AUBURN, Ala. — Jordan Romero pumped his fist — the same one he used seconds earlier to throw out Joshua Palacios on a steal attempt at second base, ending the seventh of LSU’s 8-6 win against Auburn in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader.
Romero sprinted to the LSU dugout. For Romero, it was the final highlight of a day that began on the bench and ended with an imposing 13-inning audition for everyday play.
“Definitely MVP of the day,” LSU starter Jared Poché said of his catcher, who was inserted in the fourth inning of an 8-5 loss in the first game after Mike Papierski had issues blocking Alex Lange’s pitches in the dirt.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri had another nominee.
“That was as good as Jared Poché’s pitched for LSU,” Mainieri said. “He’s pitched in big games in his career, but against that team and the way they swing the bats, and for him to be as dominant as he was, (that) was amazing.
“And boy, did we need it.”
A frustrating afternoon in which Lange issued seven free passes — six walks and a hit batsmen — gave way to Poché, the grizzled left-hander who tamed a potent Auburn lineup with four left-handed hitters while providing stability for his inexperienced team.
Poché accomplished his task immediately. He stymied Auburn leadoff man Anfernee Grier — the conference’s leading hitter, who went 3-for-5 in the first game — with a four-pitch strikeout to open the game.
“That was a real important message to send to our team,” Mainieri said, “because that kid’s really great.”
Though he battled runners in scoring position each of his first three innings, Poché stranded each with a strikeout, collecting six as he tossed 6.1 innings of five-hit ball against a team that came into Saturday hitting .326.
Poché left in the seventh, giving way to Hunter Newman who heeded his predecessor’s cue, fanning Grier as soon as he entered the game.
“Obviously we would have liked to win both games,” Poché said. “In my career, whoever’s won the first game has won the second game in my three years here. For me, I was going out there and trying to change that.”
After a reshuffled lineup in the first game made minimal impact other than Greg Deichmanns’s emergence in the No. 3 spot, Mainieri again tinkered for the nightcap, moving Romero into the cleanup spot and putting Brody Wofford into the No. 6 spot, still searching for power in a lineup that’s otherwise apt to hit line drives and grounders.
Wofford scalded two singles, Romero drove in two of LSU’s first four runs and freshman Chris Reid ripped a two-RBI triple deep to right field in the second inning to give his team an early lead it longed for.
“Just trying to come through with that big hit that we’ve been desperately looking for,” Reid said. “Whenever you hit balls constantly, right at people and they’re hard-hit, it mentally can get to you. But they’re eventually going to fall.”
Deichmann and Romero, who hit back-to-back in the second game, had four of the team’s six extra-base hits Saturday.
Each, too, had a home run — Deichmann’s a two-run shot in a three-un, ninth-inning rally in the first game and Romero’s a towering blast against Auburn starter Cole Lipscomb in the fourth inning of the second game.
“Any pitch that I can get to drive, I’m picking it up well out of the pitcher’s hand right now,” Deichmann said. “(Mainieri) said he wanted to get some things going earlier in the ballgame, jump out to an early lead and see if I can’t get one in the gap or maybe get one over the wall. I took it and ran with it. I’m just staying with my approach that’s been working.”
Saturday gave Romero a role he relishes. His exploits as a pinch hitter and midgame replacement are well-documented — none bigger than his game-tying and game-winning hit in LSU’s season-opener against Cincinnati.
Now in the middle of a starved lineup, Romero is prepared to take hold.
“You just have to be ready for your name to get called,” Romero said. “I’m not a veteran on this team, but I did play two years of junior college baseball and the older guys, we have to get it started for the younger guys to keep coming through. It’s kind of a leadership thing. We have to step up in that part.”