Alex Lange now can say he won his first start in a Friday night series opener at Alex Box Stadium.
Even cooler: He can say he saw a triple play — sort of.
“Crazy. Never seen anything like it,” Lange said. “That’s probably the most bizarre play I’ve been a part of. Weird.”
LSU scored in some wacky ways Friday night — the Tigers had just six singles — but they turned a wild, unofficial triple play and got some snazzy defense from second baseman Cole Freeman in a 5-4 series-opening win over Arkansas.
Lange (6-3) struck out six and sprinkled eight hits in 7.1 innings. Hunter Newman got the save — stranding the tying run at third in the ninth — to launch the reeling Tigers (29-16, 12-10 Southeastern Conference) to a much-needed victory. Coach Paul Mainieri’s team, fighting to host an NCAA regional, lost its previous two SEC series.
The Tigers are a win away from ending that mini skid. And — oh, boy — did they do it in zany fashion Friday.
LSU scored its go-ahead runs in the sixth on back-to-back bases-loaded walks to make it 4-2. Jake Fraley scored the Tigers’ second run in the third by walking, stealing second and then taking third and coming home on wild pitches.
None of that compared to the fifth.
LSU got three outs in one swing of the bat — a defacto triple play ruled a double play. The third out was achieved via an appeal to third base. Umpires ruled the runner left early — the third out of the play, ending the top of the fifth and sending the Alex Box crowd roaring.
“Hectic. I don’t think what … I don’t even know how to explain it,” third baseman Chris Reid said.
What else did the game include? Fraley was thrown out at the plate in the first inning. Replays showed he was safe, and Fraley barked at the umpire before Mainieri pushed him toward the dugout.
In the sixth, catcher’s interference was called on Arkansas’ Cullen Gassaway and, in the seventh, Arkansas shortstop Michael Bernal dropped a routine pop fly.
This one had it all, including a first for Lange. The sophomore was making his first start on a Friday night at home in a series opener.
He retired 15 of 17 batters in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh — a turnaround of a start from a 32-pitch opening frame.
“Alex battled like crazy,” Mainieri said.
He faced the minimum over the next three innings before that crazy fifth.
The Hogs (26-20, 7-15) took his first two pitches of the fifth for a double and a game-tying RBI single. Cody Scroggins singled in the second pitch of his at-bat, and then Lange hit Clark Eagan with a fastball to load the bases.
That’s when the defacto triple play unfolded — all because of a missed call by the umpires.
Arkansas center fielder Carson Shaddy sent a line drive toward Kramer Robertson. He scooped the one-hopper into his glove and fired to home plate to get Tucker Pennell on a force play. Catcher Jordan Romero then threw to third baseman Chris Reid. He caught Cody Scroggins running from second to third.
That’s a 6-2-5 double play, right? No, the umpires said. After they huddled, they ruled Robertson caught the line drive in the air. Replays showed otherwise, and Robertson argued vehemently that he fielded it on a short hop.
Scroggins, running from second to third, was still out. Pennell, running from third to home, was safe because Romero didn’t tag him. Romero thought it was a force play, while under the impression Robertson caught the ball on the hop.
LSU then appealed that Pennell left third early. Lange tossed the ball to Reid for the appeal, and third base ump Mitch Dunn signaled the out, balling up his fist and swinging it into the air as the crowd roared its approval.
With that, Lange escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam, and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn raced out to argue.
“There’s a saying around my sport that, if you come to a ballgame, you might see something you’ve never seen before,” Mainieri said. “And I think that would be classified as an example, wouldn’t you?”
Said Van Horn: “The call there in the fifth was a fiasco. I mean, just make a call. Throw the arm out. Nobody knew what to do.”
The Tigers got to the Hogs bullpen in the sixth, chasing starter Dominic Taccolini after Beau and Bryce Jordan singled and Greg Deichmann walked to load the bases.
Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis drew those bases-loaded walks from Arkansas reliever Barrett Loseke, and Fraley hit a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.
Lange gave up a solo homer run in the eighth, and his outing ended on the next batter, a crowd-rousing strikeout. It’s the defacto triple play that he won’t forget, though.
Lange flashed the baseball at the second base umpire, showing him the dirt mark where the ball bounced in front of Robertson.
“He said, ‘Nah, I saw him catch in the air,’ ” Lange said before realizing the possibility of the triple play.
“I look up and we were appealing. I was like, ‘Better shut my mouth next time before I start talking.’ ”