GAINESVILLE -- The Hurricanes collapsed again against the Gators.
It was an amazing game to watch in person. The tension was incredibly thick and the atmosphere was humming with boisterous Gators fans -- and the swatch of loyal Canes baseball fans, who really are great fans.
But if you know the recent history of Canes baseball against the Gators, you couldn't help but get that weird feeling that something might go wrong for the Canes in the ninth inning. It did, of course. Error. Balk. Walk. Wild pitch. Another walk. Walk-off single.
I know how UM coach Jim Morris is adamant about using his bullpen in his specific formula, but I was shocked when he brought in Travis Miller to replace Sam Robinson after the first UF batter looked at a strikeout pitch to open the ninth. Robinson was nothing less than suburb yesterday. He retired all seven batters he faced, striking out three of them. Just two more outs... Just two.
Why did you do it, Coach Morris?
“It was righty-righty with Miller [vs. Daniel Pigott],’’ Morris said. “That’s what we always do in the bullpen, and I didn’t want to overextend Robinson where he couldn’t pitch [Sunday]. Miller is used to getting right-handed hitters out.’’
The thing is, if you beat Florida, then Sunday becomes that much easier for the Canes and that much harder for the Gators. Now UM has to win two games today -- including the second one against Florida -- to even have a chance to play Florida again Monday for the regional title.
Also, I did ask Morris about the top of the ninth, when Nathan Melendres opened with a double. "Were you thinking at all of maybe bunting him to third?''
Morris: "I considered it. But [next batter Rony Rodriguez] is our leading RBI guy, our leading home run guy and we got a guy in scoring position and you've got three shots of getting in a run right there to go ahead. I was hoping he would move him over. He swung at the first pitch. He got out in front and hit a ground ball to short and didn't get him over. But basically we had our 3-4-5 hitters right there with a chance to put us ahead in the ninth inning. If that would have happened we would have brought Miranda in the ninth inning to start the inning.''
My thinking is you get Melendres to third with a sac, which UM has been very good at lately. Now a fly ball to the outfield or a hit gets him in. But I do think that the biggest blunder was taking out Sam when he did. Sometimes you have to throw away your "always" mentality and do what makes sense in a situation.
"I love pressure,'' Sam said after the game. "I love pitching in pressure situations, so coming in the seventh inning with the score tied, I love those situations.''
OK, fans. Have to get to the ballpark now for what could prove to be a very long day. Or at least what UM fans hope will be a long day.
You have to like that B-Rad is pitching for the Canes against Jax, and E.J. Encinosa -- who only gave up one run against Florida earlier this year in a 1-0 loss at UF (one-hitter) -- will throw against UF if UM beats Jacksonville.
You also have to wonder if the Canes can get through the Gators without making errors.
Also, before I forget, and this was in my original story until the game got so crazy that it had to be cut out to fit length, right fielder Dale Carey is an amazing outfielder. The acrobatic, unbelievably dramatic catch he made in the bottom of the first inning to save a potential run was one of the best I've seen. Even the rabid Gators fans applauded Carey after that one, and it appeared that Carey tipped his hat a bit.
The Gators made some amazing defensive plays, too, honestly. They are an excellent baseball team.
Ready for the next one?
--SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN