"It's a funny thing," said Baker, FSU's veteran third base coach who will become the program's director of baseball operations next season. (Former FSU shortstop Link Jarrett will be added to the coaching staff).
"When the game is over, and it was like this last year when we got on the bus to come home from Georgia, you have so much on your mind. You go to the World Series, what you are doing, the planning. Obviously, when you don't go to the World Series you have less on your mind. I was telling someone yesterday (Monday) -- it's not a relief but you just feel the pressure leave you. Almost immediately. I hate to say that but it's true. I wish I still had it. All we had to do yesterday was win. Because everything was in motion, because you have to do it."
After eight weeks as the nation's No. 1 team, the Seminoles must settle for the second 60-win season in program history, an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a school-record 25-game winning streak as consolation following the Irish's 3-1 Super Regional victory at Dick Howser Stadium.
Thanks to quality pitching, timely hitting and stellar defense, Notre Dame (49-16) finds itself back in the College World Series for the first time since 1957. FSU (60-13), meanwhile, finds itself at home for the second consecutive year after losing at Georgia in Super Regional play last season. It was a cruel finish for a team that believed it had all the right stuff to make some noise in Omaha, Neb.
The sound of silence can be deafening.
"If we just could have gotten a knock here or there," Baker lamented. "If we gotten something out of the top of the lineup, something going. ... The big thing, too, was giving up that extra run. If you kept it a one-run ballgame and you score a run, you really turn the heat up."
FSU, which came into the series batting .377 with runners aboard during its 25-game win streak, could never get anything cranking. The Seminoles had run-scoring opportunities erased by inning-ending double plays in the sixth and seventh before finally rumbling to life in the eighth against freshman right-hander Chris Niesel.
Brian Zech, who made a costly fielding error an inning earlier that allowed the Irish to push its margin to 3-0, laced a leadoff double to left, bringing the top of the order up. Niesel (4-0), however, struck out Stephen Drew on a high fastball, walked Tony McQuade and got Ryan Barthelemy -- who led the 'Noles with 94 RBI -- to pop to short, extending his 2-for-24 NCAA postseason slump. Tony Richie, who had three of FSU's six hits, delivered an RBI single to left for the Seminoles' lone run, moving McQuade to third.
Still breathing, Notre Dame left fielder Brian Stavisky pulled the plug on the Seminoles, killing their final threat with a backhanded catch of Jerrod Brown's fly ball as he slid into the fence in foul territory. McQuade was the lone FSU base runner to reach third base the entire game.
"The thing about it, it wasn't a slow death," Baker said. "It was a quick death yesterday, a 2 hour and 12-minute game. In and out quick. I only had one guy at third I talked to all day long, McQuade, that was about it. That (Stavisky) gave them a lot of momentum heading into the final inning. Give them credit. They are the same team that hit .208 in their conference tournament. It's who's hot and who's not."
While Baker refused to make any excuses, he also believed the Irish had an edge in terms of preparation for the Seminoles due to FSU's television exposure. Baker said he was never able to secure a video tape on Notre Dame.
"That's one thing I think that hurt us being on TV -- we couldn't find a tape on Notre Dame," Baker said. "We are on TV, 12, 14, 15 times a year. There's probably a lot of Notre Dame alumni out there somewhere that are video taping people -- I am sure. If a ballgame is on from now on, I am going to tape it. You never know. But give them credit. The kid (Niesel) pitched great for them. He really did. He got ahead of us and we had some guys swing at some balls out of the zone, and things like that. It was one of those things."
While the Irish head to the CWS, Baker is headed in other directions. While his final game in the third base box didn't have the ending he had hoped, life continues.
"We have camps that start Sunday," Baker said. "I didn't have enough staff, now I have too much staff. It's Father's Day (Sunday)? Oh, yeah, I forgot (laughing)."