MIAMI -- Garrett Wittels said he would tip his cap to
whomever ended his hitting streak.
Much to Florida International's dismay, Friday was the night he
made good on that vow.
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.
"Eventually, honestly, I'll break history somehow," Wittels
said. "I know I'm second place in this, but I plan on playing
baseball for a lot more years. And I'll break history another
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.
"Garrett squared that ball up and that's a hit 99 percent of
the time," Southeastern Louisiana coach Jay Artigues said.
"Jonathan made a tremendous play on that ball."
For months, Wittels sat on one of baseball's most revered
numbers -- 56, of course, is the number of consecutive games in
which Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio hit safely for the New York
Yankees in 1941, setting the major league record.
DiMaggio also was thwarted by an opposing third baseman -- Ken
Keltner of the Cleveland Indians turned in a pair of fine plays to
stop the famous streak.
Wittels nearly got to 57 as well. But Pace made sure that didn't
happen, and Wittels gave him a congratulatory pat as they crossed
paths in the infield between innings.
"He rounded second and he came up to me and said, 'I hit that
ball hard. Nice pick,' " Pace said. "I saw him coming and really
didn't know what he was going to say. He's a great ballplayer."
Said Wittels, who was 7 for 7 in late-game situations with the
streak on the line in 2010: "I didn't deserve it."
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.
Afterward, Wittels acknowledged that he was hit by the pitch.
"Worst moment in baseball I've ever been a part of in my
life," Wittels said. "I got hit by a pitch and I was selfish and
didn't take my base. Honestly, I'm more [upset] about that than not
continuing into history. ... I don't really know what was going
through my head at the time."
Wittels went 0 for 3 against Brandon Efferson and 0 for 1
against reliever Stefan Lopez.
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.
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.
And when the streak was over, he came over to the visitors'
dugout to shake Artigues' hand.
"I think everybody in the country knows Garrett is a special
player, but unfortunately, they don't know how special he is as a
person," Artigues said. "We've heard a lot of great things about
the kid. It's unfortunate, the stuff he had to go through, but it
says a heck of a lot about his character. That's a heck of a young
man to come over here, as much pressure as he was under, to
congratulate the opponents."
It was easy to see Wittels' level of excitement, even before the
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.
"One thing I know about Garrett, if he was getting this job
done, he was going to go down swinging," FIU coach Turtle Thomas
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, he got
hits in the first four games of his junior season, surpassing the
mark Ventura set for Oklahoma State before embarking on an All-Star
career in the majors.
Costantino followed Wittels' streak from afar.
"I'm sure waiting has been absolute torture for him," he said.
So was the ending.
"It's been an amazing run," Wittels said. "I'm so proud of
myself. I'm about to go out in tears right now."