A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.
Florida’s baseball season has ended earlier than anyone expected. While it is a bit disappointing that the Gators did not make a deeper run in the College World Series, it is still an achievement to just get to Omaha, NE and perform against the top teams in the country. While many may be quick to point fingers at players, coaches and umpires, let’s take a deep breath, step back and evaluate the two games UF played before jumping to conclusions. Florida could not buy a break – and sometimes that’s just the way baseball goes – but there are some things that could have been done to help the team get through both games without suffering losses.
In the South Carolina game, UF was cruising along, leading USC midway through the game. Then in the fifth inning, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson completely lost his usually good control. While that is hard to predict in the middle of the game, it is an easier fix than most people thin…and no, I’m not talking about taking him out of the game. Johnson couldn’t locate his fastball, but his curveball still effective; he could have gone to that and his changeup and hoped to find his fastball later. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and junior catcher Mike Zunino continued to call fastballs during the inning and Johnson kept serving them up over the middle of the plate. Zunino also stayed put and did not take charge of the situation, heading out to the mound to try and straighten out Johnson. Showing leadership when your pitcher is struggling is key to being a good catcher, and it is something that Zunino usually does with great success.
There are plenty of things to point your finger at throughout that game other than Johnson’s bad fifth inning. The Gators made too many errors, failed to sacrifice bunt runners over, and struggled with the basic catch-and-throw fundamentals they are usually so good at doing. Those things happen in baseball, though usually not all in the same game for the top team in the nation. Sometimes you can’t help those things but that’s not to say that nothing could have been done to give Florida a better chance.
Read the rest of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
In the second loss, a lot of people are going to point to the 3-1 pitch to freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon that was clearly outside the strike zone but was called a strike with Turgeon looking. If that pitch is correctly called a ball, the Gators tie up the game and there is still only one out. The one thing I learned as a catcher is that umpires don’t want to see games decided by walks unless the pitch is clearly a ball. While it a clear ball, that pitch is called a strike probably 50 percent of the time in college baseball if the catcher frames it well enough.
Either way, there was the 3-2 pitch that Turgeon should not have swung at either, but it is hard to blame a freshman for doing so in such a pressure situation. These are just example of things you cannot control and should not let decide a baseball game; Florida’s mistakes earlier in the game did that.
The first person to take the blame for the Gators’ lackluster play will be O’Sullivan whether he deserves it or not. He’s a leader and will shoulder the blame, and he should be respected for that. But let’s face the facts. Johnson should have been pulled after the third hitter of the fifth inning in which he struggled. He may be a stud and and a first-round pick, but you cannot win the CWS if you lose the first game, so why not go to the best bullpen in the country to make sure you get through the fifth inning taking as little damage as possible?
Another questionable decision O’Sullivan made with Johnson was pinch hitting for him in the ninth inning of the second game so sophomore Cody Dent could bunt the runners over (he did so successfully).
He was 100 percent right in this decision. Johnson is a prime candidate for an inning crushing double play and with no outs, you put your best bunter in to move the go-ahead run to second; that is the smart and correct move. O’Sullivan would be getting crushed just as badly had he let Johnson stay in and he hit into a double play. He did what good coaches do in that situation with the opportunity to win a ballgame.
While O’Sullivan deserves a bit of the blame as any head coach does, the fact of the matter is that so many of his players failed to show up over the last two games. Florida played arguably their two worst games of the season at the worst possible time.
While the end is always disappointing, the Gators’ future is still bright. There is a legitimate chance that Florida’s weekend rotation is better in 2013 than it was this season with then-juniors Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson leading the way (now-junior Hudson Randall is rumored to be considering not signing his professional contract). UF’s bullpen will continue to be a strength despite the fact that it will lose three great arms, and the Gators’ freshmen position players only got better offensively in the postseason and will only get better as they see more and more at bats.
Florida will not be the preseason No. 1 team in the country and will likely have their work cut out for them all season long, but the future is not bleak for this Gators team.