OMAHA, Neb. — Jim Schlossnagle has seen a lot of baseball in his 27 years as a coach. The performance he watched from Alex Faedo on Sunday was unlike anything he’d seen before.
Faedo had made 50 appearances in three years at Florida so Schlossnagle and the TCU Horned Frogs has a book on the junior hurler. It just, as Schlossnagle put it, didn’t matter.
“Having a game plan and executing against a great pitcher are two different things,” he said.
The canvas for one of Faedo’s masterpieces starts blank. He was the last Gator out of the clubhouse on Sunday. He walked alone, set his bag down at the near side of the bench and sat there. The rest of his team was loose, joking, tossing baseballs with four-year old Finn O’Sullivan and warming up. Faedo sat there staring seemingly at nothing. Nobody approached him. His teammates walked around him or avoided him completely.
“I usually don’t try to talk that much but I don’t want to be a jerk to anyone,” Faedo told Gator Country after the game. “I’ll talk a little bit if someone says something to me but once we get back out there on the field I’ll try to tone it down, stay focused.”
Faedo’s internal clock goes off. He stands up in the dugout, grabs his glove with his right hand and cleats with his left. He drops to a knee at the warning track in left field and draws “RND 1.” It’s something he’s done every game at Florida, reminding him of his goal to be a first round pick, something he accomplished last Monday. He starts a running and stretching routine, again, the same as every game and goes into the bullpen to stretch with strength and conditioning coach Paul Chandler. Faedo’s laser like focus only intensifies as the game gets closer.
“I remember in the fall of his freshman year, I’m not saying he threw at one of our guys on purpose, but, I mean, he got after it,” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “He’s competitive now.”
The game begins and Faedo is on. He’s two-pitch pitcher. His fastball runs up to 94 and he has a wipeout slider. That’s the book on Faedo and it’s what TCU was expecting. It’s why O’Sullivan, Faedo and catcher Mike Rivera added a wrinkle.
Nobody in the world has seen Faedo work as much as Rivera. The two grew up together in Tampa before Rivera moved away for high school. Rivera has caught most of Faedo’s games since the two reunited at Florida three years ago.
“He threw a couple changeups in the first,” Rivera said with a smile. “The batter kind of pulled off of it and was like, ‘what was that?’ I looked up at the board, 86 MPH. That’s not on the scouting report.”
The first inning came and went — 10 pitches, two groundouts and a strikeout. Faedo gave up a hit to start the second but Rivera erased it, firing down to first base after an Elliott Barzilli strikeout to catch Cam Warner leaning at first. Two walks and an uncharacteristic error by Dalton Guthrie loaded the bases. Faedo responded again by striking out Zach Humphreys and TCU’s most dangerous hitter Evan Skoug.
“He’s been consistent for us all year and the three years I’ve been here but this is like a different level,” Rivera said. “He was throwing smoke, fastball, sliders and he was even throwing changeups. He’s on a different level right now.”
Florida, by their own admittance, has been carried by their pitching staff, which is front-loaded. The Gators need to have good starts from their three weekend guys to get to Michael Byrne. Faedo was cruising through two, but found trouble in the third inning and watched his pitch count double.
“I know the pitch count is huge but I’m just going out there trying to put up zeroes,” said Faedo. “Obviously if I only throw five innings that’s not great but you gotta do what you gotta do to put up zeroes. Every game is going to be close here.”
O’Sullivan was willing to throw Jackson Kowar if Faedo ran out of steam early, but the junior would make sure that wasn’t necessary.
Faedo needed just 14 pitches to get out of the fifth and retired the last 10 batters he faced over a scoreless seven innings of work. His 11 strikeouts are a Florida CWS record and bumped his season total to 146. That’s tied for the best in the country with Louisville’s Brendan McKay. The win was his 27th career win, just four shy of Marc Valdes’ school record of 31.
He’s been the tone setter for the Gators all season on Friday nights and he was everything the Gators needed on Sunday against TCU.
Jim Schlossnagle has seen a lot of baseball. He coached big league pitchers Jake Arrieta (Cubs) , Andrew Cashner (Rangers) and Brandon Finnegan (Reds). On Sunday night he was left shaking his head in awe at what he had just witnessed.
“There’s been historic great pitchers come through, Rosenblatt and now TD Ameritrade,” he said. “Tonight has to go as a great, great performance in the College World Series history.”
Don’t go putting Faedo in bronze outside of TD Ameritrade just yet, the Gators hope they’ll stick around long enough to see what Faedo can create with another opportunity on the bump in Omaha.