The University of Miami baseball team came into Tuesday night’s matchup against Florida Atlantic University needing a win in the worst way. The previous weekend saw the Hurricanes lose three straight games to in-state rival Florida State up in Tallahassee, causing Miami to plummet in the polls.
Apparently Javi Salas got the memo. Miami’s midweek starter was brilliant during his six innings of work versus the Owls, surrendering one earned run while recording a career-high 10 strikeouts in a 3-1 victory.
“I’ve never really been a strikeout pitcher at all in any level in my life, I’m more of a contact guy,” Salas said. “The strikeouts are welcomed. I’m not really used to doing that.”
Miami (27-14, 12-9 ACC) needed Salas to be dominant. The Hurricanes lineup is depleted at the moment due to a variety of injuries. Regulars like Peter O’Brien, Esteban Tresgallo, Jarred Mederos and Dale Carey, who recently got his wisdom teeth pulled, were all on the bench on Tuesday.
In the top of the first inning Salas surrendered a leadoff single to Mike Abaledeja, and then struck out the next two batters. But Corey Keller laced a single to right field in front of Julian Santos, who threw home but was cut off by Tyler Palmer, with the relay throw coming late to catcher Garrett Kennedy. The Owls took an early 1-0 lead, but it would be their only run of the game.
With the Hurricanes as banged up as they were, Alex San Jaun stepped to the plate to lead off the third inning in what was only his third at bat of the season, and he made it count.
The junior hit an Austin Gomber fastball just past the diving reach of third baseman Kyle Newton for a double, the Hurricanes’ first hit of the night. A Garret Kennedy sac bunt moved San Jaun to third.
Tyler Palmer then hit a weak, high-bouncing groundball to shortstop Mitch Morales. San Jaun charged home on contact. Morales’ throw to catcher Mike Spano beat the slow running Saun Juan, but he somehow managed to angle his body away from Spano’s tag, touching home safely to tie the ballgame 1-1.
San Jaun pumped his fists emphatically after home plate umpire Olinda Mattia signaled that he was safe. It was the first time San Jaun was on the base paths all season, and the unlikely source of production brought a sense of calm to a struggling Miami offense.
In the bottom of the fourth with one out, Rony Rodriguez hit a groundball double down the left field line. Michael Broad hit what looked to be a potential home run, but the high fly ball drifted just wide of the left field foul pole, and he ended up striking out. But Brad Fieger came up with a clutch double to right field that scored Rodriguez and gave Miami a 2-1 lead.
“I think today we had a great defensive outing, but we also had key hits,” Salas said of his teammates. “Against Florida State we really couldn’t get that big hit.”
Fieger’s RBI double would prove to be the difference for the Hurricanes. After Salas exited the game, Christian Diaz pitched a perfect seventh inning, and Miami used a combination of Diaz, Eric Nedeljkovic and AJ Salcines to navigate through the eighth.
Broad, who narrowly missed home runs twice earlier in the night, provided some insurance for Miami’s bullpen in the bottom of the eighth when he connected for a solo shot to left field, one that hit the palm trees on the football team’s Green Tree Practice Fields.
Fittingly enough, in a game that saw solid, fundamental defense from the Hurricanes, Julian Santos ended the night by making a spectacular diving catch in right field with two outs in the top of the ninth to end the game and secure the victory. Salcines earned his third save of the season.
Miami must now try to improve its ACC record after last weekend’s disappointing showing against the Seminoles. Virginia will visit Coral Gables over the weekend for a three-game series.