OMAHA, Neb. — Fortunately for Gators fans, the only thing the 2017 Florida baseball team shares with the 2015 New York Mets is a color scheme.
As baseball aficionados probably remember, the 2015 World Series pitted the Kansas City Royals against the New York Mets. In Game 5, with the Royals holding a 3-1 advantage in the series, the Mets carried a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. With one out, Eric Hosmer standing on third and the lead already trimmed to 2-1, the Royals sent Salvador Perez to the plate. Perez chopped a sharp grounder to third baseman David Wright, who fired to first baseman Lucas Duda for the second out.
In a decision some questioned, Hosmer darted for home the instant Wright made his throw. Duda collected the throw cleanly and pivoted to throw home. But his throw sailed wide. Hosmer scored, forcing extra innings. A few hours later, the Royals were hoisting a World Series trophy.
Jump ahead two years. The Florida baseball team holds a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning of a College World Series game. Playing the role of the Royals, LSU has a runner on third base with one out. Florida pitcher Jackson Kowar induces a hard chopper off the bat of LSU slugger Greg Deichmann toward first base.
Cut out the middle man. Florida first baseman JJ Schwarz doesn’t need to receive a throw from his third baseman. LSU’s runner on third, shortstop Kramer Robertson, ran on contact. Schwarz collected the grounder and didn’t even think about going to first. He fired home to catcher Mike Rivera.
JJ Schwarz with a HUGE play!!
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2017
And, unlike Duda, Schwarz got the out. The Gators didn’t pull a Mets. The Gators won the College World Series.
“Exact same situation,” Kowar said smiling when he was reminded of the 2015 World Series. “That’s a big-leaguer who couldn’t get it done on a big stage. And JJ did it. That’s awesome. I was just thinking about that a couple of seconds ago.”
For a game that Florida controlled pretty handily throughout, the Gators sure made the seventh and eighth innings pretty hard on themselves. In both frames, LSU put runners on first and third with nobody out. But in both of those situations, neither runner scored. In the seventh, Florida benefitted from an illegal slide to strand an LSU runner at third. And in the eighth, Schwarz’ throwing accuracy stopped LSU’s rally cold.
Cheering on his teammates from the dugout, junior ace Alex Faedo could barely watch.
“I hate sitting in the dugout like that,” Faedo said. “My stomach starts hurting. I get so much anxiety. I wish I was out there. But I knew.”
Faedo claims he knew his teammates would squirm out of each jam. And to his credit, they did. But it wasn’t without making a few guys sweat first. Designated hitter Nelson Maldonado joked that being in the dugout in those situations might be harder than being on the field, a fact that infielder Blake Reese echoed when he joked that Maldonado couldn’t stop talking to him in the dugout through both of those innings.
But with the stressful lows come the release of the highs. When Kowar and Schwarz worked their way out of the eighth, Maldonado paradoxically described the feeling as indescribable.
“That was a lot of weight taken off our shoulders,” Maldonado said. “It was a sense of there was still hope that we were going to win this game.”
As for Kowar, he barely had an opportunity to watch the play unfold. LSU had a runner on first at the time, second baseman Cole Freeman, and Kowar thought there was an opportunity to turn a double play which would’ve ended the inning. So on contact, Kowar darted for first to cover the bag for Schwarz. Little did he know how silly that was on two fronts.
“I didn’t know Freeman had stole,” Kowar explained. “Someone just told me that. I missed that one. But I was just trying to run over to first then [Schwarz] kind of scared me going home. He’s a catcher, so that was a heck of a throw for him to catch it, set his feet, throw a strike.”
Faedo saw it differently. From his vantage point in the Florida baseball team’s dugout, Faedo might’ve had a better view than anyone except for Schwarz himself.
And as the play unfolded, Faedo knew exactly what was developing.
“You can just see it happen with your eyes being from that view,” Faedo said. “Perfect throw. Things have got to go your way. The last couple of times we’ve been here in the past with [Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan], little things happen that just don’t go our way. This year we got lucky and it just helped a ton.”
If only the Mets were so lucky.