Missouri pitcher Andy Toelken, who had thrown ball one to Gators third baseman Jonathan India on the first pitch of his final at-bat, didn’t have the confidence of his coaching staff. So with a man on second and first base open in the bottom of the eighth inning, catcher Brett Bond stood up behind the plate, raised his right hand out to the side and signaled Toelken to intentionally walk India with the next three pitches.
The heckling and hissing from the Gator faithful rose to a discontented roar with each passing ball. A visibly angry India crowded the plate with his toes peeking over the chalk outlining the batter’s box. He dared Toelken to make a mistake as he brandished his bat. But with no luck there, India trotted to first base after the deed was done.
Disgust and disappointment quickly turned to elation and celebration as the next batter — UF right fielder Wil Dalton — took a 1-2 pitch from Toelken deep to left field. The ball didn’t quite have the juice to exit McKethan Stadium, but it did bounce off the blue padding near the 326-foot mark painted near the foul pole. When the play was over, Dalton stood alone on the base paths, having driven in the two runners and putting Florida (30-6, 10-3 SEC) in front of the Tigers for good.
Though the outcome was positive for the Gators, the natural instinct from Dalton seeing the batter in front of him being intentionally walked wasn’t pleasant.
“Obviously, it does piss you off,” Dalton said. “In this game, they call it kind of an insult at times.”
Though the late-game drama certainly highlighted the Gators’ 3-1 win over Missouri (24-11, 6-8 SEC) on Friday night, it seemed early on that the starting pitchers from each team would dominate the headlines.
UF starter Brady Singer tossed seven innings and gave up just one run on one hit throughout. Early on, the right-hander struggled to find the strike zone, taking 26 pitches to get through the first inning and giving up Missouri’s lone run of the game.
But he made the Tigers manufacture the run with plenty of work. They drew two walks, put down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners and scored on a groundout toward second base.
After that, Singer settled in. He recorded four separate 1-2-3 innings and struck out six Missouri batters.
“Brady obviously struggled through the first couple of innings,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But for him to go seven innings really saved our bullpen.”
The Gators got the run back nearly immediately. In the bottom half of the first, designated hitter Nelson Maldonado nailed an 82-mph changeup toward right field. The ball barely escaped the grasp of Tigers right fielder Trey Harris and narrowly sailed over the wall in front of the scoreboard.
Maldonado’s homer was the Gators’ 54th of the season, breaking the 2017 mark just 36 games into the 2018 campaign.
The Gators and Tigers return to the field Saturday afternoon at 4 for a doubleheader. The series was originally scheduled to last three days, but rainstorms are expected in Gainesville on Sunday.