In his long and storied career, former Florida State baseball manager Mike Martin stewarded his Seminoles well enough to build a sizable series lead over the Florida Gators and yet not well enough to prevent Kevin O’Sullivan’s powerhouse program from ultimately having a winning record against Martin.
In his one game against the Gators as FSU’s manager on Tuesday, Martin’s son — Mike “Meat” Martin Jr. — helped the Seminoles do what his father had not done since 2017 and what no team had done against the Gators this winter: Win.
FSU’s 2-0 victory at McKethan Stadium — which all but assures that Florida’s last game against the Seminoles at their current baseball stadium will be a loss — was a fine performance by both sides. It’s just that while the Seminoles were good on the mound, in the field, and at the dish, Florida only excelled on the mound and in the field.
FSU starter Anthony Velez threw six innings of one-hit ball, fanning seven and walking two, and reliever Parker Messick was even better at cutting down the Gators, striking out his seven batters in just three innings and allowing just two hits. The pair allowed just one extra-base hit — a double by Kirby McMullen in the fourth — and never permitted a runner to reach third.
And Velez, in particular, did his work by pounding the zone, needing just 78 pitches to get his 18 outs and getting into just three full counts in that span.
Florida, meanwhile, was letting runners on and then standing on its head to get them out. Starter Nick Pogue gave up four hits, a walk, and a hit batter in three innings, and allowed the Seminoles to score their first run in the top of the first by going walk-strikeout-single-strikeout-single over his first five batters.
But that would be the only run he would give up, as he ended up stranding five men on base over those three innings of work; Tyler Nesbitt did almost the same, immediately allowing two on upon his arrival in the fourth inning and then getting three straight outs to fan them. Nesbitt would strand another runner in the fifth before finally working Florida’s first 1-2-3 inning of the night in the sixth.
Florida then put out a potential fire in the seventh, as Christian Scott buckled down following his own walk-double start by striking out the side from there on. And Nick Cabarcas covered capably for Scott in the eighth, yielding just a sacrifice fly after Scott put men on second and third with no one out for the second consecutive frame. All told, FSU put on 14 runners via nine hits, two walks, and three hit batters — and still only scored single runs in two innings.
And if the Gators had been hitting at all, that might have been enough to keep them in this game, or even permitted them to win it. They didn’t, though, failing to ever put multiple baserunners on for any plate appearance.
And so they fell, ending an 11-game winning streak over the Seminoles that was the longest in rivalry history and a 16-game winning streak to begin 2020 that was the third-longest in program history.
And that doesn’t worry me a bit.
I’ve been checking in on Florida’s fortunes after its midweek games against FSU for a few years now, and this is the first one of those that has been a first loss of the season. Even without addressing the idea that midweek games — usually featuring fourth or fifth starters, and sometimes featuring freshmen getting work they otherwise wouldn’t — are crapshoots, Florida has done enough this year to call a single loss to a talented FSU outfit that finally played a clean game against the Gators a blip, at least until further notice.
The Gators did enter Tuesday’s game as the nation’s No. 1 team, after all, that lofty perch thanks to their torrid start which features a sweep of Miami in Coral Gables, convincing sweeps of Marshall, Troy, and USF, and four other midweek wins. Florida’s hitting woes over its last two games — in which the Gators have just two runs in 18 innings — are probably not a sign of a team that’s been struggling at the plate in a meaningful way, considering that the Gators have been held under five runs in just three other games this year.
And Florida’s best sign thus far this year — strong work from its weekend rotation — obviously wasn’t contravened in any way by Tuesday night. Friday starter Tommy Mace (1.67) and Sunday starter Hunter Barco (1.40) are still sporting sparkling ERAs, and Saturday starter Jack Leftwich rebounded from an iffy outing against Troy for his third start of six innings and no more than four hits allowed last Saturday against USF.
Florida’s lineup is still very young — Austin Langworthy is its only senior, and is in the midst of a customary slow start — and seems to count depth as a strength over a few standout hitters. But it has a healthy .285/.447/.833 triple-slash and has been lifted by Jacob Young (.450 batting average, 17-game hitting streak), Jud Fabian (five home runs, 1.010 OPS), and Nathan Hickey, whose streak of four straight games with a homer came to an end on Tuesday.
The Gators’ defense has also been good to great, with no Gator having yet committed three errors and one of the three with two being Josh Rivera, a burgeoning defensive star at short. And Florida’s deep bullpen includes five players — freshman flamethrower Brandon Sproat among them — who have made four or more appearances and still have ERAs at or below 1.50.
This isn’t Florida’s flashiest or most star-studded team under O’Sullivan; it might have to fight to be fourth on that list, off the top of my head, given how many juggernauts Sully has built. And it’s also still very early to judge this team holistically, given that it’s really only played one tough series.
But the early returns suggest that Florida has one of the best teams in college baseball again. And if the Gators chomp through the beginning of their SEC schedule like they tore through non-conference play, it’s going to be very, very easy to start dreaming of Omaha.