The LSU offense spun its wheels in the mud for nine innings Thursday, making another Alex Lange gem turn dull in a 4-0 loss to Texas A&M.
The Tigers (18-9, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) had scored at least three runs in each of their first 22 games this season but have now been shut out twice in five games.
Of the 17 runs LSU scored in those five games, 11 came in two explosive innings. The other 43 innings have yielded a grand total of six.
“When you don’t score any runs, it’s hard to win a game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re obviously here in a little rut offensively. We just need to come out of it.”
Lange (3-3) was utterly dominant for the majority of his outing — but, as was the case in his masterful performance against Florida last week, one pitch ended up being the difference.
Texas A&M leadoff hitter Nick Choruby broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth when he deposited an 0-1 changeup from Lange just beyond the reach of a leaping Greg Deichmann and into the right-field bleachers for a two-run home run.
“One-oh (count), he was sitting on it. He was out front just a little bit, but he got enough and got it up in the wind,” Lange said. “I’ve just got to execute that pitch better.”
That was all the Aggies (18-9, 2-5) got against Lange, though, as LSU’s ace was in top form for eight innings.
“He made an awful lot of big pitches, ended up with an awful lot of strikeouts and gave us a chance to win,” Mainieri said.
Lange matched his season high with 12 strikeouts, all of which came from the third inning on. He found himself in trouble in the fourth, sixth, and eighth innings, and he forced his way out of it by striking out the problem.
In each of those innings, Texas A&M had a runner in scoring position with one out or less. Lange struck out three straight batters to end the fourth, two straight batters to end the sixth, and sandwiched a strikeout around a pair of grounders to end the eighth.
“It’s a better feeling than giving runs up,” Lange said. “If you pitch yourself into a jam, you’ve got to get out of it or it’s going to be a short night.”
Ten of the 12 outs Lange recorded in the fourth through seventh innings came via strikeout.
Lange needed 118 pitches to get through his eight brilliant innings. He walked just one batter and threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 33 batters he faced.
And for the second consecutive week, Lange ended up as the tough-luck loser. His counterpart was just a bit better.
Texas A&M right-hander Brigham Hill (5-2), who gave up at least four earned runs in each of his past three outings, was too much for the slumping LSU lineup to handle.
Hill allowed just four base runners in eight shutout innings. Two of those runners were erased on double plays, and one was caught stealing. The Tigers went 0-for-7 in opportunities to advance runners with Hill in the game.
“I think we helped him a lot; we swung at a lot of bad pitches tonight,” Mainieri said. “But he’s a good pitcher. To his credit, he didn’t make a lot of mistakes. ... It was a tough night for us.”
The Aggies scored two runs in the top of the ninth against LSU reliever Matthew Beck, only one of which was earned. LSU committed three errors Thursday, one off its season high.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Friday.
“It can be a very humbling game, but feeling sorry for yourself is not going to get the job done,” Mainieri said.