|Kent State celebrates|
While trolling through the channels last night I came upon the ending of the NCAA semifinal baseball game between the top ranked Florida Gators and unheralded Kent State. Surprisingly, Kent State held a slim 5-4 lead as Florida came to bat in the top of the ninth inning.
Even though Florida was behind, the announcers pointed out that they had the heart of the batting order coming up. Florida would send up their 2, 3, and 4 hitters who had already proven very productive in the tournament. The Kent State manager decided to play the percentages and bring in a left-handed relief pitcher since two of the Florida batters were lefties.
Unfortunately, the reliever was wild and couldn’t come near the plate as he walked the first batter on four straight pitches. Two more balls followed and the Kent State manager had had enough. He lifted the lefty and replaced him with a righty to face Florida’s best hitter. He quickly threw two more balls to place runners on first and second with no outs. Florida now had the tying run in scoring position, the lead run on first, and its cleanup hitter coming to the plate to face a pitcher who seemed to be really struggling.
At this point the Florida manager intervened. He took his clean up hitter out of the game and replaced him with a bunting specialist with an anemic batting average of .180. I suppose the manager was playing by the proverbial book. He was willing to give up an out to advance the two runners to second and third. In that case both could score on an outfield single, or at least one would score on a fly out.
What a blunder! It was tantamount to taking Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, or Mickey Mantle out of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series with the winning run on base and no one out.
What happened? The pitcher was still shaky and threw three straight balls to the batter who was obviously bunting. The umpire mercifully called the next pitch a strike, and then the batter fouled off a bunt attempt on the next pitch. Determined on his strategy, the manager called for another bunt attempt with two strikes. It was successful and now the manager had his wish. There were runners on second and third but now with one out.
The number five hitter came to the plate but the pitcher was still wild. But I guess by this point the umpire had had enough and widened his strike zone. The count went full on two pitches that looked way outside and then the batter couldn’t hold back his swing on a pitch even further outside. Now there were two outs and the Florida manager finally got his fly ball from the next batter but it was now the third out. The game was over. The Florida season was over. Defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.
Coincidentally, the Florida bunting specialist was the son of Bucky Dent, the former Yankee legend, whose home run in a classic playoff game between the Yanks and the Red Sox will probably never be forgotten by Red Sox fans. It will take a long time for Gator baseball fans to forget this defeat in the 2012 playoffs, or to forgive their manager for taking the game out of the hands of his players. ###