OMAHA, Neb — With a runner on base, a 2-0 count and the tying run in the on deck circle Kevin O’Sullivan made the walk from TD Ameritrade’s first base dugout to go get his starter out of the game.
Possibly for the final time.
Alex Faedo handed the ball to his coach and walked off the field in what could be his last start for the Florida Gators. In front of him Gator fans and TCU fans alike stood and clapped. Behind him laid countless hitters still wondering what they had just faced.
There isn’t another player on the team that knows Faedo as well as Mike Rivera. The two grew up on little league fields in Tampa together.
“I know him and his whole family; I love them to death, I love him to death,” Rivera said after the game Saturday. “He’s one of my better friends and I hang out with him all the time.”
Rivera’s family moved from Tampa to Venice before high school. Faedo played for his father at Alonso High School while Mike played at Venice High School. The two found each other back on the baseball field, this time in Gainesville as freshman. The Gators were making it through that season with Logan Shore, A.J. Puk and Dane Dunning (sophomores at the time) throwing on the weekend. Puk got into trouble off the field and was relegated to bullpen work when he came back. That left Florida searching for another starter for the weekend.
“I remember Sully asked me who we should pitch and I said Faedo. That was South Carolina. I’ll never forget that day,” Rivera told Gator Country. “We didn’t really have a Sunday guy then. He asked who we should pitch, I said throw Faedo out there.”
O’Sullivan listened and Faedo rewarded him. A freshman, Faedo threw 5.2 innings of two-hit, one run ball and struck out six earning a win.
That was the beginning of Faedo’s story, one that will come to and end this week, but not before Faedo writes the best final chapter anybody in the history of the University of Florida has written.
It started in Hoover with his start against Auburn.
Faedo threw six innings against the Tigers with one run allowed. He didn’t factor into the decision but set the tone for Florida to make it to the SEC Tournament. It was a bonce back performance after he gave up a career-high seven earned runs over 5.1 innings the week before against Kentucky.
“He just exudes aggressiveness, confidence. And our team has the utmost respect for him,” O’Sullivan said of his ace after the game. “I don’t want to sound cliché-ish, but he’s an even better kid. He’s taken some younger players under his wing without any direction from me. And the team pulls behind him. Like I said, Tigers got a special one at pick 18.”
Faedo was just getting started.
He threw seven innings against USF in the second game of the Gainesville Regional. He gave up one run and struck out 10 in another no decision. He started the Gainesville Super Regional and struck out nine batters over four scoreless innings before Mother Nature brought rain and an early hook for Faedo. A fiery competitor, Faedo refused to watch from the dugout and insisted on coming out of the bullpen when Wake Forest forced a third Super Regional game. He pitched two scoreless innings to earn his first career save, sending Florida back to Omaha in the process.
Faedo took the mound on Father’s Day, with his dad in the stands, and baffled TCU. He threw seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts before handing the ball off to Michael Byrne for a win. The Gators beat Louisville before losing to TCU to set up a win or go home affair with TCU Saturday.
Mike Rivera has caught lot of big leaguers. He’s caught Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning and Scott Moss to name a few. There isn’t another guy he would have wanted to catch with his college career on the line.
“Alex is my guy,” Rivera said Saturday. “That’s the guy. I’ve said it since day one his freshman year.”
Faedo didn’t have his typical command but he continued to provide TCU with stuff they simply didn’t have answers for. Faedo lasted 7.1 scoreless striking out 11 more. Assuming Faedo doesn’t throw again he’ll be one of just five pitchers in College World Series history to finish a CWS with 14.1 innings pitched without allowing a run.
Alex Faedo’s 2017 #CWS
14 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 22 SO
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 25, 2017
In the NCAA Tournament he’s thrown 27.1 innings, allowed just one run and struck out 44. His 11 strikeouts on Saturday gave him 157 on the season, the most of any pitcher in Division I baseball and also set a school record for strikeouts in a season (Rob Bonanno — 148 in 1994).
“It’s just that Alex Faedo got in the way for us,” TCU manager Jim Schlossnagle said. “In 2010, our first time here, the exact same thing happened and it was Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. Now, we watch those guys pitch in the big leagues. I took my daughter to the World Series [last year] and Trevor Bauer is pitching. I’m sure there’s a day I go to pay a pretty penny to watch him [Faedo] play in the big leagues.”
If the Gators go on to win a National Championship this week Faedo has already locked up the CWS MVP trophy. On Saturday O’Sullivan wasn’t ready to rule Faedo returning to the mound out completely. After throwing 115 pitches Saturday it’s highly unlikely Faedo would start any of the three potential games next week.
“I would probably say, yeah,” O’Sullivan responded when asked directly if Faedo’s tournament was done. “We’ll have some other guys step up. Maybe Tyler Dyson get a start, that type of thing. So we’ll see. The only thing I’m worried about right now is Monday night with Singer.”
Faedo’s friend, Mike Rivera, was more nostalgic than his skipper.
“I don’t want to get too emotional. I’m gonna miss catching him. It’s been fun,” Rivera said. “I hope he learned from me and understands I helped him as much as I could. I gave all I have for him.”
The Detroit Tigers made Faedo a rich young man when they selected him 18th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. Faedo will be a millionaire moments after the Gators’ season commences but Saturday night sitting on a couch in the middle of the locker room he wasn’t thinking about that. He was looking around at his teammates, smiles on everyone’s faces and trying to burn the moment and feeling into his mind. Long bus rides to tiny towns are just around the corner but this moment, in the hour after he led his teammates to the school’s third College World Series Championship Series needed to be cherished.
“This feels awesome,” he said. “This is where we wanted to be.
“The road wasn’t perfect but we found a way to get here.”