The Miami Hurricanes baseball team finished up an eight-game homestand with a marathon 5-4 loss to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles Wednesday night at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park in Coral Gables, Fla.
Although Miami held a 16-3 advantage over FGCU in their head-to-head history coming in to the game, including a 10-2 home record, the Eagles made the most of the home-team’s sloppy defense in the later innings.
‘Canes starting pitcher Gregory Veliz (3-2) starred in the early going. Serving as Miami’s de facto mid-week starter, Veliz retired the side in the first, third, and fourth innings. Earlier in the season, Veliz lasted 6.1 innings (a career long) of one-hit ball against the Eagles in Fort Myers, Fla.
Moreover, Veliz has limited opposing batters to a lowly .165 average to go along with 35 strikeouts in 31.2 innings this season. His ERA fell to 2.41 on the year following tonight’s outing, good for second-best on the ‘Canes pitching staff.
Miami got the scoring started early in the back-and-froth affair when second baseman Romy Gonzalez hit a two-out Texas leaguer into left-center field. The single scored designated-hitter Randy Batista, who walked to lead off the bottom of the first. Batista has now reached base in 12 straight games.
The ‘Canes went down in order in the second inning but managed to add another run in the third.
Miami left-fielder James Davison got the ball rolling by blooping a single into shallow center field with one out and a runner – catcher Joe Gomez – on first. On the play, FGCU center-fielder Gage Morey was faced with the decision to either dive for the out or pull up and allow the hit. He chose the latter, and Miami center-fielder Carl Chester reached base on a fielder’s choice to shortstop, creating a runners-on-the-corner situation.
Chester went on to steal second before Gonzalez walked to load the bases.
Ruiz made the most of his second at-bat by hitting a grounder to shortstop. In what would have otherwise been a routine out, indecision befell FGCU shortstop Julio Gonzalez after fielding the ball and he failed to make a play. The result was an RBI (Ruiz was awarded an infield hit) for Ruiz and another shot for the ‘Canes to score with the bags chucked.
Instead, first-baseman Christopher Barr was robbed of at least two RBIs when Morey laid out to make a stellar diving catch in left-center field, ending the inning and scoring threat.
Miami would put two men on in the bottom of the fourth – and chase the Eagles starting pitcher in the process – but couldn’t advance a runner home.
The ‘Canes threatened again in the fifth as the rain started to fall at The Light. Chester and Gonzalez drew walks before Ruiz advanced them on a well-placed sacrifice bunt. Another pitching change was the result but third-baseman Edgar Michaelangeli struck out to leave the runners on and in scoring position.
The drama started in earnest in the sixth inning as the game proved to be a back-and-forth affair.
The Eagles stayed close and drew within a run in the top of the sixth. Veliz walked the first two batters of the inning before recording two straight outs, including his fourth strikeout. With two men on and two out, however, Veliz gave up a hit to FGCU’s Gonzalez. The single to center field plated a run and proved to be the last batter Veliz faced on the night.
After allowing both his first hit and run, Veliz exited the game to a muted round of applause thanks to the rain that all-but cleared the bleachers of friendly spectators. He threw 5.2 innings of one-hit ball on 87 pitches.
Miami reliever Andrew Cabezas took over for Veliz and promptly walked Richie Garcia before getting Corey Fehribach to lineout to left for out number three.
The ‘Canes responded with a run of their own in the bottom half of the sixth frame when right-fielder Nico Baldor singled to left field. Michael Burns entered the game to pinch-run for Baldor but, after reaching second on a wild pitch, got caught in between second and third base when Gomez hit a comebacker to the pitcher’s mound. Gomez reached first safely on the fielder’s choice.
Burns’ baserunning error cost Miami a run – which proved to be the difference – when Batista proceeded to double in the next at-bat of the inning, Miami’s only extra-base hit of the game. With Gomez now on third base after the double, Miami caught a break with the second wild pitch of the inning. The play allowed Gomez to scamper home for the ‘Canes third run of the game, putting the home team up 3-1.
With a steady stream of rain coming down, things turned ugly for Miami in the top of the seventh.
Ruiz and Gonzalez both had a chance to catch a can of corn but botched the communication and let it fall between them. After allowing a single to left, Cabezas threw a wild pitch that advanced the runners to second and third. The Eagles’ Matt Reardon made Cabezas pay with a single that scored the lead runner, Marc Coffers.
Cabezas issued another free pass before settling down for a moment to strike out Nick Rivera on three pitches. Miami’s second error of the inning was poorly timed, as Michaelangeli bungled a grounder at third to let both FGCU baserunners score, albeit unearned. And just like that FGCU took their first lead of the game, 4-3.
A pitching change followed, along with a 45-minute rain delay.
Miami tied the game shortly after play resumed on a Barr single through the right side. Alas, it wouldn’t last long, as the Eagles promptly regained the lead in the top of the eighth inning and held it to the last out.
The Miami batters left 10 runners on base when all was said and done. Albert Maury Jr. (2-1) took the loss on the night.
The ‘Canes (15-18) travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to face the Pittsburgh Panthers (14-15) in a three-game weekend series beginning Friday April 14.
(An edited version of this story also ran on themiamihurricane.com)
Alex Goldman is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. He is currently the Sports Editor of distractionmagazine.com. He’s a Northern California native and loves snowboarding, writing, and above all the Green Bay Packers.