For LSU Tigers’ fans, what happened in the 7th inning of Florida’s College World Series-clinching win will be known as “The Call.” Gator fans might label it as “The Gift.”
With runners on first and third with nobody out in the top of the 7th and LSU trailing only 2-1, Florida was conceding the tying run. Catcher Michael Papierski obliged, grounding to Gator second baseman Deacon Liput who flipped to shortstop Dalton Guthrie, who then fired to JJ Schwarz at first for the double play.
When the runner on first, Jake Slaughter, was called for interfering with Guthrie, the tying run was wiped out, sending Josh Smith back to third. The highly partisan LSU crowd at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha was furious with the call.
LSU Coach Paul Mainieri came out to argue, but the call, made because Slaughter never made contact with the second base bag while making contact with Guthrie, stood.
Fans tossed objects onto the field from the outfield seats, but order was finally restored. Closer Michael Byrne, in relief of starter Tyler Dyson after a magnificent performance, got the final out on a screaming liner to center by Beau Jordan.
“From my vantage point, I didn’t see anything wrong. It was a slow developing double play and there was some contact there,” said Mainieri in the postgame press conference. “Now if our guy didn’t slide directly into the base and made contact, then it was a correct call.”
By now Mainieri has seen the replay, which shows Slaughter violated the rule intending to protect infielders from injury on illegal slides. Had Slaughter simply slid into second base, the game would have been tied and who knows what would have happened from there.
It should be said Mainieri was the epitome of class following the game. Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan was not asked about the play during his turn at the post game media microphone.
The interference was the biggest gift presented to the Gators during the game, this season, maybe their entire baseball history. For those LSU fans who thought the play cost them a chance at a championship, they need to remember why Florida was leading at that point and also what happened in the 8th inning.
Two other gifts, errors by first baseman Nick Coomes, led to the Gators’ two early unearned runs. Ironically, Coomes was replaced at first by Slaughter following the errors.
In the eighth, the Tigers again had runners on first and third with no outs. But after a strikeout, Schwarz fielded a chopper and threw home to cut down Kramer Robertson at the plate with a perfect throw, effectively killing LSU’s final chance. O’Sullivan was certainly asked about that play.
“(Schwarz) made a perfect throw. Quick feet,” said O’Sullivan. “Probably saved us the game, to be honest with you. That play probably saved us the game.”
The Gators then put the game out of reach with four runs in the bottom of the 8th. Jackson Kowar nailed down the final three outs, setting off a dog pile celebration on the infield.
The bottom line is, the NCAA Champion Florida Gators made the plays on the field and all of the right plays in their head. That is why they returned to Gainesville with the trophy.