Catcher Saul Garza’s legs churned as he rounded third base Thursday night.
Garza had singled with two outs. Now he barreled toward home plate as LSU third-base coach Nolan Cain frantically waved his arms. Run home, the motion told Garza. Run home.
"I don't have the best wheels on the team," Garza said, "so when he gave me that sign to go, I tried to take advantage of it."
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An errant throw from left field didn’t come close as Garza — 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds — slid head-first, tying Auburn at Alex Box Stadium.
"Belly flop," Garza said. "But I touched home plate."
Garza had sparked a four-run inning, and LSU won 7-1. He scored LSU’s first run, and his single began a flurry of hits. With two outs in the third inning, the Tigers hit five straight singles to take the lead.
With the win, LSU (33-21, 16-12 Southeastern Conference) moved into sole possession of fifth place in the conference. LSU began the day in a tie with Ole Miss, which lost at Tennessee.
As Garza went 3 for 4 with a home run to lead LSU’s offense, pitcher Eric Walker completed his second-longest start of the season.
Though Walker held Auburn (31-22, 13-15) to two hits, he struggled in the first inning.
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"The first inning was very disheartening," Walker said. "I had no changeup and it was cutting. I felt bad for Saul back there because it was doing some weird stuff."
Walker tried to relax once he returned to the dugout. He did not have his best stuff, but he thought he had better command the rest of the game.
LSU defeats Auburn 7-1 in their series opener Thursday night, May 16, 2019, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
After Walker allowed a triple in the second inning, Auburn’s only run scored on a sacrifice fly. Walker had thrown 43 pitches by the end of the second frame. Then he settled into a rhythm.
At one point, Walker retired seven straight batters — three on strikeouts.
"Sometimes I look at Eric," coach Paul Mainieri said, "and I'm like, 'How does he do it?'"
Walker entered the sixth inning at 84 pitches. Seven pitches later, Walker strode back to the dugout having retired the side.
Walker's outing, which conserved LSU's bullpen for the rest of the series, did not end until he walked the first batter of the seventh inning. He received a standing ovation.
LSU had not reached base when Garza approached the plate in the third inning. Then he singled up the middle.
As sophomore left fielder Daniel Cabrera tried to regain strength in his right hand a couple weeks ago, he shoved it into deep buckets of rice.
After Garza's hit, LSU jumped on Auburn starter Elliott Anderson the second time through the batting order. LSU’s next four hitters — Josh Smith, Zach Watson, Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera — all singled.
LSU led 4-1 by the end of the frame. Six consecutive hitters had reached base with two outs.
LSU went 6 for 9 its second time through the lineup — Cade Beloso hit a solo home run — and Auburn made a pitching change in the fourth inning.
"I think we're getting better," Mainieri said. "I think the kids are getting it, and they're understanding what we want out of them."
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Garza walked to the plate for the third time in the sixth inning. LSU led 5-1. He had taken over as LSU’s catcher in recent weeks with steady defense and a bat showing flashes of potential.
During preseason practice, Garza developed a reputation for launching batting-practice home runs that hit the scoreboard. His power disappeared for most of the season, but it had emerged with four homers since mid-April.
In a full count, Garza smashed a ball out of the stadium. It left with a loud crack.
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The ball cleared the left-field stands, an estimated 434 feet. As Garza rounded the bases, the fans in the bleachers looked over the railing, searching for the ball somewhere in the night.
Once Garza caught the final out, he shoved the ball into his back pocket. He had three hits, sparked LSU's offense and played one of his best games of the season. But he didn't keep the ball.
"I got to give it to Eric Walker," Garza said. "He pitched his heart out for us."