Vanderbilt Sophomore RHP Carson "The Florida Flamethrower" Fulmer
6-1, 1.78 ERA (6-0 as a starter), 9.59 K/9, .186 BA against
v. Louisville Sophomore RHP Kyle "Marty" Funkhouser
13-2, 1.73 ERA, 9.21 K/9, .198 BA against
Ace v. Ace. Flamethrower v. Flamethrower. We don't like them. They don't like us. Who blinks first?
As you can tell from the quick stats above, this is going to be one hell of a pitching match-up. When Fulmer was announced as the Game 1 starter, I damn near punched a hole in the ceiling at work doing the 80s sitcom freeze-screen episode-ender celebration.
This was difficult to explain to my students, so I just said, "Shut up" and went back to explaining the paper assignment. Regardless, it's no secret around AoG that I have a bordering-on-frightening man-crush on The Florida Flamethrower. His stare alone has murdered more men than the Medellin Cartel. He's a max-effort pitcher who touches 98mph, can cripple batters with a knee-buckling curve, and more importantly, pitches angry. His intensity is only rivaled by a young me who once told his catcher, "Don't catch this one" after a terrible call from the umpire, so I could drill him in the face-mask.
*Well, more than once.
The decision to start him over Beede makes so much sense, I'm almost surprised it happened. First, it's deathly important that we get into the winner's bracket, so you need to go with your best arm - and down the stretch, there can be no doubt that this has been Fulmer. Second, it's a Saturday night game, so this allows us the luxury of keeping Fulmer on his normal weekly schedule. Third, though none of us wants to remember this, Beede melted down last year in the Super Regional against Louisville, and was left in far too long. Fulmer came in to bail him out, and pitched admirably, but the damage was done, and it put in motion the course of events that would keep us out of Omaha. Last Friday against Stanford, Beede completely lost a feel for his mechanics and was left in far past the point where it was obvious he had to be taken out of there. We just can't risk that tonight.
Finally, with the spread-out nature of CWS play (bracket below), Corbin has the luxury of going with Fulmer with Ferguson in the pen today, Beede with Buehler in the pen on Monday (or Ferguson if he doesn't pitch tonight), starting whomever of the four yet to pitch on Wednesday (if necessary), and then going with Fulmer and all available arms on Friday June 20th if he wants. It's the play that maximizes our chances, and I love it.
Regardless, from here on out, these kids will be playing the most important game of their lives. This is "Most Important Game of Their Lives: Part 1." Funkhouser is no joke (well, his name is). He's a hell of a pitcher who actually has comparable numbers to Carson Fulmer.
It'll be extremely important to jump out to an early lead, as the worst thing that could happen to us in this game would be to have to face Nick Burdi late.
Avoid Burdi and win the game.
Swanson, be The Mansby. Reynolds, take yet more time in the box, you glorious bastard. Wiseman and Norwood, keep up the hot hitting. And everyone else, be smart out there. Take what Funkhouser gives you, work counts, check defensive alignments, go for the jugular in hitters' counts, and foul pitches off in pitchers' counts. You've got the man on the mound - give him the great defense and timely hitting he deserves.
Win and advance.
As for Sutton Whiting, Nick Burdi, and Jeff Gardner, I'll let John McCrea of Cake speak for me.