It’s hard to have a first when it comes to LSU baseball.
So much history. So much success. So many great players. So many incredible games.
But a first it was Thursday as the No. 1-ranked Tigers hosted No. 2 Texas A&M in the first 1-2 matchup at Alex Box Stadium — new or old.
As such, you wanted it to be special. You wanted LSU or A&M to win depending on your allegiances and how you feel about Aggie jokes, but so often titanic matchups steam us all right into Dudsville.
This game was the opposite of that. This game was high drama on the river bottomland at The Box. This game had it all — great pitching, astounding defensive plays, clutch hitting, defensive gaffes and a dash of controversy just to make things saucy.
“Electric atmosphere here tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
That LSU won 4-3 almost seems secondary, like the ball rolling into red or black on the roulette wheel. There were countless different ways this game could have gone, its outcome nudged in this direction or that by a series of small occurrences that added up to the big outcome of the series’ first game.
For those of you scoring at home, I know you had Danny Zardon and Collin Strall as the heroes going in, right?
Strall was the third pitcher LSU brought in during an environmental spill of a ninth inning, getting pinch-hitter G.R. Hinsley looking on a full-count pitch with the bases loaded after A&M had tied it with a run.
The Tigers played Russian roulette on the bases all night, coming up golden some times and getting wiped out on others. Jake Fraley led off the LSU ninth by dumping a single to right, but tried to stretch it into a foolhardy double and was ye olde dead duck at second.
But Jared Foster followed by driving a single to left center, then took second on a wild pitch by losing pitcher Andrew Vinson.
Enter Zardon as a pinch hitter for designated hitter Chris Sciambra. Zardon started the season at third base but was fired from that job. He was moved to first but his defense was still a liability. Then he moved to the bench.
The only reason Zardon came on in the seventh was to send a left-handed bat against A&M lefty Ty Schlottmann. Otherwise, he’s not batting in the ninth.
But he was there, lacing a Vinson offering into the left field corner to easily score Foster from second with the winning run.
“You don’t really get a much better feeling out of baseball,” LSU starting pitcher Jared Poche said. “That’s about the highest you can get.”
For all LSU’s winning this season (36-6, 13-5 SEC), it was the Tigers’ first walk-off victory. And it puts them alone in first place in the SEC by one game with 11 to go.
It all started with a great pitching matchup. Texas A&M’s Grayson Long is one of the best arms in the Southeastern Conference, and it looked like edge to the Aggies when Mainieri held his ace Alex Lange in reserve until Friday.
The reason was because Lange pitched in LSU’s rain-soaked doubleheader Saturday at Georgia and his recently tight elbow needed an extra day to loosen.
So LSU went with Poche, the “old man” sophomore of LSU’s pitching rotation. He was promptly touched up for runs by the Aggies in the first and the second. With Grayson mowing through the LSU order it didn’t look good for the Tigers to start.
But Poche started collecting zeroes while LSU finally mounted some offense. Grayson’s pitches began climbing through the strike zone in the middle innings until he finally gave up a pair of runs in the fourth as Chris Chinea tied it with an RBI single to left.
LSU took the lead 3-2 in the seventh on a throwing error by Schlottmann that scored Fraley, but not until after Fraley was called safe on an eyelash play at third that looked like he was out.
Frankly folks, the Tigers stole this one. But fortune favors the bold, and it rained good baseball fortune upon LSU in as close to an NCAA tournament feel as you’ll get in the regular-season.
It was a first around here. And was it fabulous.