By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
HOOVER, Ala. — The difference in mood around the LSU dugout at the Southeastern Conference Tournament is night and day compared to before it departed for the Yellowhammer State four weeks ago to begin a three-game series against the Crimson Tide.
Before departing for Alabama, shortstop Kramer Robertson delivered a withering criticism of his own play in the form of a challenge to himself and the team he leads to play with a greater sense of urgency from that point forward.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Robertson told reporters that day. “I haven’t performed in conference the way that I should. That has a lot to do with our struggles. I know it’s a team sport, but when you see your senior leader and he sucks, it resonates with the whole team.
“Put this on me. I need to play better and get my act together, and when I do that, I think it’s going to rub off on the whole team.”
Robertson, like most of the LSU lineup, has caught fire as the Tigers have reeled off 15 victories in 17 tries dating back to that Alabama series. The senior clubbed a three-run home run to tie a bow around LSU’s run-rule shutout of Kentucky on Thursday night.
Two days and one at-bat later he launched the third pitch of the game over what’s left of the outer wall here at the Hoover Met for a leadoff home run to spark another offensive avalanche as LSU mercy ruled South Carolina Saturday, 11-0, to earn a spot in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.
No Tiger had led off the first inning with a dinger since JaCoby Jones on April 27, 2012. No LSU player has led off a game with one since Mikie Mahtook on May 1, 2010.
Robertson finished a double shy of hitting for the cycle. His leadoff blast proved the catalyst for a team that’s placed an emphasis on scoring first as its reeled off five straight double-digit scoring outputs against SEC foes for the first since 2010.
“Everybody has to do their job, but every year there’s that one player that, when he’s on, you just feel like the whole team goes,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Alex Bregman had that kind of effect on our program. Before that it was D.J. LeMahieu. Kramer has that kind of impact.
“Ever since that Tuesday night when we lost to Tulane, it was like he slapped himself and said ‘Let’s go. It’s time to get with it.’ He’s been playing lights out ever since. And I’m excited about it because I think it just impacts out team in a huge way.”
Robertson has hit .384 (28-for-73) with three home runs, 15 RBI and 28 runs scored in the 17 games since the blistering critique. He’s now up to eight home runs on the season after hitting all of three during his first three years in the program and leads the SEC with 75 runs scored.
Asked about the previous comments during the post-game presser Saturday, the shortstop passes on an opportunity to pat himself on the back.
“I can’t credit for what we’ve done because of what I said,” Robertson said. “Those are just words. You have to go out there and do it. But what I said was how I felt and it was the truth. I wasn’t performing how I needed to and it was rubbing off on the team.”
That’s true, those were just words.
The play that’s followed since has been a major catalyst in the heater the Tigers find themselves riding today.