FIU's Garrett Wittels Sees Hitting Streak Snapped After 56 Games
Much to Florida International's dismay, Friday was the night he made good on that promise.
Wittels' pursuit of NCAA history is over. He went 0 for 4 against Southeastern Louisiana, leaving him two games shy of matching Robin Ventura's 58-game Division I record set in 1987 and four short of the NCAA all-divisions mark of 60 games by Damian Costantino of Division III Salve Regina from 2001-03.
Southeastern Louisiana won the game, 10-2. It was the season opener for both teams.
Wittels' best chance for a hit came in the eighth, but his sharp grounder to third was snared by a diving Jonathan Pace, who scrambled to touch the base in time for the second out of the inning. It went in the books as a fielder's choice, Wittels' second of the night, and that was the junior shortstop's final chance.
Wittels reached on a fielder's choice in the first, fouled out near the right-field bullpen in the third and grounded out to third in the sixth inning -- one pitch after successfully lobbying plate umpire Michael Baker that a ball which appeared to hit his hand actually hit the knob of his bat instead.
Wittels went 0 for 3 against Brandon Efferson and 0 for 1 against reliever Stefan Lopez.
He was 7 for 7 in late-game situations with the streak on the line in 2010, and nearly came through again in the eighth. But Pace made the play, and Wittels gave him a congratulatory pat as they crossed paths in the infield between innings.
With the streak over, it's doubtful things will completely return to normal for Wittels anytime soon.
He made headlines on and off the field in 2010, first for the streak that helped FIU win the Sun Belt Conference title and won him the league's player of the year award, then for an alleged rape of a 17-year-old while with friends in the Bahamas last December. Wittels was freed on bond, but the case is not expected to be resolved for months.
FIU allowed him to play, though it did not reveal that decision until two days before the opener.
For his part, Wittels insists that he's been able to focus on baseball and that he's able to "sleep well" in his belief that he was falsely accused in the Bahamas.
It was easy to see Wittels' level of excitement, even before the game.
When the team gathered to run a series of short sprints in left field about 25 minutes before the first pitch, Wittels typically started in the back of the pack, then passed just about everyone by the end. He hopped nervously from side to side at times while taking grounders during infield practice, then clapped his hands repeatedly on the way into the dugout.
The nerves showed at the plate, too: He swung wildly at the first pitch he saw Friday, missing badly and losing his balance.
Wittels' streak reached 56 games on June 5, 2010 -- 259 days before Friday's matchup. He said having that kind of hiatus during the streak was incredibly tough.
Costantino will attest to that. He's been there.
"It's the exact same scenario," Costantino told The Associated Press on Friday. "I waited almost a whole year for two games."
Much like Wittels, Costantino's sophomore season ended with his hitting streak at exactly 56 games. The following spring, Costantino got hits in the first four games of his junior season, passing Ventura's record.
For months, Costantino sat on one of baseball's most revered numbers -- 56, of course, is the number of consecutive games in which Joe DiMaggio hit safely for the New York Yankees in 1941, setting the major league record.
He made it past that magic benchmark. Wittels couldn't.
Costantino's wait to get a hit in game No. 57 was 308 days, and it was laden with drama. He struck out in his first three at-bats of the 2003 season opener before hitting a line-drive double in the seventh inning. As is common in Division III doubleheaders, the teams were playing two seven-inning games.
Two days later, with the streak pushed to 60, Costantino's record run came to an end. Costantino, recently married and still living in his hometown of Warwick, R.I., has followed Wittels' streak from afar.
"I'm sure waiting has been absolute torture for him," Costantino said.
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