There wasn’t a conversation. A coach and his ace didn’t need to say a word to each other, they each knew what needed to happen and what was expected.
Just five days ago Tommy Mace walked off the mound in Fayetteville with the Razorbacks leading 2-1. Florida’s ace had thrown 104 pitches and, for most of the night, kept the No. 1 team in the country quiet at the plate. Arkansas swept Florida, meaning the Gators wouldn’t earn a bye in the SEC Tournament and would be playing in a single elimination game.
Mace wanted the ball. His manager didn’t even need to ask and his teammates recognized it even before Mace took the ball on Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s our guy. Since day one he’s been our guy the whole fall and the whole spring, he’s been our guy,” Jacob Young said after the game. “We have all the confidence in the world in Tommy. When he has the ball we know we’re going to have a chance to win the game. It was great to know that he was starting.”
In Major League Baseball pitchers typically pitch every fifth day and can sometimes, especially later in the season when the games start to mean more, pitch on short rest. In college, however, pitchers only throw once a week and there’s a routine every pitcher will get into in order to be ready for the one game they get to throw each week.
“There wasn’t really a conversation. We both knew that I was going to throw on short rest,” Mace said. “I prepared like that starting Thursday at Arkansas, assuming I would do that.”
Mace’s day got off to a rough start. He plunked the first batter he faced and was saved from giving up a run when a long line drive from T.J. Collett bounced over the wall for a ground rule double, stopping the lead runner at third. Mace bore down and struck out the next three batters he faced to strand two.
“Tommy competed very well today. He had some tough situations that he pitched out of, made some big pitches,” Young said. “We needed that start out of him to get everything going after the weekend. We wanted some momentum and it kind of all got started in that first inning.”
Mace allowed a runner to reach third base in the second inning as well but got a great play from Josh Rivera and a strikeout to hold Florida’s 1-0 lead. The third went smoothly but Mace’s pitch count was beginning to get high, surpassing 50 through three. He battled again in the fourth inning, stranding two more before finally giving up a run in the fifth.
Mace exited the game after five innings. He scattered seven hits throughout the morning while striking out eight and allowed just the one run.
It hasn’t been the year Mace expected. He lost his Friday night role early on in the season and had to come out of the bullpen. He returned to the rotation but not in his typical role. He’s had to grind and earn his way back.
At the end, when your team is in a win or go home game you want to give the ball to your ace. Tommy Mace answered the call Tuesday morning and showed that he’s the guy on this Florida pitching staff.
“He’s certainly responded in a positive way and given our team a lift,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s taken over that No. 1 starter role.”