LSU shortstop Alex Bregman sat on the ground nearly 300 feet from home plate, the baseball on the slick surface of Alex Box Stadium’s left field, as a Kentucky pinch hitter rounded the bases for an improbable inside-the-park home run.
Yep, that summed up the weekend.
“It was just weird,” Bregman said, “all around.”
With his team an out away from a loss in the series rubber match, Kentucky’s Riley Mahan hit that baffling inside-the-park homer in the ninth inning, and the Wildcats went on to beat LSU 12-10 in 11 innings Sunday afternoon, capping a wacky three-game set in dumbfounding fashion.
Tigers relievers gave up 13 hits and eight runs, freshman starter Jake Godfrey lasted less than two innings and LSU lost a three-game series for the first time this season.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation in five of six polls, the Tigers (23-5, 5-4) dropped their first Southeastern Conference series at home since April 2013.
They were one out away from a win in this crazy, back-and-forth affair.
There were four ties, and the lead changed hands four times. LSU needed just one more out for the win, leading 10-9, when Mahan hit a sinking line drive at left fielder Jared Foster off reliever Parker Bugg.
The ball bounced past a diving Foster, trickling so far that Bregman had time to reach the ball from his infield position. But he slipped on the grass as he reached down for the ball, landing on his backside.
Mahan was rounding third by the time Bregman got to his feet for the throw.
“It was a weird play,” outfielder Mark Laird said. “Bregman had time to get the ball in, but he fell down. Weird stuff.”
Another pinch hitter, Greg Fettes, had the game-winning home run in the top of the 11th — a solo shot off Bugg that soared over the left-field wall in right-to-left wind — and the Tigers went down in order in the bottom half.
Kentucky players stormed the pitcher’s mound in celebration as a small contingent of blue-clad fans down the left-field line chanted. The Wildcats (18-10, 4-5), losers of three straight series in Baton Rouge dating to 2007, had taken a set from No. 1.
For LSU, it’s a sour loss in a weekend that coach Paul Mainieri called one of the most bizarre he has seen in his 30-plus years in baseball.
Chris Chinea had an inside-the-park homer in LSU’s 7-3 win Saturday night — a game that included two replay reviews. Kentucky’s 5-4, 12-inning win in the series opener Friday was marred by a pair of base-running bloopers: Chris Sciambra passed a runner on the bases, and a potential game-winning single struck Bregman on the base paths.
“Very odd series,” Mainieri said.
Now his team faces a short week. LSU meets Louisiana-Lafayette in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at Zephyr Field in Metairie on Tuesday. The team will drive to Hoover, Alabama, through the night after the game for a three-game tussle with the Crimson Tide beginning Thursday.
“What you need to do is recover from it and move forward,” Mainieri said. “I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I feel and our team feels right now.”
LSU overcame an early 4-0 deficit, had 15 hits (including two home runs) and played errorless ball in the field. The Tigers got a combined five innings of five-hit ball from sophomore Hunter Newman and freshman Austin Bain, too, but other relievers struggled.
They let a three-run lead slip away in the eighth with Collin Strall, Zac Person and Alden Cartwright on the mound. The Wildcats scored four in the inning to take a 9-8 lead. Person and Cartwright hit their first batter in that eighth.
“We used Zac for the third day in a row,” Mainieri said. “He just didn’t quite have the same type of stuff.”
LSU answered in the bottom of the inning. Sciambra and Foster started the inning with singles. They both scored, and the Tigers took that 10-9 lead into the ninth.
Then came that inside-the-park home run — a fitting play in a wacky series.
The teams barely avoided a tie. There was a four-hour travel curfew, because Kentucky had to catch a flight in New Orleans. No inning could begin after 3:05 p.m. The 11th began at about 3 p.m.
“I’ve never seen the things I’ve seen this weekend,” Mainieri said. “Today, we’re one out away from winning and there’s an inside-the-park home run on a blooper to left field that didn’t go all of the way to the fence. Didn’t go to the warning track.”
Mainieri didn’t fault Foster for diving for the ball and called it a “hustle play.” Foster said he didn’t expect such a high blooper to kick so far past him.
“Strangest thing I’ve ever seen at that point in the game,” Mainieri said.
LSU wasted a chance to end the game in the bottom of the ninth. Foster and Kramer Robertson both struck out swinging with the winning run — Chinea had a leadoff double — at second base, and the Tigers didn’t get what they wanted from Godfrey. He had the roughest outing in his seventh start of the season, allowing six hits, four runs and lasting just 35 pitches.
Another weird showing on this wacky weekend? Yep.
“We saw a lot of things we don’t usually see this weekend, but that’s the beauty of baseball,” Bregman said. “We’ll get back at it tomorrow.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.