Chris Chinea was right – that faceguard didn’t bother him a bit. And, now, the main event can begin.
Sporting a guard for his stitched-up chin, Chinea slammed a solo home run over the left-center field wall in his third at-bat since taking a fastball off the chin, and LSU beat Tulane 6-0 on Tuesday night at Alex Box Stadium in the opening act to a three-game showdown with Texas A&M later this week.
The Tigers, 35-6 and the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, used nine pitchers to one-hit the Green Wave (24-16), and LSU had a four-run seventh inning to break open a tight game and turn everyone’s eyes to the three-game series against No. 2 Texas A&M (36-5).
LSU and the Aggies meet Thursday-Saturday at Alex Box Stadium in a highly anticipated duel between a pair of team atop the Southeastern Conference standings. Coach Paul Mainieri’s team makes its season debut on national television in the first No. 1-versus-No. 2 clash in Baton Rouge in at least a decade. Thursday’s game is set for ESPNU and Saturday’s finale for ESPN.
Jared Poché will start Thursday, and freshman Alex Lange will start Friday as Mainieri swaps the two to give Lange more rest. Both pitched in a doubleheader on Saturday at Georgia.
Before thinking about A&M, the Tigers had to fend off Tulane.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I was a little worried that they were looking beyond tonight,” Mainieri said. “We came out today and had a really good batting practice and a pretty good infield and outfield. Once I saw that ... I thought the focus was going to be there. Last night, I slept a little uneasy worrying about it.”
Chinea went 2-for-3 in the first game back from being pegged in the chin and mouth area with a 93-mph fastball in a game at Georgia on Saturday. He had an infield single in his first at-bat before launching that leadoff homer in the seventh inning, sparking LSU to three more runs — most off Tulane reliever Tim Yandel.
The biggest midweek crowd of the season gave Chinea a smattering of applause as he stepped into the batter’s box sporting that faceguard to protect the wound. Chinea received four stitches to his chin, suffered a sore jaw and busted and swollen lip.
“Can’t get tentative out there,” Chinea said. “Got hit in the face but you gotta come back. Got the faceguard. Got to stick your nose in there.”
He wore a bandage over the stitches, which are expected to be removed later this week. It didn’t seem to affect him in the field either. Chinea picked a couple of low throws and made a nice snag of a hard shot down the first base line.
“He’s got an iron jaw, that kid,” Mainieri said.
Austin Bain got a two-inning tuneup for his start against A&M on Saturday and picked up the first win of his LSU career. He allowed the only hit of the game: a blooping single from John Gandolfo in the second inning.
Kyle Bouman, Jake Godfrey and Alden Cartwright retired every batter they faced in a combined 3.2 innings, and Russell Reynolds and Doug Norman each pitched a scoreless inning while Zac Person and Jesse Stallings retired three of four in the ninth.
The only tense moment came with Doug Norman on the bump. Norman walked his first batter on four pitches to open the seventh inning before retiring the final three.
“It’s amazing,” Godfrey said of the nine LSU pitchers combining for a one-hitter.
It wasn’t all good Tuesday for the Tigers.
Catcher Kade Scivicque’s 23-game hitting streak ended, and shortstop Alex Bregman had an error for the third straight game — a first in his LSU career and a stunning development for a player who went 31 straight games without an error before the series against Auburn a week and a half ago.
He made an error in each of the two games Saturday against Georgia — both of the fielding kind. He threw high to first on a play Tuesday night in the third inning.
Tulane pitcher Patrick Duester kept the Green Wave in it through the first five innings, allowing just four hits and one earned run through the 74-pitch stay on the mound. At one point, 12 straight LSU batters went hitless before Jared Foster blooped a one-out single in the fifth.
Either way, Duester’s performance was much better than a 3.1-inning, five hit, four-run start in LSU’s 13-7 win at Tulane in March.
“I thought Patrick (Duester) really settled in and started using his changeup more and got LSU off stride a bit,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “We just have to avoid the four-run inning. If we avoid that, we give ourselves a chance to win.”
LSU pitchers rolled through the Green Wave’s lineup in a multi-arm outing similar to the on LSU pitchers had in a 27-0 win over Northwestern State last season. Five Tigers hurlers threw a no-hitter in that game.
In this one, eight relievers allowed just four base runners over the final seven innings — one of those via an error — after Bain’s outing.
Bain threw 29 pitches in his two innings on the mound. He got the starting nod against the Green Wave after missing his start in the series finale at Georgia — a game that was rained out.
“I felt like I did good. I was locating my fastball and changeup, and my curveball was up and I gave up that hit,” Bain said.
And now LSU can look to the big show — a three-game set that is completely sold out aside from standing room-only tickets.
“I’ve heard from veterans that have been to super regionals,” Conner Hale said. “They say it’s going to be like that. It’s going to be crazy. I know that for sure.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.