How does a four-run sixth inning LSU lead turn into a two-run loss? With the long ball, of course.
Baylor posted six unanswered runs, powered by three home runs, to take 6-4 comeback victory in Saturday’s second day of the Shriners Hospital for Children Classic in Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
LSU (7-4) was hoping to build on Friday’s 4-3 win over previously unbeaten No. 11 Texas in which Tigers’ starting pitcher Cole Henry and reliever Jaden Hill combined for 16 strikeouts while limiting the Longhorns to just four hits.
Against Baylor (7-3), LSU staked Tigers’ starter Landon Marceaux to a 4-0 lead, using a second-inning RBI double by second baseman Cade Doughty, catcher Alex Milazzo’s solo homer in the third and designated hitter Saul Garza’s two-run homer in the top of the sixth.
At that point, Baylor had just three hits and was looking for any type of spark.
It got one in the bottom of the sixth when Bears’ second baseman Rickey Martinez doubled on a play in which LSU left fielder Maurice Hampton Jr. retreated and missed catching Martinez’s drive by a less than a foot. Hampton appeared to hesitate slightly as he crossed the warning track.
Naturally, Baylor cashed in big immediately when Bears’ shortstop Nick Loftin hammered a two-run homer up into the park’s ornamental train track that sits just under the roof in left field.
Loftin’s majestic shot, which he momentarily stopped and admired, was all Marceaux would give up in his six-inning outing. He allowed five hits with two walks, six strikeouts and two earned runs on Loftin’s bomb that sliced LSU’s lead in half to 4-2.
Reliever Nick Storz replaced Marceaux in the seventh, and that’s when the Tigers’ trouble started.
After Storz exited with two outs following a solo homer by Baylor’s first baseman Chase Wehsener that reduced LSU’s margin to 4-3, things went from bad to worse when Tigers’ lefty reliever Brandon Kaminer entered with two outs.
On an 0-2 count against the first batter Kaminer faced, he hit Baylor center fielder Jared McKenzie with a pitch. On the next batter, Martinez took Kaminer’s first pitch deep to left for a two-run homer and 5-4 Bears’ lead.
LSU could have gotten out of the inning when Kaminer induced a ground ball from Loftin that should have been the third out. But Tigers’ third baseman Zack Mathis’ throw sailed wide of first baseman Cade Beloso.
Kaminer allowed a single before being pulled for reliever Matthew Beck, who gave up a bloop RBI single that scored Loftin for what became the final margin of victory.
As shaky as LSU’s trio of relievers showed, allowing a combined five hits and four runs (three earned) in Baylor’s last two at-bats, four Bears relievers iced the Tigers’ bats allowing one run on three hits in the last 3 1/3 innings.
One of those hits was center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo’s leadoff single in the ninth. It was followed with left fielder Wes Toups reaching first base on a Martinez throwing error and a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Collier Cranford.
It put DiGiacomo at third base and Toups at second with one out and the top of LSU’s batting order coming to the plate.
But Baylor closer Luke Boyd was able to escape the jam with consecutive strikeouts of Mathis and Milazzo to end the game.
“We were up 4-0, but honestly, I thought we should have been up by more,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We had some opportunities to expand the lead, but we didn’t get the job done. Our guys have to learn that we have to take advantage of those opportunities. It’s a learning experience for a young team that has to learn how to win.”
LSU will wrap up in the Houston Sunday morning at 11 a.m. when the Tigers play Oklahoma. The game will be broadcast on AT&T Sports Network and CST as well as streamed online at MLB.com and the Astros’ YouTube channel.