Rodriguez’s relief effort leads to win
Victory is the school-record 52nd for the Gators
OMAHA, Neb. – Florida and Vanderbilt know each other better than most conference rivals.
While Monday’s suspended game between the two teams is rare, it’s not the first time even this season that they had to resume play the next day because of weather. They did so against one another on May 13 in Nashville. Both times, Florida won.
So if Tuesday morning’s resumption of Game 6 at the 2011 College World Series looked eerily familiar, it was. The Gators held on for a 3-1 victory in a morning that was dominated by pitching.
Florida’s Steven Rodriguez was faced with a different kind of task Monday and Tuesday. The sophomore had the opportunity to throw the last pitch before the delay and the first pitch after, despite it being 14 hours, 4 minutes between one another.
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North Carolina 3, Texas 0
Florida 3, Vanderbilt 1
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The lefthander had one of his best outings of the season when he came into relieve Florida’s starter, Karsten Whitson. Rodriguez finished with a career-high seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings while not allowing a hit or a run.
It was a no-brainer for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to run him back out on the mound Tuesday.
“He had thrown 11 pitches, and I think the general rule, at least for us, is if he throws 30 or more, then we've got a tough decision to make,” O’Sullivan said. “For us with him throwing 11, he threw the one pitch, obviously, in the Super Regional. He's well rested. As you can tell, he's strong and durable. There is no question we're going to run him back out there with the pitch count the way it was the night before.”
For Rodriguez, it was an easy decision too.
“[Monday], when the sirens went off I was kind of upset because I was dealing, and I felt really good,” Rodriguez said. “So I was like, ‘God, I don't need this to happen right now.’ I was like hopping around in the locker room trying to stay warm so I could go back out there, but it didn't happen. So I was like let's prepare for today, and go at it today, and everything came out in my favor.”
Rodriguez was certainly well rested, having not pitched since June 11 in Game 2 of the Gainesville Super Regional against Mississippi State.
And even then, he only threw one pitch – the walk-off home run by Nick Vickerson – which he was able to shake off.
“The first thing was when I came out of the Mississippi State game, I was coming in trying to do my job,” Rodriguez said. “That's what I tried to do. It didn't come out in my favor, but I had to forget about it and going to the next game. I can't let anything like that affect me from the day before. It's a new day, and I've just got to come out there and do my job if I get the opportunity.”
He was able to keep the Vanderbilt lineup completely off balance in the second suspended College World Series game in two years. Not an easy task to accomplish against a team that boasts a .316 team batting average.
“[Rodriguez] was working the outer third of the plate,” Vanderbilt’s Aaron Weslake said. “Utilizing his cutter and his slider, just keeping us off balance. He's a good pitcher. We'll tip our hat to him, particularly for the lefties. We should have gotten on the plate a lot more. We made an adjustment today, but yesterday we had some opportunities and we just ran out of bats. We'll just tip our caps to him.”
For a pitcher whose opportunities have been nearly all out of the bullpen in his career, Rodriguez had to do things a little differently in what was as close to a start as you can get without being one.
Only two other times in his career had he started a game for the Gators, including one in 2011. Florida beat Winthrop 22-5 on March 22, and Rodriguez lasted 3 1/3 but picked up his first victory of the year.
“I somewhat prepared to go out [like it was a] start,” Rodriguez said. “But I just needed to get warmed up, ready to go like I usually do coming out of the pen. Because that's what it was basically coming down to in the last few innings. So I kind of did, but at the same time I kept my routine and kept everything the same way I usually get ready for a game.”
His fourth win of the year gave Florida a single-season school record 52 victories, eclipsing the Gators' 51 wins in 1991.
And to keep winning games in Omaha, O’Sullivan will be able to set up his pitching staff exactly the way he wants. It helps to have an arm like Rodriguez’s in the bullpen.
“We understand, and I said this before the season started, I knew this is probably the deepest pitching staff that I've ever been able to work with,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, we've got a lot of options. There is a little luck along the way. We're balanced in the bullpen, which I think separates us maybe from most. We've got two power lefties down there in [Rodriguez], and Maronde, and we've got a couple of left handed starters. So we can play mix and match out of the bullpen, which obviously a lot of teams don't have that luxury.”