The Florida Gators had lost their last three College World Series games entering the 2017 version of the event, had been broomed out of Omaha in a two-and-’cue appearance in 2016 and ousted in an elimination game in 2015.
Alex Faedo made sure that Florida could do nothing but win on Sunday.
Florida’s junior ace and newly-minted first-rounder in the 2017 MLB Draft dominated TCU for seven scintillating innings, scattering just two hits over them while punching out 11 batters to break his own program record for strikeouts in a College World Series appearance. And the Gators did enough at the plate to cobble together runs behind him, manufacturing a 3-0 victory that gives them an inside track to a national title.
Faedo was all but unhittable on the day, with his wipeout slider and superb fastball working in tandem to tie the Horned Frogs in knots. TCU threatened most seriously in the third inning, taking advantage of an error and a walk to load the bases with one out, but Faedo responded with two strikeouts — one the first of a series of three over the course of the game in which TCU batters swung wildly at third strikes that were both well away from catcher Mike Rivera’s target and too electric not to swing at — and never lost his grip on the game.
Faedo ceded the mound to closer Michael Byrne to begin the eighth inning, and Byrne subsequently gave up three hits to Faedo’s two on the evening. But Florida’s all-time leader in single-season saves would compensate for those hits with four strikeouts, and gave the Gators their first College World Series shutout since 1991, when they blanked Florida State 5-0 for their first College World Series win ever.
That sort of steely performance from a starter followed by a save from Byrne has been customary for the Gators this year. So was the means of offensive production, as Florida pushed single runs across the plate in the first, fourth, and fifth innings on RBI singles, and saw its only extra-base hit of the night, a double by Nelson Maldonado, produce only a runner left on base.
Maybe the most eventful moment for Florida in the bottoms of its innings was Maldonado appearing to come up lame while running to third on a double-play ball in the fifth inning. The sophomore hitter, perhaps the Gators’ finest, continued to play until his next at-bat, visibly struggling to reach full gallop, and was ultimately removed from the game before the eighth inning. If he cannot be at his best for the Gators, it will be a significant blow to Florida’s offense in Omaha.
But if Faedo was merely the first of Florida’s starters to twirl a gem in TD Ameritrade Park this June, it might not matter.