It just wouldn’t have felt right unless Kumar Rocker got one more chance to do his thing on the big stage.

Consider that the silver lining for Vanderbilt fans after taking one on the chin in a 13-2 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night. And perhaps it’s the “yeah, but” for any overly optimistic Mississippi State fan assuming the program is due for its first national title, in any sport, in school history.

There are clutch pitchers, and then there’s Rocker. The Vandy right-hander will look to deliver his best moment yet — that’s saying something — in an all-or-nothing Game 3 of the College World Series Final on Wednesday night.

“We said on the air the other day that he’s one of the best big game pitchers we’ve seen in a long, long time,” SEC Network analyst Ben McDonald told SDS. “I think that’s what’s intriguing about him for the draft. It’s not only his body type, but also his makeup, his ability to relax in the biggest moments, his ability to go out and pitch really good in some of the biggest moments. Not everybody can do that.”

In his 3 postseason career elimination games, Rocker posted a casual 3-0 record with an 0.84 ERA. He struck out 41 in 21 1/3 innings of work, too. That includes his most recent start, which was a 6-inning, 11-strikeout performance in a 3-1 win against NC State. It also, of course, included that 19-strikeout, no-hitter against Duke in the 2019 Super Regionals:

Rocker’s other elimination game start? That 6 1/3-inning performance in a Game 2 win vs. Michigan that helped him lock up 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors. As a freshman.

To recap, Rocker in an elimination game has never:

  • A) Had fewer than 11 strikeouts
  • B) Allowed more than 1 run
  • C) Lasted fewer than 6 innings
  • D) Lost
  • E) All the above

Considering the way that Vandy struggled defensively in the College World Series, that type of swing-and-miss ability would be a welcome sight for the Dores.

Rocker will be on Major League rest (4 days) while his fellow future first-round counterpart Will Bednar will be on 3 days’ rest.

So does that mean Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin is going to empty the tank in what’s expected to be the last game of Rocker’s historic career?

“(Tim) Corbin is gonna be uber sensitive with him and I think he has to be because that’s why he keeps getting those types of guys on campus because he takes care of them,” McDonald said.

It’s a fair point.

Rocker usually gets a full week (6 days’ rest) between starts. The NC State game was 1 of 4 times in which he started on just 5 days’ rest in 2021. This will, however, be Rocker’s first college start on just 4 days’ rest.

What’s been obvious ever since Rocker picked baseball instead of following in his dad Tracy and his football footsteps is shorter rest or not, nothing will impact what type of effort will come from No. 80.

“His dad was a hell of a football player. Doesn’t know a damn thing about baseball. He’ll be the first one to tell ya,” McDonald joked. “But what he will tell ya is, ‘I understand how to compete. And my son understands how to compete.’ That’s the best praise I can give Kumar Rocker is whether he’s got his best stuff or not, he’s gonna go out and compete and try to beat ya.

“What he’s done in the postseason is pretty damn amazing.”

And amazing it is to think that Rocker’s best moment might be yet to come. As much postseason elimination experience as he has, he’s never been in an all-or-nothing game in the CWS final. He’s also never pitched in Omaha with a crowd quite as overwhelming as MSU’s.

An afterthought will be whether Rocker and Jack Leiter will walk off with a national title together and pass Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Colt (or somebody else) as the best pitching duo we’ve seen in college baseball this century. Wednesday night won’t even be about who’s a better prospect between Rocker and Leiter.

(McDonald phrased that this way: “Do I want crawfish étouffée or boiled crawfish? You ain’t goin’ wrong with either one of them.”)

With another all-world performance en route to a national title, Rocker would firmly assert himself into the discussion of “best SEC pitcher ever.” His cumulative numbers won’t stack up against some of the all-time greats like Michael Roth and David Price because Rocker essentially got 2-plus seasons as a starter with the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but as McDonald said, there’s no denying his big-game accolades.

Much has changed since Rocker stepped off the College World Series finals mound in 2019. No longer is he the wide-eyed freshman who stole the show. He became a veteran. Better yet, he became a legend. He has one final chance to add to that legacy.

“If you know anything about Kumar Rocker, you know that he outworks everybody,” McDonald said. “Some people will say, ‘Well, he rises to the occasion.’ But I would say he senses the level of his training. His training, from what I’ve been told, outworks everybody. First one there, last one to leave, leader on the team, the guy that everybody gets behind and the guy when he gets on the mound, he can win any ballgame.”

All eyes will be on Rocker to do that one last time.

If history is any indication, he wouldn’t have it any other way.