OXFORD, Miss — With nobody out, a runner on second and his team down four runs in a game it eventually lost 8-2 at Swayze Field, LSU’s Kramer Robertson squared to bunt.
The ball bounced in the wet dirt, settling two feet from home plate before Henri Lartigue picked it up and threw to first base. Easy out.
Robertson entered the weekend hitting .389 with runners in scoring position, second on the team. Paul Mainieri would have prefered Robertson to up that average by driving in Jake Fraley from second base. But instead, Robertson, the No. 3 hitter, tried to bunt in the third inning, hoping to beat it out.
“As I explained to him, maybe it’s not a bad move if you have (Jordan) Romero standing behind you in the on-deck circle and the runner gets to third base,” Mainieri said. “He just decided to do it on his own. It was without a signal.”
Romero wasn’t in the on-deck circle. He wasn’t in the dugout, either. He was serving a one-game suspension resulting from his Friday night ejection that was still a hotly debated topic — both among the teams and on the ESPN2 broadcast.
“I don’t think Kramer was doing anything wrong,” Mainieri said, referring to Robertson’s third-inning bunt attempt. “He was just trying to make something happen.”
Mainieri shied away from hypothetical outcomes. There was no guarantee, he said, that Romero — who had six RBIs in the series’ first two games — would have had a productive day.
“Certainly felt different without him in the lineup, but you don’t know,” Mainieri said. “He could have had a great day, could have had a bad day. I wish we would have had an opportunity to find out.”
Mainieri said after the game there is no appeal process for Romero.
Playing in Romero’s absence, LSU catcher Mike Papierski flew out softly to second and struck out in consecutive at-bats with two runners in scoring position and no outs. Both innings — the second and the fourth — ended with LSU (28-16, 11-10 Southeastern Conference) stranding the bases loaded.
After Robertson sacrificed Fraley to third in the third inning, Greg Deichmann and Beau Jordan, bumped up in the order in Romero’s absence, sent popups on the infield. LSU stranded three runners at third base with less than two outs through the first five innings.
“That’s about as poor as you can execute when you get guys in scoring position,” Robertson said. “There’s no excuse for it. We didn’t hit the ball bad at all. We hit the ball really well; we got 11 hits. But we didn’t execute, and it wasn’t even coming through with the clutch hits. It was executing the offense when you have guys in scoring position with less than two outs.”
LSU’s leadoff runners reached in the second, third and fourth innings. It had runners in scoring position in the first five innings, but neglected to score a run, starting 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position while stranding 10 in that span.
The Tigers finished 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position, both hits coming in a two-run eighth inning in which a rally seemed imminent. The bases were loaded with one out and Fraley at the plate.
Fraley sent a line drive to Tate Blackman at second. Antoine Duplantis, on after an RBI fielder’s choice, froze in his lead off first base. Blackman doubled him off — his second such double play of the afternoon after catching Cole Freeman on Duplantis’ liner in the second.
“That’s a cardinal rule. We practice it every day,” Mainieri said. “They’re trying to help their team by hustling. That happens sometimes with inexperienced players. There’s times to be aggressive and there’s times where they have to dial it back and be a little bit conservative and not make a mental mistake on the bases. And we work on it all the time. But you know when the game starts, sometimes they lose their bearings on those type of things.”
LSU starter John Valek III gave up two home runs and lasted just 1.1 innings, a second straight disastrous start for the Akron transfer.
He surrendered back-to-back two-out homers to J.B. Woodman and Colby Bortles in the first, giving Ole Miss (33-12, 12-9) an early 3-0 lead. Both home runs came after Valek fell behind in the count, forcing him to throw fastballs.
Valek has now lasted a combined 3.2 innings in his last two starts while allowing 10 hits and seven earned runs.
“Just missed my spots, fell behind, got in hitter’s counts,” Valek said. “I need to be better than that. These last two weeks have been unacceptable, and I just have to put it behind me, get better this week and move forward.”
Valek returned to the mound after a 45-minute rain delay in the second inning. He threw just one pitch, which Cameron Dishon shot down the third-base line for an RBI double, ending Valek’s afternoon in favor of Doug Norman.
Norman began a carousel of five relief pitchers that permitted four runs, two coming from Woodman’s second home run of the game — a mammoth, two-run shot to center field off former Tigers closer Caleb Gilbert in the fifth.
“We just couldn’t get the hits when it really mattered,” Mainieri said. “We just didn’t play smart today. It was just one of those days, I don’t know why, we just didn’t react well to things. We had some very poor baserunning. We didn’t pitch great. Just one of those days where nothing really went right for us.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.