I sorta wish I hadn't completely used up my supply of grandiose praise for Brandon Waddell last weekend, because - uh. Going into the "bracket" games in Omaha - the second round, that is - here's how many runs each CWS team had scored up to that point:
And Florida was one of only four teams to take the shortest path - the minimum six games and six wins to get to that point. TCU needed the most games possible (nine), not the least, in order to tie with the Gators on that list.
Florida also won on Wednesday, rather easily. Their run count in each game up to just now looks like this:
19, 8, 2, 13, 11, 15, BRANDON WADDELL, 10
Point: This is no small feat, what Waddell did to them. Forget Miami, which got all the hype for their lineup and fizzled twice. Florida has the best lineup in Omaha, and by logical extension, quite possibly the whole country. Or if "best" is too subjective, certainly the most productive.
Was it just a bad day? Hard to call it that, when they hadn't really proven themselves overly prone to them so far this postseason. Waddell, a pitcher who specializes in - and requires - pinpoint location, had it in spades on Monday night. He only struck out three hitters, which is four fewer than he did against Maryland. But he pitched to a lot of successful contact. Sabermetricians might point to BABIP and suggest some luck involved, which is why it's always important to put stats into context by actually watching the game.** Only five Gators hit the ball into the outfield all day.
The pitching matchup was fascinating. Waddell, the command and control artist, against Puk, the fireballing bazooka heaver. Puk was effective in his own way, but he and command have yet to make each other's acquaintance. That wasn't working on his third trip through the lineup and probably would've fallen completely to pieces on a fourth go-round.
Consider me impressed, blown away, absolutely smitten. It took me a while to get here, I'll admit - Waddell's game has always seemed balanced on a ledge. This year he was tipping right over, too, most of the season. Two games have launched Waddell straight into the pantheon. Very different games. Both masterful pitching performances.
**I am not anti-sabermetrics. Sabermetrics are fantastic. I just think they augment rather than replace the good old-fashioned techniques.
-- I don't want to discount Josh Sborz, who accounted for two of the nine shutout innings after all. Particularly the eighth, in which he escaped a two-on-none-out jam with catlike reflexes on one batter and unhittable stuff on the next five. On that first out, there's so much that could've gone wrong. First, the ball was just plain launched - dude could've been hurt. If he'd deflected it wrong, like with the tip of his glove and off into foul territory, the run might've scored. If he'd missed it, Ernie Clement was positioned almost up the middle and could've had a shot at a double play (if he'd made what would've had to be a pretty slick backhand stab) - but the run would've scored. Then Sborz had to make a throw to the most dangerous base without his glove on - and it sounds stupid but that's a really distracting situation. Randomly put a three-pound weight on, say, Peyton Manning's off hand in the middle of a play - he'd be suddenly haywire. It's no different suddenly losing the same weight, if it's a familiar one.
-- Should BOC have sent Sborz in earlier? Like at the beginning of the eighth, or at least after Waddell walked the first hitter? Uh, no. Keep in mind - Waddell was basically no-hitting these dudes. Their one hit was a nubby little dribbler that in retrospect I'm glad happened because the added distraction of pitching an actual no-hitter would've been at best an unnecessary distraction. Pull a dominant pitcher before he shows any signs of being less than dominant? No reason to.
-- Florida will send Logan Shore back to the mound on Friday. Shore beat Miami in the opener, but he wasn't sharp, and set the tone for his not-sharpness by thwacking the first batter. And as is common knowledge by now, Nathan Kirby makes his long-awaited re-debut. I really thought he'd stay in the pen, but the logic in this makes perfect sense: we don't know whether he'll be awesome or unbelievably rusty, and really, neither do the coaches. If the former, Jones and Waddell line up to pitch the first two games of the finals. If the latter, BOC can still choose between those two for the Florida re-rematch on Saturday.