It’s the stuff in which legends are made. Already a legend himself, Florida home run king Matt LaPorta made the Hurricanes pay twice today on early pitches that sailed out of McKethan Stadium. With the Gators down three and two men on base in the ninth, could once again assume the heroic role?
Not this time.
LaPorta hit an Enrique Garcia slider right at Mark Sobolewski at third. The Miami freshman stepped on the bag and threw on to first for the game ending double play. The Hurricanes claimed the 10-7 victory- their first win in eight tries against the Gators.
“My approach was just to find a way on,” LaPorta said. “Get on for Austin Pride and let him do the job. I just rolled into a double play…The first two pitches weren’t in my zone. The last one he threw me, he made a mistake and I should have hammered it, but I didn’t. That’s the way baseball goes.”
Still, an unranked, young and talented Florida took the series over fifth ranked Miami two games to one.
High winds and baseball are no friend to the pitcher. That was clearly evident in the first inning on Sunday. Most of the runs came in bunches courtesy of the long ball.
Miami leadoff hitter Jemile Weeks ripped a triple on a full count that hit the wall in let-center. The ball got up in the high winds that began to blow through north central Florida on Saturday. Center fielder Matt den Dekker is an outstanding defensive player. He followed the ball backwards and to his left before it pushed back to the wall.
Designated hitter Roger Tomas hit the first pitch to second bringing home Weeks. First baseman Yonder Alonzo then pounded Florida starter Billy Bullock’s first delivery over the left-center wall to give the ‘Canes a quick 2-0 lead. Two batters later, Dennis Raben drew a walk.
The Hurricanes then ripped three consecutive singles to post two additional runs for a 4-0 lead. The only positive to come out of the top of the first was the fact that Miami left three on base.
The Gators took their turn in the first and answered. Leadoff man Jon Townsend battled a 102 fever that kept him in Shands Hospital on Saturday night. He battled Miami starter Manny Miguelez to a full count and secured the base with a walk. Second baseman Cole Figueroa took the first pitch into right field for a single. “The King” Matt LaPorta went with Miguelez’ second pitch and drove it over the right field wall to cut the Hurricanes lead to 4-3.
Clean-up hitter Austin Pride punched a single into right-center field. He moved to second on Miguelez’ wild pitch. Two batters later, Florida ran the hit and run once again to perfection when catcher Cody Neer ripped a single by the third baseman as LaPorta was in motion from second base. He easily scored on the play, which tied the score.
Neer stole second and moved to third when designated hitter Dustin Bamberg flew out to right field. Number eight hitter Clayton Pisani singled up the middle to give Florida the 5-4 lead. Miami head coach Jim Morris went to the bullpen for right hander Jason Santana, who finally ended the Gators offensive onslaught with a strikeout of Jonathan Pigott on a swinging full count.
“We played three games and nobody ever gave up, not one time,” LaPorta said. “Everybody was up on the top step the whole game, every game- even this last game when they went up four to nothing in the first inning. We could easily have hung our head and said- “Aw, we already took two out of three against these guys it’s no big deal. But, no we played until the last out was made.”
Things settled down dramatically in the second inning. Bullock send the Hurricanes down in order. LaPorta and Pride reached base via the free pass, but center fielder Matt den Dekker struck out leaving them stranded.
In the fourth, Weeks drew a one out walk for the Hurricanes on four consecutive balls. He moved to second on Tomas’ single right-center. Both runners moved into scoring position on Bullock’s wild pitch. Yonder Alonso then drilled a two-run single down the right field line.
The decision to pitch to Alonso by a struggling freshman (Bullock) with first base open went against conventional baseball wisdom. The righty-lefty match-up didn’t favor the Gators. Furthermore, Alonso hit a two-run home run off Bullock in the first. He grounded out to Figueroa in the second inning.
Head coach Pat McMahon explained afterward that it was a tough decision, but one that he felt was the right one at that early stage of the game.
McMahon went to the pen and inserted freshman right hander Kyle Mullaney.
Miami left fielder Dave DiNatale reached on a fielder’s choice. It was hard hit ball that forced Figueroa to move to his right, secure the ball and spin to throw on to Townsend who threw on t first. The Gators missed the double play, but the effort by the freshman duo was outstanding. DiNatale advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches by Mullaney, who walked the next two Hurricanes batters loading the bases. Third baseman Mark Sobolewski popped a two-run single into right field to give the ‘Canes their second four run inning and an 8-5 lead.
The Gators picked up a couple of big runs in the seventh when Townsend reached on an errant throw by Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso. Cole Figueroa hit a ball that Weeks cut off before it rolled through the gap. He came up and quickly made the throw to first in time. LaPorta stepped up and annihilated a John Housey pitch that easily cleared the center field wall in dead away center to cut the Hurricanes lead to 8-7.
However, Florida was unable to tie the game up as Austin Pride struck out and pinch hitter Brian Leclerc grounded out to shortstop.
Miami picked up two runs in the ninth. Richard O’Brien reached on an error by third baseman Clayton Pisani, who drifted into the gap for a bouncing ball, but failed to come up with it cleanly. It appeared that he wasn’t certain if he or shortstop Jon Townsend would field the ball. Center fielder Blake Tekotte singled off reliever Josh Edmondson to center field.
Left hander David Hurst came on and gave up a single to Weeks down the right field line to load the bases. Gus Menendez pinch hit for the ‘Canes and grounded out to Pisani at third. O’Brien scored on the play to give Miami a 9-7 lead.
There was no pitching to Yonder Alonso this time. Hurst offered the free pass with first base open to load them up once again. Unfortunately, DiNatale worked Hurst for nine pitches in the full count and drew a bases loaded walk on the tenth to give the ‘Canes a 10-7 advantage and the ball game.
Florida will host arch-rival Florida State on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. It is dollar night, which makes the event a tremendous bargain. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30pm.
Shortstop Jon Townsend spent last night in Shands Hospital with a 102 fever. He checked out this morning and insisted that he was ready to play. He joined his teammates and took his spot in the line-up. He was 0 for 3 today, but still holds a .419 average, second best on the club.
Miami left 13 men on base in the game. Florida left 5 on base.
It was the fifth time that LaPorta hit two or more home runs in a game. His five RBI’s in a game tied a career high. He was 2 for 4 and carries a team high .481 average.
The reliable Florida bullpen yielded only one earned run in the game.