Tough loss for the Florida State Seminoles.
Hosting their sixth consecutive Super Regional at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahasseee, FSU dropped the opener to the no. 13 Indiana Hoosiers, 10-9.
The game took four hours and 15 minutes. There were 11 different pitchers, 23 hits, 19 runs, 6 errors and a very dramatic finish. I heard someone say that this was baseball at it's best. No, not really. This was actually an extremely sloppy game where both teams shot themselves in the foot enough times that they had to start doubling up on feet.
The six errors is not indicative of the number of mental gaffes that were made either. Poor baserunning, bad outs in key at-bats and just general lapses in concentration were issues that both teams dealt with.
This game may have been indicative of how competitive this Super Regional might be, but it was hardly indicative of how talented these two teams are.
Ironically, Indiana head coach Tracy Smith said on Friday that he thought that this series would come down to pitching. Specifically he thought it would come down to a few key pitches.
That may prove to be true– and it certainly looked to be the case for the first three innings on Saturday– but by the end of game one it sure did look more like the key to winning this series will be avoiding mistakes and scoring runs. Lots of runs.
FSU's Luke Weaver was coming off the best start of his young career and was extremely efficient retiring the Hoosier lineup the first time through the order. But as Indiana SS Michael Basil said after the game, the second time through the lineup they had started to time his fastball and they were ready for what he was going to bring.
The result of that was a four-run fourth inning.
“They’re a great team, a great hitting team," said Weaver. "They took a lot of mistakes I left over the plate and did a good job of capitalizing on them. They got the key hits here and there. I credit them. They came out ready to hit today. I didn’t have my best stuff. I was trying to grind through that game. I know when my team came back and got me those runs it was a whole new ball game. I was trying to get out there and pitch the best I could.
"It just didn’t go our way."
The Seminoles responded in kind in the fourth inning. They tossed up a four-spot of their own and knocked Indiana's starter, Joey DeNato, out of the game before he could record an out. DeNato didn't have his best stuff on Saturday either. He walked four, hit two and gave up a hit. He only let in two runs, but when he started the fourth with a walk and an HBP, Smith came out and got him.
Though after the game I think Smith admitted that was actually a mistake. He joked that he forgot he had already made a mound visit that inning and was obligated to yank him.
That may have been for laughs, or it's also extremely plausible even the coaches were making mistakes in game one.
Indiana had many mound visits actually, enough that I could actually see somebody forgetting if they had walked from the dugout to the hill yet in a given frame. The Hoosiers probably had more meetings on the pitcher's mound in one game than some teams had in an entire weekend in Tallahassee this season.
Smith was more than happy to openly joke about it at the postgame press conference too, "we have a good time out there, we tell jokes and stuff," he said to a ripple of laughter.
It's an interesting strategy, Indiana controlled the tempo of the game by being as deliberately methodical (and that's probably the nicest way I could think to word that) as they could be. You'd see a pitcher lean in and take his time getting the sign, the batter would call time and step out, then the pitcher would step out a few seconds after the batter got back in the box.
The fourth inning alone lasted over 45 minutes.
I'm not sure it worked with Florida State's hitters. FSU's offense had a weird afternoon (more on that later) but it wasn't because of the speed Indiana's pitchers were working at. The Seminoles actually outhit Indiana 12-11. They had plenty of chances to score. Just in that epic fourth inning they stayed patient and strung together three singles and another HBP to plate four runs and tie the game 4-4.
The deliberately slow pace of the game may have had an effect on Luke Weaver though. It may have aided in preventing him from establishing any kind of rhythm after the 4th inning.
His first three innings he was able to get into a flow and he was solid. And while Indiana did catch up to him in the fourth, Weaver has had a bad inning or two over the course of the season and was usually able to course correct and avoid allowing another. On Saturday the sophomore got roughed up some in the fourth and then had to sit in the dugout for nearly half an hour before he could get back on the mound.
He came out in the fifth and despite avoiding damage, fell behind in counts and never looked completely in sync. In the sixth he gave up another run behind a single and a double.
Weaver admitted he didn't have his best stuff on Saturday and that happens sometimes. But if there was any shot he was going to get into a rhythm and find it, Indiana certainly didn't give him that chance.
If this all sounds familiar it's not terribly different from how FSU plays ball. Mike Martin is the master of the double mound visit. Sending the catcher first, letting the umpire break up the meeting and then walking out himself to pull the pitcher or sometimes just to slow things down a little more. That's nothing new in Tallahassee, and while it's not quite as common as it seems to be with Tracy Smith and Indiana, Mike Martin certainly knows his way to the hill and at times can take slowing the game down to help his own team's agenda (try to calm momentum, more time to warm up a reliever, etc...) to a near-artistic level.
And as for the plate discipline, this is what Florida State does to other teams regularly.
What Seminoles fans felt today as Indiana came to the plate with a focused approach, looking for specific pitches and working counts to their favor was the same thing as a lot of opposing fans felt as FSU won 46 games and dominated parts of their regular season schedule this year.
Weaver hit 112 pitches after just six innings. By comparison last weekend against Troy he threw 115 in eight full innings. He also had far fewer high stress pitches.
