Streak's alive! Wittels gets hit in 55th straight

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Garrett Wittels was cramping in the third inning, and initially resisted when trainers told him to take a quick bag of intravenous fluids.

Good thing he changed his mind.

He revived — then kept his hitting streak alive.

With a sixth-inning double, the Florida International sophomore extended his streak to 55 games, moving with three of matching Robin Ventura's Division I record set 23 years ago. Wittels finished 1 for 4, and the Golden Panthers fell to Texas A&M 17-3 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

"The only positive thing about today," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said, "is the young man to my left getting a base hit."

Wittels needed to dig deep to get that hit.

Frustrated with himself after flying out to short right with runners on the corners in the first inning, Wittels chopped a ball to third base with two outs in the third inning. He took a misstep coming out of the box, stopping 60 feet shy of first base and grabbing his right calf in obvious discomfort, but took his spot in the field at second base for the bottom of the inning.

Leading off the sixth, Wittels watched as Texas A&M starter Barrett Loux started with three balls out of the strike zone.

"I looked down at coach Thomas," Wittels said. "He gave me the green light. We were down 8-1 at the time. If it was out of the zone, I wasn't going to swing, but it was a good pitch to hit, fastball away."

Actually, they were down 10-1, and even Loux said the ball was surely out of the zone.

No matter.

Wittels hit a sharp liner that rose just enough to get over the glove of Aggies second baseman Adam Smith and dropped into the right-center gap for an easy double. It was the first time in the 55-game streak that Wittels extended it on a 3-0 count this season.

"In the first inning with first and third, no outs, I definitely would have rather gotten a hit in that situation," Wittels said.

Wittels will try for a 56th straight game with a hit Saturday, when FIU (36-24) meets Dartmouth (26-18) in an elimination game.

Loux was getting teased by Texas A&M teammates earlier in the week, the Aggies chiding the big right-hander — a likely first-round pick when major league baseball's entry draft starts Monday, possibly by the Florida Marlins — over whether he'd be the pitcher to snap Wittels' pursuit of history.

"Can you get a guy out four times? I mean, it would have been nice," Loux said. "Hats off to him."

Loux needed an IV as well, suffering early on an afternoon where the heat index — the combination of 88-degree heat and 64-percent humidity — made it feel like a 98-degree day.

He settled down, powering his way through 128 pitches in eight innings, giving up six hits. The hit to Wittels, Loux said, was a ball that was below the knees.

"I wasn't going to walk him and take the easy way out," Loux said. "I was trying to throw him good pitches."

And no, Loux wasn't surprised to see Wittels try to tee off on the 3-0 offering.

"The game's probably already out of hand, it's 3-0 and with a streak like that, I don't really blame him at all," Loux said.

The ball rose over Smith, and the smattering of FIU fans in the stands at the Miami Hurricanes' home park gave Wittels a raucous ovation, as did the Texas A&M backers who made the trip.

If FIU loses Saturday, the Golden Panthers' season is over. That wouldn't necessarily stop Wittels' pursuit of Ventura. If the streak reaches 56 games in a season-ending loss, the NCAA would continue to recognize it as active into the start of the 2011 season.

"I'm still really trying to think about us winning games and on what's important," Wittels said.

The Sun Belt's player of the year, Wittels came into the NCAA tournament with a .412 average and as one of the best-known names in the college game, a stunning turnaround for a sophomore who struggled at the plate in 2009 (hitting just .246) and wasn't even penciled into FIU's everyday lineup when the season began.

He's played in 55 games this season, getting a hit in every one. Ventura — the only other player in Division I history with a streak longer than 47 games — has been rooting for Wittels, and the two chatted by telephone earlier this week to discuss the pressures that come with playing in the spotlight.

"Just trying to help my team," Wittels said.