HOUSTON — A few seconds after Mitch Price’s skying shot landed in the second row of seats at Minute Maid Park, LSU closer Jesse Stallings realized something.
“Oh man,” he said to himself. “That would have been the game if that had been fair.”
Stallings, a redshirt freshman, worked through the toughest ninth inning of his career, surviving Price’s near miss of a game-winning homer and striking out the final batter to leave the bases loaded in the Tigers’ heart-pounding 2-0 win over Baylor on Saturday.
Stallings, entering in the ninth, faced six batters in the inning, walked two of those and threw a wild pitch. Price’s foul ball came with two on base and clanked off of the seats beyond the left-field foul pole.
“I knew I didn’t have my best stuff,” said Stallings, who has allowed just three hits now and struck out 11 in 7.2 innings this season. “These guys were good. I saw the way the ball game was played. I knew it was going to be tough.”
It was the toughest ninth of his first month as the Tigers’ closer. He got help from shortstop Alex Bregman. Bregman got the leadoff runner — running from second to third — at third base for the first out, tossing a grounder to third instead of the easy out at first.
“Bregman made a key play there throwing the guy out at third base,” coach Paul Mainieri said afterward. “I’m sure they’d like to have that base-running move over again.”
Stallings walked a batter on a full count to load the bases with two outs before getting 2-hole hitter Darryn Sheppard looking at a 1-2 changeup. The pitch clipped the outside corner and plate umpire David Wiley made his emphatic signal to spark a roar from the purple-clad fans at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s hard,” Stallings said of the pressure-packed innings, “but you’ve got to love it.”
LSU second baseman Kramer Robertson shrugged off his struggles at the perfect time – against his hometown team.
Robertson, batting .200 entering the game, had two hits and reached base in all four trips to the plate against the Bears. Robertson is from Waco, Texas, Baylor’s home, and his mother, Kim Mulkey, is the women’s basketball coach at the school.
Minutes after the Tigers’ win, Robertson glanced down at his phone and saw what he expected: a text from Mom.
“She’s happy anytime we win, and anytime I do well, no matter who it is,” he said. “She’s going to support me, no matter who we play.”
Robertson struggled to turn two double plays, but he walked twice and had those pair of singles — including driving in Andrew Stevenson for an insurance run in the ninth.
“He just couldn’t wait to get out here and play,” third baseman Conner Hale said.
LSU had three men thrown out at the plate in the game, including two in the first three innings. Mainieri argued the first two calls to no avail. Hale, in the first, and Robertson, in the third, were put out at the plate. Danny Zardon was thrown out in the ninth. … The Tigers struggled against Baylor starter Daniel Castano, a lefty who had allowed 16 hits in his previous nine innings. LSU went 13 straight batters without getting a hit — a span that started in the fourth inning and went through the seventh. ... LSU left 10 runners on base in the game. ... The Tigers begin Southeastern Conference play by hosting Ole Miss in a three game series starting Friday.