There was a major hold in the count Saturday on LSU’s rocket launch mission to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.
Midway through Saturday afternoon’s elimination game between Tulane and Lehigh, the storm clouds came, then the lightning, then the rain. Sheets of it — so much rain that 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium, the closest thing we have to a mountain in these parts, disappeared into the gloom for several minutes beyond Alex Box Stadium’s center-field fence. When the rain parted, there were decent odds Noah’s Ark would be standing in its place.
The Box looked like The Swamp, the outfield so awash that our visitors from Pennsylvania (where Lehigh is from) may have thought all those urban (and rural) legends about us Swamp People living among the alligators and taking pirogues to work (could be faster than Interstate 10, come to think of it) were true.
Finally, the skies and the outfield seas parted (Moses must be a baseball fan) and the NCAA Baton Rouge regional was able to resume. A bit soggy and under the cover of darkness, but at least back on a tardy course.
Somewhere in the ballpark, no doubt surrounded by sandbags as an attentive trainer massaged his right arm like it was Kobe beef, LSU pitcher Alex Lange sat ready to take the mound for the Tigers’ eventual game against UNC Wilmington. Lange is only 19, so there was some question about him pitching after curfew, but his parents and the NCAA said it was OK for him to stay out and play.
The Tigers were hoping Lange would stay out and pitch. And pitch. And pitch. The Tigers’ also rain-interrupted 10-3 victory over Lehigh on Friday saw LSU send a Mardi Gras parade of pitchers to the mound.
This was by design. Mostly. Starter Alden Cartwright only got in one inning before the faucets opened above the LSU campus, but he was just going to throw a maximum of two innings on a dry track.
Six more pitchers toed the rubber in Cartwright’s wake: Austin Bain, Hunter Newman, Jesse Stallings, Doug Norman, Russell Reynolds and Hunter Devall. Bain had his struggles at times, giving up two runs in his three innings of relief, but overall the “it takes a village” approach worked. Newman, through some sort of mathematical theory the late John Nash would have enjoyed, Newman pitched the fifth inning and got the win.
Way back in the day, the Boston Braves used to have a saying when it came to their pitching: “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain were by far the Braves’ best pitching duo and as for the rest, a deluge was preferable.
With the LSU pitching staff the saying could be coined, “Lange and (Jared) Poché and bring a train.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri calls it his “Jack Wholestaff” approach, though one name really doesn’t do it justice. It’s Jack and Hunter and Doug and Zac and another Hunter and Parker, and perhaps a couple of names that Mainieri may have to consult the roster on in order to jog his memory.
It’s a good approach for Game 1 of a regional, but as another old saying goes, will it play in Peoria? Or in this case, Omaha?
For the Tigers to reach — and advance — in the College World Series, a third starter is likely going to have to emerge. And not just a bit player, but someone who has a nice length of stay on the mound.
LSU’s CWS champions have often had to identify such a player. In 2000, Hunter Gomez pitched 5.1 innings of one-run ball to get the Tigers past Florida State and into the championship game against Stanford. Brian Tallet was LSU’s ace that year, and Trey Hodges was the utilitarian MVP (two wins and a save), but it was Gomez who saved the bullpen from being overly taxed in a crucial game.
If the Tigers reach the CWS, who will be LSU’s Hunter Gomez this time? Newman or Devall could be the man, or Parker Bugg or Reynolds.
Maybe Johnny Wholestaff will come out dealing zeroes inning after inning.
But a little prayer for rain might not hurt.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.