Florida's baseball team played its longest game since 1996 on Friday night. And just as Saturday morning came around, the Gators got a 3-2 win over Georgia on one of the most bizarre final plays you will ever see: The walk-off strikeout.
With two outs in the bottom of the 16th inning and Vickash Ramjit on third base, Georgia got the third out of the inning on Blake Deiterich's strikeout of Nolan Fontana. But catcher Brandon Stephens dropped the ball, then threw high to first base after jogging up the line, allowing Ramjit to score the Gators' first run since the fifth inning and walk off for a Friday win that will be seared in the memories of any of the 4,840 fans who stayed for the duration.
The game, which began at 7:05, lasted four hours and 56 minutes, and featured just one error, on the final play of the night.
Jonathon Crawford started for Florida, and worked 4.1 innings, giving up a run on six hits, before being relieved by Steven "Paco" Rodriguez. Paco struck out four in three innings of stellar relief, but gave up a 2-1 lead after giving up a triple to Brett DeLoach and a single to Conor Welton in the seventh. Austin Maddox relieved Rodriguez, and threw 5.2 scoreless innings in the longest outing of his Florida career, spending just 61 pitches on 22 batters, before Greg Larson finished the night on the mound with three hitless innings.
But while Florida's bullpen shut down the Dawgs, Georgia's was stamping out the Gators' attempts to walk off with a win, stopping Florida with runners on second and third in the 11th and getting out of what could have been a bases-loaded jam with one out in the 13th when Josh Tobias was thrown out at the plate on a Casey Turgeon single. Both teams left 14 men on base, but Florida left two men on a stunning five times.
Florida got its runs in the first nine innings on a Brian Johnson RBI single in the fourth and a Mike Zunino sacrifice fly in the fifth. Johnson went 2-for-4 on the night with two walks, keeping up his torrid play of late, and Daniel Pigott had a 3-for-5 night only to expire on the basepaths in a double play and a failed steal attempt.
But the least-loved member of Florida's vaunted starting lineup, and the only Gators starter not to rap a hit on the night, played a crucial part in the 16th inning. Cody Dent laid down a sacrifice bunt, his second of the night (and third bunt) to move Ramjit from first to second, allowing a wild pitch to put him in position to score on a dropped third strike.
If Dent doesn't lay down that bunt — if he doesn't perform the one task on offense that he can be reliably expected to perform — Ramjit's only jogging to third or rounding it on the fateful final play. And maybe the lack of pressure of the walk-off allows Stephens, who was inconsolable after the game, to make the easy throw to first.
Baseball's a funny, clockless sport, fraught with arcane rules, weird superstitions, and antiquated strategy. But because no baseball game is ever deathless, there must always be some sort of denouement — and on Friday/Saturday, that moment, which I missed by less than a minute, gave the Gators a timeless win.