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Florida 20, FSU 7: Gators’ stunning rally hands Seminoles staggering loss

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How many ways can we break their hearts?

@GatorsBB

I am not exactly deeply familiar with Florida State’s baseball history, except for the parts of it that intersect with Florida’s own and the ones that include Mike Martin winning a lot of games and zero national championships. But I have to imagine that that history suggested the Seminoles would go on to win over Florida after opening up a 6-0 lead on the Gators on Tuesday night, in the first game of the three-game series of midweek clashes the two teams will play this year.

Then again, recent history has suggested that nothing the Seminoles do will lead to a win when they are on the field with Florida. And so, the fact that it was Florida that won — by 13 runs, reinforcing its status as the state’s preeminent baseball program — is hardly a surprise.

After a slow start on the mound and at the plate, the Gators woke up and sprinted past the Seminoles with a 20-1 stretch of scoring over the last four innings of play that featured half-innings of five, eight, and seven runs for the homestanding Orange and Blue. And in so doing, they handed Martin and his team one hell of a loss to remember in his final visit to Gainesville.

The Seminoles could have been on the way to a rout of their own, too.

For the first five innings, they had done well against Florida’s pitching, which featured two of the Gators’ more reliable relievers — sophomore Jordan Butler and freshman Nolan Crisp — getting work in earlier-than-usual innings. Butler started, and gave up an RBI double in the first inning and a solo homer in the second before being lifted for fellow freshman Christian Scott. Scott would be charged with two more runs when Crisp gave up a grand slam — the first homer and just third extra-base hit allowed in his young career — in the fifth, extending FSU’s lead to 6-0.

And FSU had quieted the Gators’ bats, too, with starter Conor Grady working the first three innings without allowing a run despite giving up hits in all three and loading the bases with a leadoff double and two walks in the second.

At that point, FSU had probably its best chance of winning a game that it has had at any point since the beginning of an eight-game losing streak to the Gators that dates back to 2016. A win expectancy calculator for MLB games suggests that a visiting team up 6-0 entering the bottom of the fifth has about a 95 percent chance of winning — and while comparing college baseball to MLB baseball is comparing lemons to oranges, if not quite apples to oranges, a 6-0 lead is obviously a commanding one.

Florida had that lead almost entirely erased by the top of the sixth — and had nearly doubled up the Seminoles by the top of the seventh.

The Gators’ five-run fifth inning was sparked — as seemingly so many rallies by Florida against FSU of late are — by some Seminoles miscues. Jacob Young reached on a fielding error to lead off the inning, and a Kendrick Calilao single to center — which followed Nelson Maldonado drawing a walk in a nine-pitch at-bat from a 1-2 count — ended up scoring two runs thanks partly to another throwing error. And after the Seminoles got the second out, two more runs would score on wild pitches, and Florida’s fifth and final plate-crossing came after a four-pitch walk.

Florida’s bottom of the sixth inning, which followed Crisp walking two batters and helping FSU get back a run in the top of the sixth, started with two batters being hit by pitches, and then RBI raps by Calilao and Wil Dalton, and then featured the entrance of FSU’s Austin Pollock, who would go on to have a night to forget.

His first entry in the play-by-play?

Langworthy reached on a fielder’s choice to pitcher, SAC, bunt, advanced to third (0-0); Dalton advanced to second on an error by p, advanced to third on the throw, scored; Calilao scored.

That play put Florida up 9-7. It wouldn’t get better for Pollock — but it would get so, so much better for the Gators.

Freshman center fielder Jud Fabian, known for his wheels, singled and then stole second and third. Brady Smith drove him in — on a triple to right. Young drove Smith in — on a bunt single. And Brady McConnell drove Young in with a single, leaving Florida up 13-7 with a man on second, one out, and its No. 3 and No. 4 hitters left to take cuts.

That Maldonado (pop-up to short) and Calilao (strikeout) failed to do more in that frame was of little consequence, ultimately. But it is a reminder that things could have been even more lopsided on Tuesday night.

And after a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh inning, Florida resumed its onslaught in the eighth, once again teeing off on Pollock.

Four straight singles scored a run and loaded the bases for Calilao, who deposited the second grand slam of his career beyond the fence to make the lead 18-7. And though that mercifully chased Pollock — whose eight earned runs in 2.1 innings were one fewer than either of FSU’s two primary weekend starters have allowed all year, and more than any Florida pitcher not named Tommy Mace (10 ER in 25.1 innings) has given up all year — it would not actually end the drubbing, as Florida still had a two-run homer from Blake Reese left to go.

The 20 runs are the second-most Florida has ever scored against FSU, nearly equaling a tally from so long ago that it happened in Martin’s first season with the Seminoles.

And now Florida has won nine straight against FSU, extending its best winning streak as a program in the series to the best winning streak in the series by either program. Last night’s win means the current streak has eclipsed an eight-game win streak for the Seminoles that lasted from 1989 to 1991.

And while that win streak was comprised largely of hard-fought games — six of the eight were decided by one or two runs — this one has consisted of far fewer close contests, as Florida has won seven of the nine games by three or more runs. (The other two wins? 1-0 shutouts.)

Florida’s 20 runs on Tuesday were also almost as many as the Seminoles had mustered over those previous eight losses. In the nine-game streak, Florida has scored in double digits three times, compiled four shutouts, and run up a composite score of 66-27.

And it’s not like Florida is the historical leader of the series. Baseball is one of very few sports in which FSU has arguably had more success over its existence than Florida has, even though the Gators did beat the Seminoles to claiming a national title, and Florida still trails the Seminoles in their all-time series, 128-119-1.

But consider where that record was when Kevin O’Sullivan arrived in Gainesville. FSU led 112-92-1, with a healthy 20-game lead on the Gators and a .574 winning percentage. Since O’Sullivan’s arrival, that lead has been cut in half, and the winning percentage has dwindled to just .516, thanks largely to Florida winning 14 of the last 15 and 22 of the last 27 games between the programs.

Any way you look at it, Florida’s current dominance of its in-state rival is staggering.

Prior to the game, O’Sullivan presented Martin with a golf bag and tickets for a cruise in recognition of the legendary coach’s impending retirement at the end of the season.

Given the way his Gators devoured Martin’s charges on the field on that night — and have, for the better part of a decade — Sully probably should have included some aspirin.