OMAHA—For seven innings Sunday evening, Florida righthander Alex Faedo constructed a masterpiece on the mound at TD Ameritrade Park.
Facing Texas Christian in Florida’s opening game of the College World Series, Faedo delivered a dominant start, leading the Gators to a 3-0 victory. The junior struck out 11 batters in seven scoreless innings, limiting the Horned Frogs to two hits and two walks. Closer Michael Byrne threw two scoreless innings to complete the five-hit shutout and the Gators offense scratched out just enough run support.
Florida, the No. 3 national seed, advances in the winners’ bracket, where it will face No. 7 national seed Louisville on Tuesday night. TCU, the No. 6 national seed, faces an elimination game Tuesday afternoon against Texas A&M.
Coach Jim Schlossnagle said the Horned Frogs had a game plan for Faedo, but with the All-American on top of his game, they were unable to execute it.
“It’s all about Alex, man,” Schlossnagle said. “He deserves all the credit. There’s no question about that.
“There’s been historic great pitchers come through Rosenblatt (Stadium) and now TD Ameritrade and tonight has to go as a great, great performance in the College World Series history.”
Faedo excelled thanks to his feel for his fastball, which sat 92-94 mph, while also mixing in his plus slider and an occasional changeup. He also showed off his athleticism, jumping off the mound in the sixth inning to make a difficult play on a bunt. It was easy to see why the Tigers on Monday drafted him with the 18th overall pick.
For Faedo (8-2, 2.40), Sunday was the latest in a string of remarkable performances in the postseason this season. Beginning with his start against Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, he has struck out 40 batters in 26 innings and held opponents to three runs (two earned) on 13 hits and eight walks. The Gators have won all five games in which he has appeared during that stretch.
In those five appearances, Faedo averaged 13.85 strikeouts per nine innings and has an ERA of 0.69. O’Sullivan said Faedo has been excellent all season but has been a little better down the stretch.
“The fastball is different,” he said. “The slider’s been different. He threw really good changeups today, again.”
Faedo was last beaten May 18, when Kentucky got to him for seven runs on 13 hits in 5.1 innings. He has maintained that he felt good that night but that the Wildcats’ high-powered offense just got the best of him. Faedo reiterated that Sunday, giving credit to the Gators’ training staff for helping him to feel fresh despite having thrown 109.1 innings coming into the CWS.
“I think usually when guys get tired at the end of the year, maybe our pitching staff is starting to feel better because of the great job they’ve done with us,” he said. “Maybe that could be a little bit of it.”
Feeling fresh at the end of the season is important for the Gators, who came into Sunday’s game eager to erase the disappointment from last year’s CWS. Florida came to Omaha as the No. 1 national seed in 2016 but went 0-2.
Faedo said getting off to a winning start this year in Omaha was important.
“When you win here, it’s just—it’s no feeling like it,” Faedo said. “So we’ve been putting a lot of effort to get back on the winning side of things over here.
“I think that was what drove us all today, to finally get over the hump the last couple of years, to get that ‘W’ on the first game.”
With Faedo’s run of dominance carrying over to Omaha, the Gators have the start they wanted in the CWS. For those that have watched the righthander for the last three years, it is no surprise that he is closing his career with a flourish.
Catcher Mike Rivera said Faedo has been consistent for three years, never being overwhelmed by a big situation. O’Sullivan remembered a time in fall practice during Faedo’s freshman year when he refused to back down.
“I’m not saying he threw at one of our guys on purpose, but, I mean, he got after it,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s competitive now.
“Certainly, he’s pitched in a lot of big games for us, but I don’t think he approaches any game differently.”
Whether Faedo’s approach changes in big games or not, time and time again he has risen to the occasion. He did so again Sunday, delivering one of his best games in one of his last in a Florida uniform.
“I do know this: the Tigers got a pretty good one at pick 18,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ve said that all along. He’s been our workhorse. And the thing about him, too, we keep talking about how talented he is on the mound, but I honestly mean that he’s probably even a better person, better clubhouse guy.
“He’s just different. He’s a different kid.”