CORAL GABLES — More than 4,100 fans’ heads jerked towards the foul pole in left field. Kirby McMullen had just launched a baseball that was hooking closer and closer towards the yellow pole 330 feet away from home plate and the ball was hooking left. Third base umpire Tony Walsh craned his body and next to try and get the best angle before putting a hand in the air and signaling a home run.
McMullen couldn’t round the bases fast enough to get back to his teammates after turning around a fastball and sneaking it inside the left-field foul pole. McMullen’s blast gave Florida a 3-2 lead in the 10th inning, one they wouldn’t relinquish on the way to taking their sixth consecutive regular-season series against Miami.
“I was excited,” McMullen. “I just wanted to get back into the dugout to celebrate with my teammates.”
McMullen, affectionately called “Kirby Barrels” by his teammates, came into the season with just 31 at-bats and one home run to his name in three seasons at Florida. His rise to being the every day third baseman and the three-hole hitter is unprecedented but he’s earned the opportunity and is making the most of it.
“It’s a lot of fun now that I’m making more of an impact on the team. It’s a really cool thing to see that some of the stuff I’m doing is making a bigger impact,” McMullen said. “Of course winning makes it a lot better, too.”
The Gators almost didn’t make it to extra innings. Florida was down to their final strike with Jud Fabian in the box. The sophomore watched a cutter and then swing through another to go down 0-2 with Kris Armstrong on second base representing the tying run. Fabian took a step back, and a deep breath. He fouled two more pitches off but kept that cutter in his mind.
“He went away from the cutter but I knew he was going to come back with it at some point,” Fabian said.
He did and Fabian was ready, lacing a ball past the outstretched glove of Raymond Gil — very much like Jacob Young on Friday night — for an RBI double that tied the game.
The Gators weren’t done with just Fabian and McMullen. Florida poured on four additional runs after McMullen’s home run, which proved critical.
Two walks set the stage for Kris Armstrong. The first baseman singled through the right side to score Cory Acton and was the first of three consecutive RBI singles for the Gators in the 10th inning — their third consecutive extra-inning affair.
“It’s not over until you get that last out,” O’Sullivan said. “Sometimes that last out is the most difficult.”
For the second night in a row the Gators’ had a stellar performance from their starting pitcher. Jack Leftwich didn’t outduel Tommy Mace like he did on opening weekend but was solid. The sophomore threw six innings, allowing just one run with six strikeouts. The Gators’ Friday-Saturday duo has combined to throw 13 innings, giving up two earned runs (1.38 ERA) and have struck out 14 against a potent Miami lineup.
The Gators’ have won six consecutive series in a row against their instate rival but will look for something even sweeter than a series win on Sunday.
“We’re coming in not satisfied,” McMullen said. “We’re coming in and trying to get the sweep. It’s a new day, a new game, we have to take advantage of it.”