Brian Johnson could've opened his MLB career by facing a former Florida Gator in Cole Figueroa, but the New York Yankees sending Figueroa back to the minors just before the end of a weekend series between the two teams earlier this month helped scuttle that.
Instead, he made that debut on Tuesday — but it wasn't exactly a great one.
Johnson allowed just four earned runs in the contest, but that was enough — especially with three of them coming in the fifth inning, when he was yanked with one out — to help the Houston Astros come back from a 3-1 deficit for an 8-3 win, and to charge him with the loss in his MLB debut.
Johnson struck out the side in the second inning and allowed just three singles in his appearance, long-awaited after a few years of promising minor league work in the Red Sox system and a year of turmoil in the Boston rotation. But he also walked four batters, and could have been in a much bigger spot of trouble after the first inning than he was: After walking Jose Altuve and allowing a stolen base and a Marwin Gonzalez single that put runners on the corners with no outs, Johnson got the dangerous Carlos Correa to merely wallop a sacrifice fly, and then induced an inning-ending double play.
That Johnson even made it to the fifth inning was an achievement, and the runs in the inning weren't totally his fault: Two scored on a throwing error by catcher Ryan Flanagan. The debut in sum wasn't a great one, though Over the Monster's Ben Buchanan was heartened by it, in some respects.
But former Gators weren't done making noise in the series.
On Wednesday night, it was Preston Tucker's turn to put on a show — and he did so with a milestone performance. Tucker socked two home runs in the game, one a blast to left-center that traveled 419 feet and another a two-run shot to right, and both had his first multi-home run game in the majors and personally drove in enough runs to win the game, a 4-2 Houston victory, by himself.
Tucker didn't face Johnson on Tuesday, sitting while Evan Gattis and L.J. Hoes patrolled his left field spot, but that was probably a good thing for the pitcher: Tucker's showing on Wednesday gives him three home runs and five RBI in his last two games.
Getting used to Florida products from Kevin O'Sullivan's talent-rich program producing on a daily basis at the major league level is, to an extent, odd; Florida's had excellent MLB players before, names like Mark Ellis, Josh Fogg, Brad Wilkerson and 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein, but there's never been quite such a critical mass of Gators in the MLB ranks — and Florida's MLB reps are still a blend of players like All-Star pitcher Darren O'Day from previous regimes and the O'Sullivan products who have already broken into the bigs. O'Sullivan's stocked his roster not just with good college players, but ones who develop at Florida and then become solid pros, and that success is part of why he continues to recruit well.
Of course, former Florida signees have managed to do plenty in the pros, too. Andrew McCutchen is unquestionably the biggest name of those, but the Astros will start coulda-been-a-Gator Lance McCullers (4-3 with a 2.52 ERA on the year) tonight in their series finale against the Red Sox, and Houston could eventually have him, Preston Tucker, and 2015 Florida signee Kyle Tucker — Preston's little brother — on a 25-man roster.
For many years, MLB was home to fewer Gators than the NFL and NBA, which have been perennially stocked with Florida alumni. That has changed, though — and the flow of Florida Gators to the majors isn't slowing down any time soon.