It didn't look good for the Orange and Blue with a three-run deficit and pitcher Alan Horne getting fitted for crutches in the dugout. But all this team has needed this year is a spark, and they got it courtesy of an iffy ruling on a foul popup. I'm sure you've seen the play that retired Brandon McArthur several times by now. Not to re-hash the ruling, but without the interference it would have been a phenomenal play by Sun Devils catcher Tuffy Gosewisch (That's really his name). Pat McMahon was justifiably incensed that his team was charged with an out because some moron got in the way.
It changed nothing, of course except to light a fire under his club. Brian LeClerc poured gasoline on that flame with a homer and by the time teammates Adam Davis and Matt LaPorta left the yard in the fifth, the Gators were pumped and Arizona State's momentum was a distant memory.
All that was left was for senior Tommy Boss to get the lead into the hands of the Gator bullpen. Bullpen? Fughettaboutit! Boss went five-and-two-thirds of scoreless work in relief of Horne and finished off the Sun Devils. For Boss it was an extension of his phenomenal effort during the NCAA Tournament. Entering NCAA's Boss had a 7-and-4 record with a 4.75 ERA. But in the biggest games of his life, Boss is 3-and-0 with a 2.22 ERA.
Omaha Seeing Gators Ability to Excel
After four games in Omaha those observing the College World Series have seen what the Gators have shown the rest of us this season. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Basically, this is a roster that has enough talent to reach the NCAA Tournament, but this is a TEAM that can win it all. The numbers at the CWS help illustrate the point.
In four games, the Gators have been out-hit 37-to-30. In fact, the Gators have not out-hit any of the four teams they've faced. Florida is hitting just .233 while Gator opponents are batting at a .274 clip. They've given up two more walks and two more doubles and have struck out two more times at the plate than their opponents. Yet somehow they've won three of four games.
One reason Florida is winning is power. Florida's three homers Thursday gave UF six in the four games out there while Florida pitchers have allowed just two. Gator hitters are also willing to take one for the team. Four Gator batters have been hit by pitches while no opponents have been.
If you look at Florida's nine games in the NCAA tournament here are more amazing stats. The Gators have 16 more hits than their opponents, but have scored 41 more runs. After averaging 1.5 errors up till Tournament time, the Gators have just six fielding miscues in nine outings.
The Eyes of Texas are Upon UF
So it comes down to this, a three game series with the Texas Longhorns for the National Championship. Texas (54-and-16) has won three titles, most recently in 2002. The Longhorns were the surprise runner-up last year when they were upset in two straight games by Cal-State Fullerton.
Texas is all about pitching. They might have the deepest staff in all of college baseball, not just this year but in many years. In three games in Omaha, all three starters went seven innings. Only two guys have come out of the pen and one of them faced just a single batter.
Texas' pitching is so good that Clayton Stewart (9-and-0, 3.04) and Randy Boone (7-and-4, 3.48) have not even pitched in Omaha and Buck Cody (4-and-1, 3.81) has seen only one hitter. The top three starters are Adrian Alaniz (7-and-3, 2.67), Kyle McCullough (11-and-4, 2.93) and Ken Kasparek (8-and-0, 2.10). All are right-handed.
But to me what makes Texas so tough is relief ace J. Brent Cox. The 2nd-round pick of the New York Yankees has eye-popping numbers out of the bullpen (8-and-3, 17 saves, 1.82). Two-inning saves are the rule rather than the exception with Cox, making late-inning comebacks virtually impossible. To get an idea how impressive he's been, compare Cox to the COMBINED stats of Conner Falkenbach and Darren O'Day (11-and-6, 16 saves, 3.00).
Offensively, watch out for Drew Stubbs (.315, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 32 SB) and Seth Johnston (.382, 9 HR, 66 RBI). Texas is also a superb defensive team with just 61 errors compared to Florida's 96.
Who Should Take the Mound?
Pat McMahon has a difficult decision to start the Championship series with and that's the selection of his opening pitcher. Obviously Horne and Boss (65 pitches Thursday) are out of the question. So, too is Darren O'Day who has made just one start in 82 career appearances. So here's a look at the remaining possibilities:
- Brian Ball------ The Gators # 3 starter makes the most sense after being solid all year. But the junior has had some arm problems and did throw 71 pitches Wednesday which doesn't give him much time to rest.
- Falkenbach---- Has made 49 appearances out of the pen this year but was sensational as a starter late last year. He hasn't seen much action in Omaha so Texas really
hasn't seen him.
- Mike Pete----- Senior lefty has been back in the mix late this year and enjoys a 4-and-0 record. He has made 15 career starts but none in two years.
- Stephen Locke--- Rookie lefty had a great start to the season and at the end of April was 5-and-0 with a 2.05 ERA. But May was rough on Locke as he posted a massive 8.10 ERA in five outings. He hasn't pitched since May 25th. Starting him now would be risky, and arguably unfair.
My pick would be Falkenbach. Since Horne appears unlikely to be available, Florida's likely to need both Ball and Boss. At this stage, it's all about getting two wins and Falkenbach, I believe is the best choice considering the format. If it were one game, winner-take-all Ball would make more sense, but with a loss to spare, getting him more rest is the prudent way to go.
Of course, by the time this is posted Florida may have already announced a starter. I do know one thing. Tennessee is going with Todd Helton.