At their current rate, the Florida Gators may very well not make the College World Series this year, not when they can’t figure out how to play .500 ball or prevent runs in SEC play.
But it doesn’t seem to matter at all how good these Gators are when they run into in-state rival Florida State — because all that matters when Florida and FSU meet on the diamond, right now, is that Florida is better.
Florida proved that by scoring more runs than FSU for the 11th consecutive time in 11 games in the storied series on Tuesday night, with Kirby McMullen’s two-run double in the top of the ninth in Tallahassee turning a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 game that Florida would close out to hand FSU’s legendary skipper Mike Martin — known popularly as No. 11 — what could be the final loss to Florida in his career.
And Florida won this game by preventing runs against the Seminoles, something it has generally been unable to do this year.
The Gators came into Tuesday’s game fresh off being swept by Ole Miss in Oxford and allowing a cool 40 runs to the Rebels over those three games; after a rain delay, the Gators managed to blow an 8-0 lead in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday. In its 12 SEC games, Florida has allowed 97 runs; apart from its sweep of Alabama, Florida has given up a jaw-dropping 90 runs in its other nine SEC games.
Florida State, meanwhile, has scored just 10 runs on Florida in three games against the Gators that haven’t featured Florida’s regular rotation members, and has scored just four runs in its last 22 innings against the Gators after running out to a 6-0 lead in the first game between the teams. (Florida, you may recall, turned that game around.)
And the Seminoles squandered baserunners all night on Tuesday, collecting a hit in every inning until the seventh against Florida starter David Luethje and reliever Justin Alintoff, but failing to get a runner to second outside of the bottom of the third, when Florida erased a runners-on-the-corners situation by turning a double play, and in the bottom of the fifth, when a double steal (on a count that went from 3-0 to full) put runners on first and third but led only to an RBI groundout and an inning-ending pop-up.
That RBI only tied the game, too, because Florida capitalized on another familiar FSU flaw — shoddy defense — to push across the game’s first run in the top of the fourth. Brady McConnell reached and took second on a dropped ball by FSU’s J.C. Flowers in center, then scored without Florida recording a hit thanks to a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball.
And after the sixth inning, Florida would allow just one more baserunner, while the Gators put together their only real rallies of the night in the eighth and ninth innings after mostly failing to solve Seminoles starter Conor Grady, who struck out nine and allowed just two hits in seven strong innings.
The Gators’ surge in the penultimate frame was held off, with a pair of fielder’s choices stifling their efforts after putting two men on with no outs thanks to a single, a throwing error, and a walk. But in the ninth, freshman Kendrick Calilao connected for a one-out double that was the only extra-base hit of the night by either team to that point, and then junior Kirby McMullen, pinch-hitting against Chase Haney — and not, to FSU fans’ consternation, putative closer Flowers — delivered the game’s decisive blow.
#ClutchKirby came off the bench and gave the #Gators a two-run lead!— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) April 10, 2019
Headed to the bottom of the ninth, #Gators lead FSU 3-1.
WATCH NOW: https://t.co/ZtYUEoJI9O pic.twitter.com/xXaqqTNkXN
McMullen’s two-out, two-run double would finish the scoring on the night, as Florida’s Ben Specht closed the door on the Seminoles with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn the victory. (Specht’s three nearly-spotless innings of relief in this game ran his season totals against the Seminoles to five innings pitched and nine strikeouts.)
And with the win, Florida’s rivalry-record winning streak against the Seminoles now stands at 11 — and has been just long enough to give Florida a 77-76 record all-time against Martin, who is the only manager to tally more than 2,000 wins in the history of college baseball.
Barring a postseason meeting between the Gators and Seminoles — which seems deeply unlikely, given that neither team is even a lock to host a regional at this juncture — it would seem that Martin will retire with a losing record against Florida, allowing the Gators to join Miami as the only teams FSU saw more than 20 times under Martin without rolling up a winning record.
And that residue of the Gators’ recent ruling of this series — which now includes 11 straight wins, 16 wins in the last 17 meetings, and 24 wins in the last 29 contests — may be the most impressive fact of the streak.
Midway through this decade, Martin enjoyed a massive 15-game advantage in his lifetime of competition against Florida as the Seminoles’ skipper.
As the decade — and Martin’s career — closes, that edge is entirely gone.