May 19, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Sean Gilmartin knew he was in for a battle Thursday night against Clemson, the ACC's top-hitting offense. Florida State's junior staff ace, however, didn't think he would be putting his season on the line.
That's what nearly happened on the second pitch of the game, when Clemson leadoff batter John Hinson lined a pitch back through the middle which struck Gilmartin flush, two inches below the left collarbone.
Gilmartin had the presence to pick up the ball and retire Hinson at first, before checking to see that his prized left arm and shoulder were still functioning.
The fourth-ranked Seminoles and their ace were functioning efficiently enough to turn back the 12th-ranked Tigers 8-6, before a Dick Howser Stadium crowd of 4,692.
With the win, Florida State (40-13, 19-9 ACC) clinched its fourth Atlantic Division title in six seasons and will defend its 2010 ACC Championship as the No. 2 seed in next week's tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Gilmartin labored after retiring Hinson and Phil Pohl on comebackers in the first, before surrendering a home run to Brad Miller and consecutive singles to Will Lamb and Richie Shaffer. The Tigers' outburst brought FSU coach Mike Martin from the dugout for a rare first inning mound visit.
"I went out there to literally make sure he was OK after the line drive," Martin said. "He's very, very fortunate."
Holding his fingers a couple inches apart, Martin added: "You go this much further, and it's a broken collarbone."
"It got me clean," said Gilmartin. "That was a little scary. ... It took maybe a good 15-20 seconds for everything else to settle in, and then it's, `Ow!'"
The Seminoles would inflict their own kind of pain on the Tigers in short order.
Leadoff batter Rafael Lopez deposited a Dominic Leone offering over the right field screen to knot the score in the home first. It was Lopez's seventh homer of the season and his fourth in five games, since moving into the leadoff spot for injured Devon Travis.
FSU erupted for three runs in the third, roughing Leone (5-2) for three runs on four hits, highlighted by Justin Gonzalez's two-run single. Two more runs in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Mike McGee and James Ramsey's surprise bunt single pushed the Seminoles to a 6-1 lead.
Gilmartin (10-1) settled in after the rough first inning and would go on to record the victory.
"I just stepped back and said, `This team is for real. I've got to put the ball where it needs to be. You can't leave balls over the middle of the plate or else they're going to be hit right back at you,'" Gilmartin said. "It kind of woke me up a little bit."
Clemson worked its way back into the game when a two-out catcher's interference call extended the fifth inning. The Tigers tacked on a pair of runs when Pohl lined an RBI single to center, which was misplayed by McGee.
Stuart Tapley, playing at home for the first time since April 24, got the run back in the home half of the inning with a run-scoring groundout to keep the `Noles in front, 7-3. It proved to be the game-deciding run as the Tigers kept coming.
Shaffer's solo homer in the sixth off Gilmartin, who departed after seven innings, allowed two earned runs to go with six strikeouts and one walk. In the process, he moved into a tie for ninth on the all-time wins list with Jon McDonald (31) and sole possession of 10th place in career strikeouts (304).
"That was a huge part of the win ... that Gilly was able to stay in," Martin said. "Gilly showed what he's all about."
Ramsey's RBI triple in the home sixth marked the third time the Seminoles countered a Clemson run-scoring frame, pushing the lead back to 8-4.
FSU's bullpen didn't escape unscathed again the Clemson bats. The Tigers scored two in eighth off relievers Brian Busch and Daniel Bennett. Chris Epps' RBI single ended Busch's night, but Bennett came on and yielded consecutive singles to Jon McGibbon and Hinson, which made it 8-6.
Clemson loaded the bases when Bennett issued a two-out walk to Pohl, which brought Miller - the ACC's top hitter - to the plate. Bennett used a back door slider on 3-2 pitch to retire Miller on a called third strike.
"It was huge getting out of that bases loaded jam," Bennett said. "It wasn't really a relief. The game's not over. It lit a fire and gave everybody confidence going into the ninth inning."
That confidence came through in the ninth as Bennett retired the Tigers in order for his 12th save in his last 13 appearances.
"I'd be lying to you (saying) I didn't have a little adrenaline going into the ninth, especially with what they did to us last year," Bennett said, referring to last season's series sweep by the Tigers. "It was huge for the team."
And so was Gilmartin's performance.
"Sean's a warrior, especially after that first inning and the hit he took," Bennett said. "Not many people would come back after that. He half-jokingly said, `That's what rib cages are for.'
"For him to battle through the game after that was amazing."
While the Seminoles have the Atlantic Division in hand, their work is not complete. A series victory over a Clemson team with the No. 9 RPI would seemingly assure FSU a top-eight national seed.
"Getting that win tonight is a big lift for the rest of the weekend," Gilmartin said. "It gives us momentum going into tomorrow night and we've got to keep it going the rest of the weekend."