You know friend of the blog Tom Green as @Tomas_Verde, an Alligator staffer who covered Florida baseball in 2011 and 2012 before graduating. He now writes about the Marlins for MLB.com, but he reached out to me to write a few things about the Gators' two-and-out in Omaha. This is his post, not mine.
Omaha was supposed to host the coronation of Kevin O’Sullivan’s creation.
Five years of relentless recruiting, rebuilding and rebranding Florida’s program was supposed to culminate with the most talented baseball team UF has ever seen celebrating in a dogpile at TD Ameritrade Park.
Instead, those Gators will watch from home as another team celebrates a College World Series title — that is, if O’Sullivan, his staff and his players can stomach to watch it on TV following a two-and-out effort in Omaha.
After the Gators unspectacularly bowed out of their third straight CWS appearance, the word "disappointment" was floated around by many of the Florida faithful.
That word doesn’t justly sum up this Gators baseball team.
Florida entered the season on the heels of a Southeastern Conference championship and a CWS championship series appearance. It was a near-unanimous preseason No. 1 team, entered the postseason as the No. 1 overall seed and was rife with Major League talent – 10 players were selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft two weeks ago, including two first-rounders.
Yet somehow this Florida team that was supposed to provide the school with its best opportunity to win a title failed to even win a game in the CWS.
This was more than a disappointment; this was, quite frankly, a team that underachieved for much of the year after a blistering start to the season buckling under the immense pressure that built up over the last 356 days.
Few things fully capture just how much of a letdown this Florida team was than one sequence in the ninth inning of Monday’s season-ending 5-4 loss to Kent State.
Down a run with two men on and no outs, O’Sullivan opted to take the bat out of the hands of Brian Johnson – one of those two first-round selections – and put it in the hands of Cody Dent and his .134 average with Florida’s season on the line.
Let that soak in for a minute.
O’Sullivan took the bat out of the hands of one of his best players, and put it in the hands of arguably his worst player offensively. More than just that, Dent only stepped to the plate to bunt the runners over.
O’Sullivan’s reasoning? He didn’t want Johnson – who was 1 for 8 in two CWS games and grounded into a double play the inning before – to hit into a twin-killing. So O’Sullivan willingly gave up one of his team’s final three outs to avoid the slim chance of Johnson getting two outs against a pitcher that could not throw strikes in the ninth inning.
How slim, you ask? Consider this: In 217 plate appearances this season, Johnson hit into four double-plays. In other words, O’Sullivan went with a 100 percent chance of giving away one of his final three outs to avoid a 1.8 percent chance of giving away two of them.
To be fair, Florida shouldn’t have been in that ninth-inning situation to begin with: It played poor defense, it stranded a small village on the basepaths thanks to poor situational hitting, and it got suspect pitching from a staff that was supposed to have "pitching for days," as one of N.C. State’s players so aptly put it.
Yes, O’Sullivan overmanaged that situation – which has been the lone knock on him since he took the reins in Gainesville and turned UF into a perennial power – but his team decided its fate with its play on the field long before that decision.
Yet for as bad as the ninth inning was, and for as ugly as the Gators’ appearance in Omaha was, at the end of the day, they still had a chance to salvage their season and avoid the tags of "chokers," "disappointments" and "underachievers."
They still had the chance to claim their spot atop the college baseball world. Instead, this group that was supposed to be college baseball royalty was made to look like a troupe of court jesters, and that long-anticipated coronation turned into an unceremonious exit from Omaha.