OMAHA, Neb. — Great upsets are the lifeblood of the sports we love.
The U.S. Olympic Hockey team toppling the Soviet Union in the Miracle on Ice. Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. Villanova dethroning Georgetown.
Stony Brook beating LSU.
Heck, even the New England Patriots can lay claim to one of sports all-time stunners. When they won their first Super Bowl, at the Superdome in February 2002, they were a huge underdog to the then St. Louis Rams. Then they pulled off a 20-17 shocker for the ages, long before David Tyree’s immaculate catch helped the New York Giants shock the unbeaten Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.
The Rams back then were called the “Greatest Show on Turf” because of their offensive onslaughts. Here at the “Greatest Show on Dirt,” it’s hard to remember when the LSU Tigers have been such a heavy underdog in the College World Series. But the circumstances they face certainly qualify.
It wouldn’t be so surprising if LSU could win Friday against top-seeded Oregon State. The Tigers are throwing their ace, Alex Lange, and even though the Beavers have only been beaten four times in 60 games, in baseball everybody loses sometime.
But mix in a couple of other factors, and LSU looks like a guy trying to navigate a race at Talladega in the family minivan.
For starters, Oregon State humiliated LSU 13-1 on Monday night. There were extenuating factors, starting with the third-inning departure of LSU starting pitcher Eric Walker with a forearm strain. But in all the Tigers’ walked 12 Beavers, committed a couple of errors and were it not for Zach Watson’s solo home run in the seventh inning they would have been shut out for the first time in a CWS game.
Not only do the Tigers have to beat the Beavers on Friday to stay alive, but they have to beat them again Saturday as well to reach the CWS championship series. That adds a jumping off a trampoline through a flaming hoop quality to the whole task before them.
The LSU baseball team traded in their gear for plastic baseball bats and plastic balls Thurs…
Oregon State is talented. Oregon State is confident (see Monday’s result). See Zack Hess blow away Florida State in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s 7-4 elimination game win for the Tigers? The Beavers have guys like that lining up to pitch even without Luke Heimlich. Likely Oregon State starting pitcher Jake Thompson is 14-0, though admittedly he got rocked early and had a no decision in the Beavers’ 6-5 comeback win Saturday over Cal State Fullerton.
Oregon State looked human then, but rolled like a bunch of Soviet tanks through Czechoslovakia against LSU two nights later.
Are the Tigers embracing their role as an underdog?
It depends on whom you ask.
“That’s fine,” said LSU’s Kramer Robertson. Senior. Shortstop. Current bleach blonde. “Call us the underdog. We don’t get to play that role too often. I’m totally fine with people not expecting us to win.”
Lange isn’t so sure the underdog tag fits LSU, being one of college baseball’s superpowers and all.
“Nah,” Lange said. “We’ve won 50 games this year, so I don’t know if underdog is a good word for us. But people are going to say what they want to say. If it’s as an underdog, we have to go and try to win Friday.”
Mainieri has already accepted players like Robertson dying their hair or shaving their scalps into Mohawks, or in Hess’ case, cutting his to look like relief ace Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn from “Major League.” If that’s momentary motivation, the guy who still doesn’t let his players have facial hair in this age of perpetual Millennial scruffiness will temporarily go with the flow.
But he doesn’t want the added clutter of trying to pump his team up as the latter day Miracle Mets. No thank you.
“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “We’ve just got to win, regardless of what anyone thinks. We’ve got a job to do, and we need to do it to the best of our ability.”
As much as any, baseball is a sport where the Goliaths sometimes take David’s line drive right off the old noggin.
Mainieri remembers when LSU went to College Station and took two in one day from 59-5 Texas A&M to advance to the 1989 College World Series. He remembers taking his 2002 Notre Dame team to Tallahassee to beat a 60-win Florida State outfit to reach the College World Series.
He remembers, painfully, Stony Brook in the 2012 Baton Rouge super regional.
“It’s a sport played by kids,” Mainieri said. “No one is invincible.”
True enough. Pat Garrity proved that in that 1989 Texas A&M regional, piercing the Aggies’ hearts with an RBI game-winning double in what was just his 13th at-bat of the entire season.
Do the Tigers believe in miracles?
Now would be a good time to start.