Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan often refers to soft-spoken junior closer Michael Byrne, as “a starting pitcher who happens to be getting the last three outs of the game.”
To get Florida to its fourth consecutive College World Series appearance, Byrne had no margin for error in a starter’s-like outing. Byrne pitched four scoreless innings to earn the win, allowing Florida to outlast Auburn 3-2 in 11 innings Monday night to win the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at McKethan Stadium.
Byrne struck out the first four batters he faced, but kept his pitch count low, needing just 49 pitches to get through the four frames. He retired the side in order three times.
“I tried to make at a simple as I could, not throw as many pitches as I had to,” Byrne said. “Just get them back in the dugout.”
The only inning Byrne ran into trouble was the 10th, when he allowed a pair of Auburn runners on with a single and a walk with two outs. But with the potential go-ahead run on second base, Byrne got catcher Brett Wright to ground into a force out at third base.
“Michael Byrne was special again,” O’Sullivan said. “What can I say? Continues to do what he does, he knows who he is, makes big pitches consistently.”
That experience of making big pitches in big spots should serve UF well when it continues defense of its national title Sunday night in its College World Series opener against Texas Tech. In 34 appearances this season, Byrne is 3-1 with 15 saves and a team-best 1.59 earned run average. The Cincinnati Reds drafted Byrne in the 14th round of the June Amateur draft earlier this month and are reportedly mulling converting him back to a starting pitcher. But Byrne, named a stopper of the year finalist by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, has proven to be effective in late-game situations.
Byrne does not close games with an overpowering fastball, instead relying on mixing four different pitches. His curveball is his out pitch.
“He does everything well,” O’Sullivan said. “He throws a ton strikes. He fields his position. He holds runners … if you beat him, you beat him. He’s not going to beat himself most of the time.”
Byrne has gone 1-0 with two saves in regionals and super regionals, pitching 11.1 scoreless innings with just one walk and 14 strikeouts. Byrne did allow an inherited runner to score in a walk-off loss Sunday against Auburn, but bounced back Monday with the season on the line.
“There’s a lot of failure in this game and he’s got a short memory,” O’Sullivan said.
That demeanor, O’Sullivan said, serves Byrne well on the mound with a game in the balance. O’Sullivan said Byrne is one of the funniest players on the team and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“He’s always one of those guys who has a smile on his face,” O’Sullivan said. “When you see him in batting practice, he’s running around, taking ground balls at short, he’s got a great sense of humor. He laughs at himself a lot. And he just has the right temperament to play this game. He can deal with the failures and he doesn’t get too high or too low.“
What: College World Series
Who: Texas Tech (44-18) vs. Florida (47-19)
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (Neb.)
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Oline extras: Listen to a podcast by the Sun’s Kevin Brockway and Texas Tech baseball beat writer Carlos Silva Jr. chat about the Red Raiders-Gators matchup and read the breakdown of the eight-team field elsewhere on this site.