COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Andy Cannizaro milled about the dugout, clapping his hands.
“Outstanding,” the LSU hitting coach exclaimed. “Outstanding job.”
Paul Mainieri joked with his wife, Karen, in the stands. His smiling players gathered their things and joshed one another, making their way to the team bus with 13 hours until a Sunday series finale the Tigers minutes earlier turned into a rubber match.
“I’m not going to play it down,” Mainieri said. “We needed it bad.”
Cole Freeman scored the tying run in the seventh inning, and Kramer Robertson’s hot shot scooted under Texas A&M second baseman Ryne Birk’s glove in the ninth, scoring Greg Deichmann to hand the Aggies their first home loss of the season, 3-2, in front of a sold-out Blue Bell Park crowd.
Freeman’s run was set up by a passed ball after the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter flared a one-out double just inside the foul line in left field. Robertson bounced a ball near second base, drawing Aggies shortstop George Janca just far enough to allow Freeman to speed home easily, tying the score after some wizardry from LSU starter Alex Lange in the sixth.
With the bases loaded and his team trailing 2-1, Lange fell behind 3-0 to leadoff hitter J.B. Moss before returning to catch him looking at a curveball, his 11th strikeout and one garnered a leg kick as Lange sauntered off the mound.
“Fastball command was good. They were chasing (the curveball) in the dirt, so I just kept throwing it,” Lange said. “My changeup command was good too. Something to build off of going forward.”
Lange amassed eight of his 11 strikeouts through his first four innings, allowing just one runner to second base in that stretch, stranding him there on consecutive strikeouts of Ronnie Gideon and Janca.
The right-hander faced two batters in the seventh inning, walking Birk before inducing a foul out from Boomer White to end his evening.
“I wanted to give him a shot to get us through the seventh, but he did his work. He did an awesome job,” Mainieri said.
Before handing the baseball to Mainieri and exiting the field, both Freeman and Robertson approached the ace for a hug. Robertson’s came with a message.
“Thank you,” Robertson told him. “You deserve a win tonight and I’m going to help that happen.”
The aid came in the form of the two-strike grounder off Aggie closer Ryan Hendrix, who flashed as high as 97 mph on the stadium radar gun. Birk stayed back on the ball, but a bad hop was his undoing, and it rolled into shallow right field as Deichmann crossed home plate.
Robertson also robbed Nick Banks to begin the eighth, throwing him out on a ranging ground ball that gave the shortstop no time to set his feet. Instead, he threw “as hard as I could” and, aided by a scoop from Bryce Jordan at first, nipped Banks by a step.
“It’s special,” Lange said of his middle infield’s affection. “Those guys played their hearts out tonight, played really, really well. Made some big plays up the middle and had some big opportunities on the basepaths and came through in the clutch. It’s special when you can perform for your teammates and help pick them up.”
Lange threw 117 pitches — 67 for strikes — and had a career-high tying six walks. His fifth-inning home run to Gideon tied the score at 1-1 after LSU took an early 1-0 lead on Antoine Duplantis’ third inning dribbler that Hunter Melton mishandled at first base.
Melton charged the ball, as did A&M starter Tyler Ivey, but none were able to nab the speedy freshman. Freeman, who was at second after a single and a stolen base, never stopped running once the ball was hit.
“We pride ourselves on being a team that’s going to bring the offense every day,” Freeman said. “Just to come back, especially against a team like this ranked second in the nation, we’ve done it all year from opening night until now. It’s a confidence booster, to see all our hard work pay off.”
Closer Caleb Gilbert stranded the go-ahead run at third base, striking out Banks on three pitches — the last a sweeping slider that sent the jubilant dugout spilling onto the field.
“If you win series on the road, you’re a special ballclub,” Lange said. “We have an opportunity tomorrow and we’re going to come out and give it everything we got.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome