What was the big story from this weekend’s LSU-Arkansas series?
Were that there was just one.
LSU got a three-game Southeastern Conference sweep in a huge spot on a schedule that’s rapidly drawing to a close. That was big, especially if the Tigers hope to host an NCAA regional.
There was Friday night’s “triple play” that helped LSU hold off Arkansas for a 5-4 win. That was bizarre and perhaps never completely explained.
Then there was Saturday night’s now-famous “Rally Possum,” the Google-trending baby opossum that tried to run an Odell Beckham post route across the Alex Box Stadium outfield with the Tigers trying to rally from a 9-1 deficit.
That the Rally Possum’s appearance coincided with the meat of LSU’s 10-9 extra-inning monster comeback had by Sunday’s first pitch fueled the sale of some off-brand T-shirts (#RallyPossum) and a proliferation of Twitter pages all claiming to speak on behalf of the little critter.
That was big — and bizarre, too.
Even Robbie Morrison was sporting a “Rally Possum” T-shirt when he threw out the first pitch before Sunday’s game to Warren Morris. Morris of course is the LSU legend who homered off Morrison to win the 1996 College World Series for the Tigers against the Miami Hurricanes.
That was big, too, in a nostalgic, pre-Twitter hashtag sort of way.
That Morrison was magnanimous enough to come to LSU 20 years on and throw a pitch to the man who became the Bobby Thomson to his Ralph Branca ranks high on the human interest scale. (Gate-crashing marsupials are ineligible.)
But all took a back seat to Kramer Robertson, his busted-up face and his unflagging heart and desire that may yet inspire his fellow Tigers to turn this middling season into something special.
When coach Paul Mainieri got to Robertson’s prone figure during Saturday night’s game, blood was already pouring from the junior shortstop’s mouth. The same mouth that took a baseball during preseason practice right in the choppers.
Were it not for the dental scaffolding holding Robertson’s teeth in place from that injury, he may have lost a couple of teeth when he lost that throw from center fielder Jake Fraley in the Alex Box Stadium lights. But a quick test showed Robertson wasn’t concussed, and he also was in no mood to discuss coming out of the game despite a rapidly swelling upper lip that Mainieri said “looked like a flat tire.”
“He saw me and looked up and said, ‘Don’t even think for a second I’m coming out of this game,’ ” Mainieri said, admiration tinting his words.
Robertson stayed in and, after LSU managed to tie it at 9, it was Robertson who slapped an infield hit that resulted in a wild throw that brought Fraley home from third in the 10th with the winning run.
“He’s about as tough as they come,” Mainieri said. “That kid has shown a lot of what he’s made of this year, what he’s gone through and what he’s done for this team. It almost makes you emotional to think how much he’s grown as a person and as a leader, how much he’s grown as a great competitor and a ballplayer. I think the rest of the team feeds off of him.”
Robertson couldn’t feed off anything Saturday night. After the game, he couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to eat because of the blow that didn’t leave him concussed but did cause a small fracture under his nose, according to Robertson’s mother, Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey. He took pregame IVs, and trainers kept him hydrated on a sunny day with water and sports drinks.
Some parents might have wanted their child to take a day off to rest Sunday after the ordeal he had been through. Mulkey knew better.
“If he wasn’t on that field today, it was going to be a coach’s call,” Mulkey said before catching a flight back to Waco. “It wasn’t going to be Kramer’s call. He’s a competitor.”
So Robertson played Sunday, going 1-for-3 with a run in the Tigers’ 7-1 win to tick his average up to .320. Finally, in the eighth, Robertson rested, giving up his final at-bat to Brody Wofford with Arkansas hopelessly behind. Trey Dawson manned short in the ninth as the Tigers sewed up the victory against a Razorbacks team that was by then probably glad to head home, even if there were an opossum on their bus.
They say baseball isn’t a contact sport. To look at Robertson after Sunday’s game, you couldn’t tell that. His lip looked like he was trying to conceal a baseball beneath it for a hidden ball trick, and his right pinkie finger was bandaged from when he dislocated it four times — four times! — back in March at Texas A&M.
“My finger’s been hurting me since I dislocated it,” he admitted. “Obviously my mouth. But I’m happy that we swept Arkansas. That’s awesome.”
Robertson managed something resembling a smile.
Coach Mulkey, you raised one tough son of a gun. Seeing him play through his pain for his team was probably the best Mother’s Day present she could have gotten.
But her birthday is coming up later this month. Maybe a #RallyPossum T-shirt would be nice.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.