Shortstop Julius Gaines and closer Mike Gomez, both making comebacks of sorts after arm injuries, made key contributions Friday night to help host FIU win its season opener, beating Rutgers 7-6.
Gaines had a run-scoring single in the second and a run-scoring double in the sixth. FIU entered the sixth trailing 6-1, but Gaines’ double tied the score, and the Panthers got the winning run on a wild pitch by reliever Charlie Lasky.
Gaines had labrum surgery after his freshman season and spent most of last season at second base, where he could make the shorter throw.
This season, he is back at his usual spot, shortstop. Even so, Gaines was charged with two throwing errors — one in the fifth on a play in which two runs scored and another in the ninth. He threw high each time.
Fortunately for FIU, Gomez pitched around the second miscue to earn career save No. 18.
“My arm actually feels great,” Gaines said. “I will be fine if I just get my legs [into the throw].”
Gomez, third on FIU’s career saves list, made his first appearance since having Tommy John surgery 11 months ago. He pitched two hitless and scoreless innings, striking out three, including Joe D’Annunzio for the game’s final out.
“He’s come back fast and strong,” Gaines said of Gomez. “It really made me happy that he was able to pick me up.”
Five of FIU’s seven runs were pushed across without the benefit of a hit — two on hit-by-pitches and the others on a sacrifice fly, a walk and the aforementioned wild pitch.
FIU starter Mike Franco lasted just 4 1/3 innings, giving up eight hits and three runs, two earned.
Rutgers, which was also playing its opener, was led by first baseman Brian O’Grady, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth and finished 4 for 5.
FIU, which is in its 42nd year of baseball and its 32ndyear in Division I, opened with seven hitters who each started more than 30 games last season. Two starting hitters made their FIU debuts — junior designated hitter Brian Portelli and freshman first baseman Gunnar McNeil.
Off the bench, two players got the first hits in their FIU careers — freshman J.C. Escarra and junior L.K. Thompson.
The series continues with a doubleheader that begins Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale. FIU has not settled on Sunday’s starter but will open with junior-college transfer Robby Kalaf in his Panthers debut in Saturday’s first game, followed by senior Mike Ellis in the nightcap.