OMAHA, Neb. — Five days earlier, LSU was licking its wounds as it teetered on the brink of e…
Rabalais: 2017 LSU baseball team has already delivered its ‘big diamond moment’ – The Advocate
OMAHA, Neb. — In the convention hall rising behind TD Ameritrade Park’s center-field stands is a cross section of memorabilia from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, a movable feast of the game’s greatest feats and most memorable players. It’s making a layover here during the College World Series.
In that treasure trove is a quote from the writer Loudon Wainwright Jr., blown up in big white letters against a green background that makes it look like something from Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
“Baseball,” Wainwright wrote, “gives memory a home. Who ever played the game who doesn’t have a mini-gallery of big diamond moments?”
LSU’s big diamond moments in the College World Series glitter like little else in the pantheon of the school’s great sports achievements. Most of them are attached to those six NCAA championship crowns the program has collected over the years like the British Empire used to collect far-flung colonies.
This year’s LSU baseball team hasn’t won a national championship. Not yet, anyway. But no matter what happens, however this CWS turns out, what these 2017 Tigers have done deserves a place in the home of LSU’s sporting memory.
It all seemed so hopeless Monday night for the Tigers. Oregon State’s Beavers had stomped all over LSU 13-1 and built a dam standing between the Tigers and their hopes of another CWS championship run.
The Beavers looked too good, with their relentless offensive attack and their stellar pitching, plus LSU’s generosity (12 walks, two errors) to make it seem realistic for the Tigers to fight their way back before a second defeat sent them packing.
One more time for a chance to stay in Omaha.
“It only counts for one loss,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said then. It was the truth, but the mathematics of the Tigers’ plight produced odds so outlandish as to make the most zealous Tigers baseball fan faint away. LSU would have to stave off elimination not once but three times to reach the CWS final.
Somehow, though the Tigers believed.
“A lot of teams would fold,” senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “A lot of teams aren’t LSU. They don’t have the same guys we have in this clubhouse, with this belief in each other. We had won 17 in a row, so losing one and having one bad game right there wasn’t going to affect our confidence as a team.”
LSU beat Florida State 7-4 in a loser-leaves-town rematch, but that was just a warmup act for Oregon State. The Beavers were 56-4 after beating LSU, and being bandied about as the greatest college baseball team of all time.
It took them two games, but the Tigers picked the lock on Oregon State’s offensive Achilles’ heel: Throw fastballs. Lots of them. LSU turned the Beavers’ patience against them, leaving them starving for a breaking ball to feast on. It was kind of like that line from “A League of Their Own” come to life:
“High ones. She can’t hit ’em, can’t lay off ’em.”
Alex Lange fired 115 pitches at Oregon State on Friday. Ninety-four of them were fastballs. The Beavers got two hits off him and reliever Zack Hess in a 3-1 loss. Saturday was a similar report from starting pitcher Caleb Gilbert, who figured 84 of his 97 pitches were fastballs, too.
It was about 4:45 p.m. when the Tigers finally got to celebrate. Hess, pitching more on fumes than the solid rocket fuel he scorched FSU and OSU with in his first three appearances here, ended it by getting Jack Anderson to ground into a force-out at second base for Nick Madrigal.
OMAHA, Neb. — When Alex Lange was carving up Oregon State for seven innings Friday night, fo…
Just like that, Oregon State’s Madrigal mystery tour was abruptly over, a 56-4 season stopped dead in its tracks by a 6-1 defeat. It was the Beavers’ first losing streak since May of 2016 as they managed just two runs and five hits in 18 frustrating innings against the Tigers.
“They’re an outstanding ballclub,” Mainieri said. “But you still have to play the games. We felt if we played up to our potential, we could compete with them.”
That turned out to be more truth than the Beavers could accept.
OMAHA, Neb. — Saturday was a day of firsts for LSU junior catcher Michael Papierski.
OMAHA, Neb. — Beau Jordan’s solo home run into the LSU bullpen in the sixth inning Saturday …
“We didn’t put any pressure on them like we did that first game,” third baseman Michael Gretler said, sounding puzzled by the facts he was discussing. “That was the difference.”
So was the starting pitching of Lange and Gilbert, who bookended perhaps the best back-to-back starting outings ever for the Tigers, both throwing 7.1 innings of one-run, two-hit ball.
“It’s a surreal feeling to be able to pitch your team when it’s back’s against the wall in an elimination game into the College World Series final,” Gilbert said after the longest outing of his career.
Back against the wall? From where LSU started against Oregon State on Friday, the Tigers needed carabiners and grappling hooks to get over the wall.
But they completed the ascent. Now they can set their sights on a new summit.
Even if LSU wins it’s going to be hard to top the journey, though. What the Tigers have done here so far is how legends are made. And how young men get to be remembered as heroes long into their golden years.
Photos: Papierski’s, Jordan’s blast propel LSU past Oregon State, into Championship Series
LSU arrives to TD Ameritrade Park for their finale against Oregon State, Saturday, June 24, 2017, in a matchup that will send the winner to the College World Series finals against either TCU or Florida, in Omaha, Ne.