By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Alex Lange pitched like a man who didn’t want it to be his last ever start in Alex Box Stadium.
Staked to an early lead and armed with a filthy curveball, Lange had the look of a human buzz saw as he cut through the Auburn lineup like a hot knife through butter on a humid Louisiana evening.
The right-handed ace fired a complete-game, five-hit shutout and LSU took a pivotal series opener from Auburn, 4-0, on Thursday night. He struck out nine, didn’t issue a walk and needed just 118 pitches to complete the gem, 81 of which were strikes.
“The story tonight obviously was Alex Lange,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He was tremendous. I’d love to see him pitch about six more times just like that.”
The coach continued: “His mechanics were tight. He had great command of his fastball. He had great command of his curveball. He made it easy tonight for the umpire to call strikes tonight. He was very aggressive in the strike zone … After Tuesday night’s 10 walks, it’s just so referesing to see a kid not be afraid and throw the ball over the plate.”
Lange was so in control throughout that there was never even a reliever warming in the LSU bullpen until the ninth inning. It’s Lange’s sixth nine-inning complete game and second career complete-game shutout. And thanks largely to Lange’s ruthless efficiency, the game took only two hours and 30 minutes.
Mainieri had closer Hunter Newman heating up in the ninth inning just in case. The coach doesn’t like to let his starter extend past 120 pitches. Walking off the mound in the eighth inning, Lange had no intentions of giving up the ball.
“I kind of have that mentality when I wake up in the morning,” Lange said. “If I’m throwing that day, it’s ‘I’m going nine today.’ You’ve got to tell yourself that, because when the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to be ready.”
The victory improves LSU to 33-17 overall and 16-9 in the Southeastern Conference while Auburn, losers of five straight, drops to 32-19 overall and 14-11 in SEC play.
LSU jumped all over Auburn lefty Andrew Mitchell — a New Orleans native who redshirted for LSU in 2014 — for three runs in the first inning.
Kramer Robertson led off the game with a walk, Antoine Duplantis singled to center and Greg Deichmann sliced an RBI single to left center. A hit batsman loaded the bases and Beau Jordan worked a fantastic walk to bring home a run. Josh Smith then lifted a sacrifice fly to left.
LSU tacked on another run in the second inning. Robertson drew another walk and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. Duplantis then smoked a two-out RBI double off the wall in right field. Mitchell didn’t make it out of the third inning.
“As hitters, it feels really good when your pitcher is shoving and putting up zeroes,” Duplantis said. “And I’m sure as pitchers, it feels really good when you’re scoring runs. That start was huge tonight.”
The bats went quiet from there. It mattered little.
Auburn managed just one hit over the first four innings and didn’t put a runner in scoring position against Lange until Dylan Ingram led off the fifth with a double.
Lange induced a soft ground ball and picked up back-to-back strikeouts on nasty curveballs to leave him right there. He retired the next eight batters in a row after Ingram’s double, striking out four of them.
“It was a good pitch tonight,” Lange said.
Ingram himself broke up that streak with a two-out single in the seventh. At the time he was 3-for-3 against the LSU ace while the rest of the Auburn lineup was 0-of-21 with seven strikeouts.
Will Holland’s two-out single in the eighth was the first by a Plainsman not named Ingram. Another single put runners on the corners, the toughest jam Lange faced all night. He retired second baseman Jay Estes on a weak tapper back to the mound to escape and kept the shutout intact. Lange picked up another strikeout in the ninth inning, No. 100 on the season.
LSU will go for the series victory on Friday night with Jared Poche’ on the mound. Auburn will counter with Keegan Thompson. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.