By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Every time you watch a baseball game, you have a chance to see something you’ve never seen before.
“I think that would be classified as an example of that,” Paul Mainieri grinned after repeating the aforementioned baseball adage.
Cole Freeman’s bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning broke the tie, but it’ll be the turn of events that erased a separate bases-loaded, no-out jam an inning earlier that’ll stand as the everlasting memory of LSU’s bizarre 5-4 victory over Arkansas at Alex Box Stadium Friday night.
The Hogs had already tied the game at 2-2 with three consecutive well-struck hits against Alex Lange, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases for center fielder Carson Shaddy.
What followed proved as difficult to put into written words as it looked for the umpiring crew who had the unenviable task of trying to explain their subsequent ruling while Paul Mainieri and Dave Van Horn took turns screaming at them.
Shaddy scalded the ball right at shortstop Kramer Robertson, who appeared to pick it on a short hop and throw home for a force. Catcher Jordan Romeo then threw to third base for yet another force, or so it appeared.
The umpires huddled up and ruled Robertson had caught the ball in the air, and that the runner from second had actually tagged up and been thrown out at third. They then put baserunners on second and third, prompting Mainieri and Robertson to argue feverishly.
“I tried to sell it like I caught it,” Robertson explained. “I didn’t know what they ruled, so I wanted to get it home just in case they ruled it a ground ball. But the umpire saw what they saw. I’m not going to argue with them. I was at first because I thought they ruled it wrong.”
Once the dust settled, Mainieri instructed Lange to throw to third base. The umpire called the third out on appeal and the inning ended in a de-facto triple play — technically, for scoring purposes, it’s a double play with the third out coming on appeal — that left everyone scratching their head as to what just transpired.
“It was the weirdest play ever,” Romero said. “We didn’t know what the umpires called it, if it was a catch or not, so my first instinct when he threw it home was ‘ok, it’s a force out.’ I don’t think it’s a catch, but we’ll take the triple play.”
It wasn’t but that hardly dampened the mood for any of the involved parties.
“I wish that’s how we drew it up every time,” Lange laughed. “As a player, I’ve never been a part of anything like that. Except for tee ball when you catch a fly ball and everyone is running around.”
Allowed to wiggle off the hook, Lange locked in from there. He retired six of the next seven men he faced — including a 1-2-3 seventh inning after LSU manufactured a three spot aided by four Arkansas walks, two coming with the bases loaded — before allowing a solo home run in the eighth.
Lange scattered eight hits and walked one — the third consecutive outing he’s issued a single free pass — while striking out six in 7.1 innings of work to earn his third win in four starts.
“Alex battled like crazy,” Mainieri said. “He wasn’t as sharp as he’s been the last couple weeks, but he battled like crazy and gave us a chance to win.”
Arkansas took an early lead and made Lange sweat through a 31-pitch first inning. Clark Eagan led off the game with a sharp single to right and Carson Shaddy followed with a double to right that Antoine Duplantis appeared to have some difficulty finding in the setting sun.
Eagan came home on Luke Bonfield’s grounder to the right side and Lange issued a walk to put runners on the corners with one out. The ace bared down from there, firing a full-count 93 mph heater past Michael Bernal and getting Rick Nomura swinging on a curveball to wiggle out of further trouble.
LSU wasted little time drawing even. Duplantis reached on an error and Jake Fraley advanced him to third with a sharp single to right. Fraley then stole second, and Kramer Robertson tied the game and advanced both runners on a grounder to shortstop.
Chris Reid appeared to give LSU the lead with a sharp line drive off Arkansas starter Dominic Taccolini, but home plate umpire Tony Walsh called Fraley out after the right-hander gathered and threw home. Replay showed Fraley actually slid in ahead of the tag by catcher Tucker Pennell.
Fraley, not to be denied, manufactured a run by himself to give LSU a 2-1 lead in the third. He drew a walk, stole second base and came around to score on two wild pitches. He also drove in LSU’s fifth and final run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Arkansas got the tying run as far as third base against Hunter Newman in the ninth inning, but Newman got Eagan to fly to Fraley in center to end the game and nail down a five-out save.
LSU will look to clinch a series victory Saturday night with Jared Poche’ set to take the mound. Arkansas will counter with electric right-hander Zach Jackson. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
– Bryce Jordan extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the sixth.
– Fraley’s two stolen bases give him 53 for his career, which puts him in a tie for ninth place on LSU’s all-time list.