OMAHA—To beat Texas Christian's ace freshman, lefthander Matt Purke, Florida State needed to play its best game Saturday at Rosenblatt Stadium. The Seminoles jumped out to a lead in the first game of the 2010 College World Series, scoring a run on a hit and an error in the first off Purke.
With its ace on the mound, Florida State should have had a chance at handing Purke his first loss of the season. Instead, FSU starter Sean Gilmartin coughed up the lead within the first three batters he faced en route to an 8-1 defeat. Gilmartin wound up giving up five runs, part of a second-half pattern of struggles for the Seminoles' leading winner over the last two seasons.
"The first inning basically, they were just putting the bat on the ball; I don't really know how many balls they hit hard in the first inning," Gilmartin said of his performance. "But I also got behind in the count, so that didn't help me out at all."
Florida State's ace since he stepped on campus, Gilmartin was known more as a hitter at powerful Crespi Carmelite High in Encino, Calif. In fact, BA's own bird-dog scout, Dave Perkin, compared his build to a young Shawn Green. He was also a pitcher, though, usually as a reliever in summer travel ball. He came to Tallahassee as a freshman after being drafted in the 31st round by the Padres in 2008, as an outfielder.
Gilmartin expected to go both ways a a Seminole and did both in the fall of his freshman season but quickly emerged as the No. 1 starter. He won his first start, against Hofstra, and went 12-3, 3.49 as a freshman, holding opponents to a .214 average.
But as a sophomore, Gilmartin has faltered, leaving the Seminoles without an ace. He was given a 1-0 lead in the first Saturday and gave up six hits and five runs before getting out of the first inning. He wound up lasting just three innings, giving up eight hits and six runs. Gilmartin topped out at 89 mph with his fastball but struggled to throw it for strikes; of his 70 pitches, 41 were strikes. When he did get ahead, his breaking ball and changeup weren't good enough to put batters away.
It continued a difficult second half for the lefthander, who made his 20th appearance and 18th start. In his first nine starts, Gilmartin pitched like an ace, going 6-2, 3.09 through 58.1 innings. While he had given up 60 hits, he walked just 15 and struck out 53.
Since an April 16 win at Duke, though, Gilmartin has had tougher sledding. In nine subsequent starts including Saturday, he's just 1-6 with an unsightly 7.84 ERA. In 49.1 innings, Gilmartin has given up 67 hits, and his walk rate has increased from 2.3 per nine innings to 3.4, with 18 walks and 48 strikeouts.
"It's what has been happening with me all year long pretty much—get ahead in the count 0-2, 1-2, and then not finishing things off. Obviously (I) have to get better at that.
"If I knew what the problem was, I'd do something different. I've been trying to figure out why the whole second half of the season."
Now the Seminoles will try to avoid the 0-2 finishes for which they unfortunately have become famous. Mike Martin didn't come up with the phrase "two-and-barbecue," which connotes coming to Omaha and going 0-2.
Florida State's coach also is most associated with the phrase, because no team has come to the College World Series and gone two-and-barbecue more often than Florida State. The Seminoles entered this year's event with a 25-38 all-time CWS record and six previous 0-2 finishes. Another 0-2 would tie Northern Colorado's mark for the most in CWS history. Martin has led four FSU teams that have finished 0-2 in Omaha, and hopes this isn't the fifth.
"Certainly we're disappointed," Martin said. "But this TCU club is very good. They whipped us today. And I've got a few on my resume, so it's nothing new."
Martin also is noted for having led the Seminoles to 14 of their 20 all-time appearances, and the program still has never hoisted the championship trophy. No other program has been to Omaha has often without a title, and winning a championship after losing the first game has happened just twice in the last 30 years, Southern California in 1998 and Oregon State in 2006.
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