Baseball seems to come into our 21st Century lives from another world.
It certainly comes from another time.
They put pitching clocks in college ballparks a few years back. The angry, misplaced-looking things try to speed up the game like it's the two-minute warning in football or some such tyrannical deadline.
Football, after all, is rigidly timed. And if we go over that time, as the great George Carlin once reminded us, there is … sudden death!
A baseball game pays no heed to clocks or schedules. It goes on at its own deliberate, 19th Century pace. It ends when it ends.
Ask any of those bleary-eyed survivors of LSU’s Southeastern Conference tournament game against Mississippi State last week — the one that finally finished at 3:03 in the blessed a.m. last Thursday morning.
But that was the SEC version of the postseason. Most teams there — 10 of the 12, in fact — lived to play another day.
Now the NCAA regionals begin. And the while the untimed game is still the same game (no one gives a second thought to those pitching clocks), the pace has somehow quickened.
The NCAA tournament sounds so simple. As Auburn coach Butch Thompson put it after his team was eliminated by LSU in Hoover, Alabama, four teams stand between you and the College World Series — the three teams in your regional and the one team you face in the super regional. The other 59 teams, for now, can go take a leap off the dugout roof.
Oh, but the delicious pressure of postseason baseball is more nuanced than simple mathematics. And it has players and coaches in its velvet grip.
Two losses at any stage of the tournament’s three-tiered layer cake of hope and glory and tension, and it’s all over.
LSU starts this NCAA tournament trying in a sense to find its depth. The Tigers are not this year the team to beat, like No. 1 overall seed UCLA or No. 2 Vanderbilt, the SEC regular-season and tournament champion. They are not an astronomical underdog like Southern, taking on No. 6 national seed Mississippi State on its home soil.
Or Stony Brook.
The pressure to win — because it is LSU; because it is hosting a regional after missing a host role in 2018; because the Tigers have not been to the CWS in two unforgivable years — is considerable.
Add to that the burden to not lose face again against Stony Brook — the “who are they?” marauders who invaded Alex Box Stadium in 2012, thumbed their collective nose at LSU’s manifest destiny and left with the golden airline tickets to Omaha — adds a few degrees of heat to the already oppressive late spring air.
The Tigers are playing their best baseball of late. Since salvaging a win May 11 in the final game of the Arkansas series to snap a season-long five-game losing streak, LSU is 7-3. Pitching, which did finally run out in Hoover, is on the uptick. Aside from freshman Jaden Hill, the Tigers have just about every arm at their disposal they could hope for.
But as everyone knows, this LSU team, at 37-24, is far from an overwhelming force.
Perhaps that affected coach Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn’s decision to start freshman Landon Marceaux in the regional opener Friday night against the Seawolves.
Mainieri has won more than 1,000 games and one national championship. But second-guessing, the byproduct of all that down time between pitches in baseball, will abound.
Typically you want to save your best starting pitcher for the second regional game, when you're either trying to go a commanding 2-0 or find yourself on the brink because of an opening loss. And Marceaux is the pitcher who is much more likely than Cole Henry or Eric Walker to pitch you into deep into a game.
This would seem to be the time you'd want to go with Henry, who can (maybe) give you five innings, then turn it over to your rested stable of bullpen arms.
But there is the other side of the coin, too — the one that says to win today, then worry about tomorrow. The Tigers have lived in that mode so much this year, it must be difficult to comprehend a different mindset.
So LSU throws its best. And it hopes for the best. Staring down a ghost of disappointment past in the other dugout.
Really, who needs a clock? I wish this drama would start right away. I’d imagine the Tigers wish they could get to it, too.