Of course Sunday ended with the starter and game-winner dragging the infield.
Franco, who popped a 94 mph fastball Sunday, said he definitely felt he could've gone beyond his 45-pitch limit, but didn't argue with sticking to the plan to complete his recovery from last April's Tommy John surgery. He also used the word "Omaha" when talking about FIU.
Clearly, Franco felt good about himself and his team after FIU went three for three against Stony Brook Saturday and Sunday. Hey, everybody feels good when they haven't been scored on in 23 innings. FIU coach Turtle Thomas complimented the Panthers pitching, but also allowed that a northern team like Stony Brook's still thawing out their game this early in the season.
Though coming out of real winter (snow, ice), the Stony Brook fans looked just as uncomfortable in Florida winter (Sunday) as the FIU fans did. Everybody in each team's colors seemed to have a hoodie on or hunching their shoulders in a vain attempt to turn their collar into a hoodie. This wasn't Soldier Field, where Wisconsin and Minnesota ("Gophers!") played hockey Sunday, but the weather wasn't conducive to hitting, either.
Also not conducive to offense: Edwin Rios' glove. In Saturday's 10-4 win, Rios stopped a sizzling line drive down the line with the bases loaded that should've been a run-scoring double (at least). Instead, he took care of the inning's third out.
Sunday, with Stony's Austin Shives on third and one out, Rios snagged a hard grounder from Cole Peragine, fastened the runner to third with a staple gun stare, then stepped on first for the force out. A ground out to second later, FIU was out of the seventh inning.
"He's kind of our jack of all trades -- he can play second, short, first, third," Turtle Thomas said. "I told him one practice day, take ground balls at third and short. Next practice day, take 'em at second and first."
Meanwhile, umpire Damien Beal seemed to be giving pitchers half the outside batters box. Some called strikes looked closer to home plate of the nearest Tamiami Park diamond. But, credit to Beal, he maintained consistency. Neither team really adjusted to his strike zone. FIU's Zach Sweety struck out looking three times and six of FIU's eight strikeouts were with bat on the shoulder. When FIU's Mike Gomez got Shives looking in the ninth, Shives had the nerve to look at Beal with shock and dismay. The plate ump's been giving pitchers both dugouts all day, you're down 1-0 and you're taking a close two-strike pitch with a man on first in the last inning? Shives needed to save that look for the mirror.
Or Stony's third base coach. This really should've been a tie game going into the bottom of the ninth. With Peragine on first in the fourth, Steven Goldstein whistled a double down the first base line that bounced into the right field corner. Easy score for anyone faster than Fat Albert. Instead, Peragine got the hold up.
You haven't scored on a team in two days, your lineup's leadoff hitter is on first, you get a shot down the line that's at least a double, Keith Moreland and Cesar Geronimo are nowhere to be found in right field and you hold the runner? I thought the third base coach should be jumping up and down, windmilling the arms, yelling "Run, Sweetback! Run!"
Clearly, Goldstein expected Peragine to receive encouragement similar to that. He rounded second without a thought of braking until he saw Peragine reversing to third. This, of course, resulted in a rundown, Josh Anderson tagging out Peragine and FIU preserving its lead.
Sophomore shortstop Julius Gaines went three for four Sunday, seven for 10 in the series, and scored Sunday's only run.
"He's been swinging well in the three weeks we've been practicing and continued right on into the season," Thomas said. "He's gotten some added strength this year."