Two Whoppers -- no tomato, no mayo, definitely no cheese -- a cup of tea and a few The Big Bang Theory episodes later, I can sit down to say about the FIU baseball season opener...well, that's one time performance matched anticipation, huh?
FIU's Williams Durruthy walked into the dream situation for a kid playing by himself in a yard or sandlot -- charged with holding the gates of a one-run lead with the bases loaded and one out. Durruthy lived the dream. He got Andrew Lee swinging and Benito Santiago (yes, son of Benito Santiago) looking. FIU wins 4-3.
OK, nine errors says sloppier than seconds (of Manwich). One of those boo-boos, Tennessee's Steven Kane firing a pickoff move farther from first base than he ever was from the plate, birthed the winning run by allowing Jack Schaaf to score from third. Somehow, omnipresence of maladroit play failed to create an aura that causes one to call up the phrase "comedy of errors."
Lots of quick hits that didn't make my game story, a piece banged out quickly in my car after the game ran up against deadline and I'm not going into the press box situation.
FIU pitcher Danny Dopico faced seven batters and struck out six, including four in a row to end the eighth inning. Yes, four strikeouts in one inning. That came after he struck out the last two batters in the seventh inning after coming in with the bases loaded, one out and game tied 3-3. In the eighth, Jeff Moberg got hit by a pitch to start the eigth. Dopico icily mowed down David Houser, A.J. Simcox and Chris Hall. After catcher JC Escarra dropped the third strike to Chris Hall, Hall zipped down to first as if to get there not just before Escarra found the baseball, but before the baseball gods changed their mind. He didn't need to rush. Dopico struck out Derek Lance to keep FIU up 4-3 going into the ninth.
Tennessee shortstop A.J. Simcox dropped a third inning blooper from FIU's Brandon Cody that should've been a double play ball. Simcox spent the rest of the night atoning by taking away the left side of the infield past the pitcher's mound from FIU. Two of his diving stops flatly robbed FIU of hits with runners on base.
Tennessee's Christin Stewart had a Frank Robinson night -- hit by a pitch twice, tripled in Tennessee's first run. Actually, Stewart doubled to right and Brandon Cody launched an ICBM that might've nailed Stewart at third had it not nailed umpire Arthur Thigpen in the back shortly before arrival.
When it comes to umpire's bad calls affecting an inning, I'm usually of the "hard to screw a man who doesn't put himself in position to be screwed" school.
FIU went into the game with open minds on the Friday night starter and closer positions. Cody Crouse's audition for the former should get him more than a call back -- five innings, scattering six hits, one earned run, a walk and six strikeouts. On the other hand, Robby Kalaf's first audition for the latter...NEXT. Protecting a one-run lead in the ninth, coaches want pitching versions of Miles Davis that sooth and relax. Kalaf went Coltrane, injecting tension by hitting the leadoff guy and later throwing a wild pitch that moved two runners into scoring position. That set up Durruthy's Batman moment, which jacked up the entertainment value. Coaches prefer boring at that moment.
Crouse's second run never should've scored, by the way. Freshman Andres Nunez pitched wonderfully except for a spaz moment on his third batter. After hustling forward to field a bunt on the fly, Nunez turned to third to double the helpless runner. No need to rush. Nunez rushed. And couldn't have missed third base by more without aiming for first base, igniting enough anguished Spanish exclamations to fill the public forum part of a Hialeah city council meeting. Instead of a double play and out of the inning down 1-0, FIU trailed 2-0.
Nunez flat got rooked on a third strike call in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded, one out and FIU up 3-2. Whatever strike zone interpretation plate umpire Josh Miller used -- there were times last night Miller's strike zone seemed to start west of the middle of the plate and go about three feet toward the FIU dugout -- failed any decent eye test. Tennessee's Nick Senzel should've been walking back to the dugout, feeling some shame. Instead, a few pitches later, Senzel was promenading to first base with a walk that brought in the tying run.
Then again, the whole sequence doesn't happen if shortstop Julius Gaines doesn't flub what should've been an inning-ending double play ball two batters earlier. Hard smack but that's a play you need to believe your senior shortstop will make.
Back at it tonight with FIU sending freshman righty Garrett Cave against Tennessee junior lefthander Drake Owenby.
Same temps tonight so expect around 70 at first pitch, dipping to mid-50s by game's end. Last night, a good chunk of the crowd stood at the seventh inning stretch and stretched all the way to the exits and heated cars. Hope the concession stand has hot chocolate so The Herald's chocolate can buy that along with my colada.