OMAHA, Neb . — The weather was gray Monday, spitting rain, matching the LSU Tigers’ mood to a meteorological T as they trooped over to Creighton’s rather-blighted ball field for practice Monday afternoon.
If rainy days and Mondays always get you down, imagine how getting paved like asphalt in your College World Series opener would make you feel.
“No one is laughing or giggling right now,” said Chris Sciambra, LSU’s senior designated hitter. “We’re pretty serious but optimistic about the future.”
So, it is with a grim determination that the Tigers approach Tuesday’s elimination game with Cal State Fullerton.
The bubbling cauldron of expectations that this team found itself simmering in entering this year’s CWS, LSU’s history fused with the most wins and highest national seed of any team still playing, has been washed away by the persistent Nebraska downpours. That and Sunday’s 10-3, quadruple-error-scarred pounding by TCU.
In their biggest game to date, the Tigers did their biggest pratfall, and LSU coach Paul Mainieri has made no effort to pretty it up.
“(Sunday) was a disaster,” he said, stopping short of announcing he would apply for federal funds.
“I don’t know how else to say it. It maybe was the worst game in my nine years at LSU. It was one thing after another, and it just didn’t stop.”
Desperation can drive away distractions. And maybe that’s what the Tigers need after such a devastating loss, one that has pushed them to the edge of elimination.
All that is left now for LSU is survival instinct.
Win the pitch.
Win the inning.
Win the game.
Do it all over again. If you can.
“Nothing matters except tomorrow,” Mainieri said. “If we don’t win, our season’s over.”
The CWS format is a forgiving one to a point. It gives you one mulligan, one stumble out of the blocks in bracket play, one loss that isn’t the be-all, end-all.
But just one. On Tuesday, either more rain is going to fall (as of Monday night, the weather forecast was filled with Sciambra’s optimism), or the Tigers or the Titans are going home.
LSU’s opponent begs the question: Which is worse, to get beaten like you don’t belong here (as was the case for the Tigers) or to have two hands on victory and let it fall from your grasp like a piece of slippery crystal? That’s what happened to Cal State Fullerton on Monday. A 3-0, rain-delayed lead in the sixth inning Sunday night turned into a 4-3 loss in the light of day when Vanderbilt’s Jeren Kendall lit into a pitch from Titans closer Tyler Peitzmeier for a two-run, game-ending homer.
Close losses, blowout losses, neither really matters at this point. Neither does playing for the CWS championship, which would require at least four victories for LSU or CSF at this point, so many it’s not worth worrying about.
Just win the pitch.
Win the inning.
Win the game.
Do it again.
The Tigers make it sound like they’ve gotten the message.
“We’re focused on winning one game,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “That’s all we’re focused on. We don’t go anywhere in this tournament unless we win (Tuesday).”
Baseball is a game wedded to numbers, and much of the math favors LSU.
The Tigers haven’t lost back-to-back games this season. They’ve outscored the opposition 96-32 in their 10 previous games after losses. They have 11-0 freshman ace Alex Lange pitching and are 14-2 overall in the games that Lange starts. And at 39-24, with a CWS-worst .265 batting average coming in, the Titans are the least imposing team LSU could face at this point.
But any one team can beat any other in baseball.
“We need to go out and play loose and confident,” Bregman said. “Scratch and claw and find a way to win.”
The Tigers sounded like they are ready for business, ready to bring the fight and their focus to bear on the Titans. Every pitch. Every inning.
Then allow themselves the luxury of thinking about doing it again.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.