LSU baseball, and the throng of purple and gold faithful, has taken over Omaha. The boys are playing “home” games in Nebraska and, after knocking off the top-ranked Oregon State Beavers in back-to-back games, the best-of-three series for the NCAA championship could be in the Tigers’ grasp. The only thing standing in the way? Their intensely-hated rival from the SEC — the Florida Gators.
The last time I played baseball was before the internet. However, I have played the game like most of us old ballplayers do these days, via the video game. In video games you get to tweak all of your options to essentially make your team unstoppable. For instance, you can set your players to never tire or just keep pitching your ace. Unfortunately for LSU, the College World Series isn’t make believe and they wouldn’t have their ace available in game one. Hell, LSU wouldn’t even have their fourth best pitcher available.
Coach Paul Mainieri stated that LSU’s stud pitcher, Alex Lange, would not pitch before the third game of the series. Mainieri said that he hadn’t thrown Lange out on the mound on three days’ rest all year and wasn’t going to start now. Very admirable. Jared Poche is scheduled to pitch the second game, Caleb Gilbert pitched Saturday against Oregon State and Eric Walker was shut down for the season after re-aggravating his injured forearm last week. So, with a dearth of options, Mainieri turned to Russell Reynolds (8.50 ERA, no starts) a hometown senior who looked great through three innings, keeping the Florida Gators off the scoreboard.
However, in the fourth inning, what started as a feel good story turned into stark reality that, nope, this wasn’t Lange on the mound. All of a sudden, Reynolds couldn’t find the strike zone and issued three walks before giving way to Nick Bush, who gave up a run on shortstop Kramer Robertson’s bad decision to call off left fielder Antoine Duplantis on a sacrifice fly and two more runs on a hit that was momentarily lost in the sun and got over center fielder Zach Watson’s head for a ground rule double. LSU was trailing 3-0 and, to have a shot, they would have to battle back against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, Florida’s Brady Singer (3.18 ERA, 117 strikeouts).
The Florida pitcher was in domination mode the first half of the game, reminding Tiger fans of his performance earlier this season against LSU when he pitched a complete game and scattered six hits in a win in Gainesville. On Monday, he was mowing down batters, racking up 12 strikeouts through seven innings and seemed to be on cruise control.
But the LSU Tigers, who are undefeated at 6-0 in its championship bids, fought back.
It was Duplantis who got the Tigers offense in motion with a solo homerun. It seemed like it might be an anomaly on a night where Singer baffled the bats, but the Bayou kids kept fighting.
Watson would get hit by a pitch and Josh Smith would take a walk. Then the embattled Beau Jordan ripped a single to right and Watson trucked all the way home to bring the Tigers within one run. They would keep fighting to the finish, but after Florida tacked on a run in the seventh, the Tigers came up short in the 4-3 loss.
It was a frustrating night for LSU. Every positive was quickly followed by a poor play. Robertson effectively ended any chance of a rally in the seventh inning by trying to steal second when a pitch bounced in the dirt, but then right into the glove, of the Gators catcher. Robertson never had a chance. That coupled with his earlier play giving up a run in the fourth and Watson losing the ball in the sun just added up to too many missed opportunities and a lack of execution. Especially on a night when the ump at second blows the call and Smith’s would-be double becomes an out and kills LSU’s last rally in the eighth inning. It’s just a tough sport, folks. You don’t get to make mistakes in championships.
Thankfully it’s a series and not just one game. Much like last week, LSU now finds itself needing to win the next two games or what was once so close will become something quite different. But there’s no reason to get into that yet.
The tables are now turning, at least on the pitching front. LSU is done with Singer and will now have the advantage on the mound. Tonight’s game at 7 p.m. will match LSU’s Jared Poche (12-3) against Florida freshman Tyler Dyson (3.55 ERA, 1 start). With a win, the series would move to its final game and LSU will then bring one of the best in baseball, Alex Lange, to the mound for a chance at bringing home the school’s seventh NCAA championship and another page in the history books.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Covington Brewhouse’s “Bayou” Bock
Playlist Recommendation: Lady Gaga – “Edge of Glory”
Around the Way
The off-season news just keeps getting worse for the New Orleans Saints. Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, was placed on injured reserve due to a heart issue, ending his 2017 campaign with the club. So, if you’re keeping score at home, the Saints are now without their starting defensive tackle, offensive tackle (Terron Armstead) for possibly half of the season and have questions about center Max Unger’s injured foot, which they hope will heal in time for the regular season kickoff. Brutal. Does anyone know if Adrian Peterson can play line?