. It’s a heck of a run. And too bad for Georgia, which has a pretty good story too, trying to become the first team to win the title the year after posting a losing record, though these Bulldogs are a habitual power and were the No. 1 seed in their regional.

The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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