Dominated. Shoved. Dealt. All could describe how Carsten Finnvold performed in one of the best pitching performances in Gators history.
Florida Gators baseball will be playing a winner-take-all game against the Oklahoma Sooners on Monday thanks to a nine-inning relief appearance from the southpaw. The huge 7-2 win over OU Sunday night has the Gators one win from their first Super Regional since 2018.
A nine-inning relief appearance? How does that happen?
Well Timmy Manning had about as difficult a start as a pitcher could. He didn’t record an out, threw several wild pitches, hit a batter then walked two. Next thing you know the bases are loaded after the first three hitters.
A pitcher entering a bases loaded scenario with no outs and not giving up a run is one of the most unlikely things in baseball.
But somehow Finnvold pulled it off. Two pop ups and a fly out later, the freshman was screaming his head off and pumping his fist as Florida went back to the dugout.
“I knew this was a big game, (Oklahoma’s) a really, really talented team,” Finnvold told Sirius XM host Mike Ferrin. “It was an elimination game for us. And I knew I couldn’t let those run score early in the first inning.”
Then he turned in eight more frames.
Finnvold dazzled with his low-to-mid 80s fastball, accompanying changeup and his “slow, loopy and long” curveball. He put up career numbers in innings pitched (9) and pitches thrown (116) while punching out four and walking none. He flirted with what would’ve been a combined no-hitter for six innings.
It left his coach at a loss for words. O’Sullivan didn’t even know the right adjectives that could do the performance justice.
“I was just hoping he would limit the damage,” O’Sullivan said. “The next thing you know he goes nine complete and gives up two runs.”
Oklahoma got to him in the sixth though as they scratched across two runs.
Finnvold said they made some adjustments with Mac Guscette (who caught 18 innings Sunday) and his positioning after that. The pitches the Sooners did hit were either left up or caught too much of the plate.
The pop outs and fly balls soon turned into strikeouts as he punched out three of the next six batters through the seventh and eighth. Chants of “Car-sten Finn-vold” with the coordinated percussion of consecutive claps came from the crowd as he warmed up in the final frame.
He started out with a weak liner to Josh Rivera at shortstop. And that was pivotal because O’Sullivan said if Tanner Tredaway reached then he was going to the bullpen.
After a single, a 1-1 fastball in on the hands of Wallace Clark resulted in a ground ball for Colby Halter to start a tailor-made 5-4-3 double play to end the game and cement Finnvold’s immortality in Gator history.
Waiting For His Shot
O’Sullivan said one of the toughest things about his job is leaving guys off the 27-man travel roster during the season. For much of 2022, Finnvold was one of those exclusions.
Finnvold said he really grew up the last few months. He called not traveling one of the hardest things he dealt with in his baseball career. It felt “disheartening” watching his team play and know he couldn’t help them out because he wasn’t there. But now he’s had the opportunity to do it twice in pivotal spots and the young man hasn’t disappointed.
He went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country in the Tennessee Volunteers then threw an absolute gem with his team’s season on the line against OU.
“That just shows how much work he puts in,” center fielder Jud Fabian. “When we were traveling, on the bus and at the airport, he was out throwing in the net back on the turf field. The way he worked all year just to prepare for moments like these. It has to be said because that’s what helped him tonight. In a game where we were facing elimination and our season could be over, he pitched the game of his life and kept us in it.”
Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said postseason baseball is a time for heroes and Finnvold was that hero for Florida on Sunday. But Johnson also thinks the Boca Raton native could have some staying power for the Gators.
“His fastball/changeup mix kept us off balance and kept us out front and got a lot of popups,” he said. That’s what guys like that do and there is a place in baseball for young men like him. That’s what is awesome about baseball, you never know what is going to happen from day to day.”
Florida and Oklahoma have the trifecta on tap for 1 p.m. on Monday. Both teams have plenty of offense but the pair of squads are also out of pitching.
Johnson joked he might just pick a starter out of a cowboy hat while O’Sullivan had guys like Kris Armstrong (who hasn’t been a pitcher since 2019) and Tucker Talbott (who hasn’t pitched since high school) warming up in the pen on Sunday.
Like Johnson said, the postseason is a time for heroes. One already showed up Sunday night for Florida. Let’s see if it shines a light in the sky and another one comes to the rescue on Monday.