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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- And just like that, it was over.
Thanks to the bat of Gaither's (Tampa, Fla.) rising junior prospect Drew Doty, the four-game no-hit streak by Patrick Schuster came to an end Tuesday afternoon after 28 1/3 innings and more than 70 strikeouts.
A couple of hours later, Schuster's high school career suffered a similar fate. The 9-4 loss to Gaither in the district semifinals ended the season of Mitchell High (Tampa) and any chance of Schuster's starting another no-hit streak during the playoffs.
In the cruel world of sports, it's a natural occurrence. A fast ascension to the top usually leads to an even faster fall.
But for Schuster, 18, the future is promising. He has some exciting decisions to make: He can join the University of Florida's baseball program in the fall or sign a pro contract after June's MLB draft. Experts predict he will be chosen within the first five rounds.
For now, Schuster can relax and reflect on his legacy and the media craze he caused during the past month.
"It's been great, but now I don't have to think about baseball for a while," Schuster said in his postgame news conference. "I'm going to stay out of the spotlight and spend time with my family and friends."
Before Schuster goes into hiding, he will make an appearance this weekend and throw out the first pitch before Sunday's Red Sox-Rays game at Tropicana Field. It's one of the perks of stardom.
|Patrick Schuster's bid to break the high school no-hitter streak (6) ended Tuesday.|
"I might have to the call the Rays and tell them, 'I can't throw, my arm is a little sore,'" Schuster said.
"I'm just kidding."
Even on a disappointing day, there were plenty of reasons for Schuster and fans of Florida high school baseball to be happy. Never before had a district semifinal had this sort of media frenzy surrounding it. Every member of the local press -- television, radio and newspaper -- was present. Schuster's pitches were broadcast live on ESPNEWS.
Unfortunately, it was evident early in the game that Schuster did not have his best stuff.
"When I warmed up, I wasn't feeling 100 percent," Schuster said. "I knew my arm wasn't where I wanted to be."
He walked the leadoff batter, Justin Delgado, and needed 27 pitches to get out of the first inning. A couple of fielding errors led to Gaither's first run.
By the second inning, Schuster appeared to settle down, retiring Gaither in order on just 13 pitches.
However, it was just a mirage.
In the third inning, two fastballs did him in. The first was an errant pitch that hit Mike Danner in the face, and the second was a little too high in the zone that Doty, the Tampa area's home run leader, powered into deep right for a double.
"I knew I was going to give up a hit this game; it was bound to happen sooner or later," Schuster said. "And today, I wasn't able to hit my spots like I had been over the past few games."
Said Doty, "I knew it was a hit right away. I was waiting on the fastball. He gave me the same sequence the first time I was up."
|Schuster has committed to Florida, but could be picked in the early rounds of the upcoming MLB draft.|
Schuster knew Doty had one hit in seven at-bats against him. "I struck him out three times, and I've hit him three times," Schuster said. "He's that one kid that can always get a good at-bat with me."
With the crowd standing to show appreciation for Schuster's efforts, the pitcher turned around, pointed to Doty and said "thank you."
"I was happy not to have to worry about it anymore," Schuster said. "I knew we were going to be in a tight game and I was going to have to fight through it."
Schuster fought valiantly but gave up a single to Delgado in the fourth and was chased shortly after yielding a two-run single to pitcher Zach Jackson in the fifth. He finished the game playing first base.
Former Cy Young winner and World Series MVP Frank Viola was part of the local broadcast and said he saw many good things from Schuster in spite of his struggles.
"I was pleased that despite struggling, he never lost his poise," Viola said. "That's so tough for anyone, especially an 18-year-old, to do in a pressure situation.
"He's going to be a high draft choice, and he's going to have to make a decision with his family on whether he wants to be a professional now or continue his development and education at Florida. It's a win-win situation."
But for now, Schuster will let the stardom die down and enjoy his final public appearance Sunday without the burden of the streak or a goatee he refused to shave until the streak ended.
"I have my razor in the bag, and I'm ready to get rid of it," Schuster joked. "People were starting to make fun of me."
Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.