OXFORD, Miss. — Kramer Robertson spoke briefly with Alex Lange, tapping the pitcher once before he returned to the mound to face Ole Miss’ No. 2 hitter, Ryan Olenek, with two runners on base and LSU trying to protect a one-run lead.
Lange needed one pitch. Olenek rolled it to Robertson, who began a 6-4-3 double play.
The right-hander kicked his leg in the air as he walked off the mound, the climax to a fiery fifth inning that began with Jordan Romero’s ejection and ended when Lange doused the flames.
“When something happens to a teammate like that, they come walking out of their dugout and our guys came walking out. That’s kind of how it goes,” Lange said. “But for me, I was like, ‘I have to go out there and shut them out. I have to keep the pitches down, get some early outs and get this team back in here while we’re all fired up, ready to hit.’ ”
After a two-out, two-run homer from J.B. Woodman in the first inning, Lange was masterful in a complete-game seven-hitter, and the Tigers smashed 11 hits off three Rebels pitchers in a 6-3 win Friday night.
Lange didn’t allow a runner to third base after the fourth inning — a throwback performance to last season that had coach Paul Mainieri comparing it to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines in World War II.
“He has returned,” Mainieri said.
Romero’s third-inning, two-run homer into the left-field bullpen off Rebels starter David Parkinson gave LSU a lead it didn’t relinquish. But Romero’s involvement in a fifth-inning brouhaha re-energized Lange, who did not allow a runner past second after the fifth.
Running from second after Bryce Jordan singled with two outs, Romero stumbled down the third-base line as Woodman grabbed the ball in center field. Woodman — who threw out two runners at the plate in LSU’s 7-6 loss Friday — fired in to catcher Henri Lartigue.
Romero went down to a knee to slide, but he barrelled into Lartigue with his shoulder, dislodging the baseball from Lartigue’s glove in a big collision that caused both benches to momentarily empty.
Plate umpire Tony Maners immediately ruled Romero out and ejected him from the game, sending Mainieri out to vehemently protest as cooler heads began to prevail between both teams.
Mainieri argued that Lartigue was in the baseline and Romero had nowhere else to go.
In the NCAA rule book, Rule 8, Section 7 is entitled “the Collision Rule.” It states: “If the contact is flagrant or malicious before the runner touches the plate, the runner shall be declared out and also ejected from the contest. The ball is immediately dead and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.”
“Tony Maners is one of the best umpires in the world. He’s been doing it forever and I have the greatest respect in the world for him. But I just didn’t see where it was malicious,” Mainieri said. “The guy (Lartigue) was clearly in the baseline, but Jordan had nowhere to go, so he went to the inside and his knee got caught and he flipped forward. That’s the way I saw it. Maybe I’m wrong.”
Maners originally informed Mainieri that Romero wouldn’t get a one-game suspension, but after an umpire conference, that was changed.
Romero cannot play in the Tigers’ series finale Saturday.
Lange allowed just four base runners after the collision — two of which came in the fifth inning preceding the double play — before retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. Six of his seven strikeouts came in that span.
“(Lange) responds to intensity,” Greg Deichmann said. “Something like that happens, that gets him fired up. His focus ramped up more than it already was and he went out and shoved those last four.”
Romero added three RBIs and Deichmann, who entered the game in a 1-for-20 slump, had two hits, including a stand-up double to begin the sixth inning.
He motored home after Rebels reliever Connor Green threw away Cole Freeman’s sacrifice bunt — Ole Miss’ second error of the night that belonged to LSU’s big right-hander.
“I’ve said it from the very beginning: I’m more worried about the process than the result,” Lange said. “Everyone was caught up in the result in the beginning, and it wasn’t happening. Obviously that’s not acceptable, but I was more caught up in the way I was preparing and how I was going about my business.”
Added Mainieri: “That was so vintage Alex Lange. He was like a man possessed out there. From the sixth inning on, he was just not going to be denied. He just upped it another notch and showed what he’s capable of being. And we needed it desperately.”