One of the things FSU pitching coach Mike Bell likes to reiterate is that sometimes throwing 75 high stress pitches in a game can be more detrimental than throwing 110 pitches but rarely being in a jam or a high stress situation.
Last Saturday as Florida State beat Troy 10-0, the game was tight early but Weaver was never really tested, Troy only reached base four times against Weaver and double plays erased most of those runners.
Against the Hoosiers, even as they struggled their first time around the order, they made him throw a lot of pitches. The first inning only saw three plate appearances, but all three hitters saw at least five pitches.
Weaver started to have some success at the bottom of the order and really mowed through the 7-8-9 hitters in the 3rd. But after seeing his pitches the first time up and watching their teammates at the bottom of the order go up and play into Weaver's strengths, the Hoosiers made their adjustments. They started looking for Weaver to throw something to hit in his first couple of pitches and if he didn't, they'd work the count and either look for a walk or a mistake. Weaver doesn't walk many, though he did walk a couple Saturday. But to avoid giving up walks he'll occasionally leave something out over the plate and Indiana was making him pay for those mistakes on Saturday.
Ultimately, after FSU and Indiana battled back and forth the first six innings of the game, a four-run 7th that included two Florida State throwing errors handed control back to the Hoosiers.
With Weaver checked out, the Hoosiers wasted little time attacking the Florida State bullpen and the Seminoles pitched in with three errors in two innings that netted Indiana five runs and put them on top for good.
In the 7th John Nogowski made a throwing error on a bunt, then later in the inning Stephen McGee airmailed a pick-off attempt to third and a run came in with two outs. Both errors proved costly, rather than have a man on and one out, there were two baserunners and nobody down after Nogowski's error. In McGee's case, Billy Strode retired the batter that was standing in the box when McGee made the errant throw just a few pitches later.
At the very least the errors cost Florida State a run in the 7th, possibly more. In the 8th another throwing error, this one on Jose Brizuela, allowed Indiana to push their advantage out to four runs.
Florida State didn't go quietly though, the Seminoles kept swinging and took the game down to the final out. John Nogowski hit a two-run home run in the 8th inning to cut the lead to two and in the ninth DJ Stewart scored Giovanny Alfonzo on a single to right.
With two on, and one out a wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position. Florida State couldn't have asked for a better shot at the end. With the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position and the game on the line the Seminoles had two of their most dangerous bats in a position to steal it back or at least extend it another inning.
They both flew out harmlessly to end the game.
It left Seminole fans with a bad taste in their mouth, for sure. But it may be a little early to panic.
This game was bizarre in many ways, from the overall length of it to the number of on-mound discussions both teams had, to the fact both teams did about as many things to lose the game as they did to win it in some cases.
And if there was a trend heading into the game, it wasn't likely to hold up on Saturday.
For instance, almost exactly one-third of FSU's hits this year were extra base hits, it's 33.38%. On Saturday FSU collected 12 hits, statistically that would mean a couple doubles, maybe a triple and a home run, but four extra base hits.
Florida State had 11 singles against Indiana. One home run, 11 singles. Not even just with Florida State, but just regarding baseball in general that doesn't happen very often. You may see that when a team only gets four hits all game, but to get 12 hits across five different pitchers (Luke Harrison didn't surrender a hit in his .2 innings of work) and not even get one guy past first without an error or the ball leaving the yard... that's odd. And statistically unlikely.
FSU also stranded 13 runners, they made base-running gaffes and they had three defensive errors. They made all those mistakes and they still had a very good shot to win down to the final out.
It all lined up so imperfectly for the Seminoles on Saturday with Weaver being a bit off, Stephen McGee making an uncharateristic mistake at a costly moment, the inability to get extra base hits, key timely hits, etc...
But that's baseball. As Mike Martin said on Friday at the introductory press conference, "that's why it's the greatest game in the world."
It's not who IS better, it's oftentimes who's PLAYING better.
If FSU avoids the sloppiness of Saturday for the rest of the weekend, they have already proved that they can hit against the Indiana bullpen– even when it's rested.
That doesn't mean you should bet it all on FSU in this round though. Nor does it mean the Hoosiers won't look a lot better after they correct a few issues they had in game one, themselves.
Indiana also made three errors, they also made some bad baserunning decisions and now with just 53 pitches thrown, Joey DeNato could be available on Monday if needed for relief in game three.
Indiana didn't play its best game on Saturday either. In fact Coach Smith used the words, "really sloppy" more than a few times after the game. And just as many don't expect a repeat performance from Florida State on Sunday, it's also not likely Indiana makes as many mistakes in game two either.
The road to Omaha is still manageable for the Seminoles, but it got a lot harder Saturday afternoon. FSU needs to win two straight at home in order to make it to the College World Series, Indiana needs just one win.
On the podium after game one the Seminoles looked worn out, but Mike Martin wasn't ready to panic yet.
“Tomorrow, God willing the sun’s going to come up, it ain’t over yet,” said Martin. “We’re going to play our butts off tomorrow.”
In game two Florida State hopes to play more like the team that was 35-4 and almost untouchable at Dick Howser this season. But like many of the other trends and stats that both teams took into this series, right now those numbers might not mean a thing.
Gotta love baseball.
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)