There are a lot of ways to win a baseball game, whether it’s relying on one big inning, scratching out a run or two whenever you can or piecing together nine innings with several pitchers.
When third-ranked LSU and Southeastern Louisiana matched up Wednesday, there was a little of all of the above to go around at Alex Box Stadium.
Not to mention a few strange wrinkles near the end.
The Tigers survived another one-run test, edging the Lions 4-3 on the strength of a four-run third inning and another effective patchwork effort by weekend relievers. Southeastern (28-14) made things interesting with a pair of runs scoring on wild pitches, but also lost two runners at the plate.
When the dust settled, the game was in the hands of LSU closer Nick Goody and he did what has become commonplace – slamming the door on a foe in the wake of a wacky end to both halves of the eighth inning.
Goody notched his 7th save with a quick 1-2-3 ninth on a check-swing third strike and two routine popups.
That was about as normal as things were late in the game.
The weirdness began in the Lions’ eighth with two outs when Kurt McCune walked Ben Hernandez to bring up pesky Brock Hebert. LSU coach Paul Mainieri summoned Nick Rumbelow and he jumped ahead of Hebert 0-and-2 and then snapped off a curve ball that was right on the verge of being strike three.
Hebert took the curve for a ball and then punched a triple to right-center field to score Hernandez and pull the Lions within 4-3.
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On a 1-and-2 pitch to Jonathan Pace, the ball skipped in the dirt in front of Tigers catcher Ty Ross and trickled a few feet away. Hebert charged home, but Ross gathered the ball and dove toward the plate in plenty of time. Hebert stayed on his feet and sidestepped to miss the tag, but was ruled out to end the inning.
As Ross got up, he chirped at Hebert on the ground and the Southeastern second baseman took a step toward the LSU dugout before home-plate umpire Ray Gregson shooed both players away.
“There was just a little bit of emotion there and in a close game that’s going to happen,” Tigers left fielder Raph Rhymes said.
The bottom of the eighth began innocently enough when Rhymes rolled out to Hebert for the first out. But Austin Nola walked against Lions reliever Kaleb Manuel. Tyler Moore, who delivered the big blow of the game in the third inning, hammered a full-count pitch to right field where Alex Marse snared the sinking liner.
Except that first-base ump Myron Miller waved his hands fair, indicating the ball had fallen, triggering a strange series of events.
“That was one of the more bizarre plays I’ve ever seen,” Mainieri said. “(First-base coach) Will Davis said the kid clearly caught the ball. Austin Nola saw the kid catch the Ball. Tyler Moore didn’t know if the ball was caught, and for some reason he veered off before he got to first base.”
With mass confusion, Marse picked up the ball and fired to first baseman Michael Rutland, who relayed the throw to Hernandez, the SLU shortstop. Nola was tagged out for the third out – Moore was ruled out for leaving the base paths.
The consensus immediately after the game was that nobody was 100% sure what had happened.
“It was just a weird play,” Rhymes said. “I grabbed my glove because I thought the guy had caught the ball and doubled off Austin.”
While all the insanity unfolded in the eighth, Goody calmly warmed up. He came in and never gave the Lions a chance to push across the tying run.
“Nick’s a legitimate closer and he’s doing a great job,” Mainieri said.
“Fortunately in the end we won the game, so, OK, let’s put it behind us.”
The Tigers (33-9) were able to do so because they touched up Southeastern starter Josh Janway and reliever Tanner Rainey for four runs in the third inning, which turned out to be the only noise they made.
With one out, JaCoby Jones and Arby Fields kick-started the offense with back-to-back singles that chased Janway. Rainey came in and walked Mason Katz to load the bases for Rhymes, who entered the game hitting .500.
Rhymes and Rainey battled for eight pitches to a full count before the SEC’s leading hitter lofted a fly ball to left field to chase Jones home to forge a 1-1 tie. Before Rainey even had a chance to shake off that result, Nola whipped the first offering he got down the third-base line for a double that plated Katz for an LSU lead.
Moore stepped in and worked ahead in the count to 3-and-1 before ramming a single into center field for a 2-run single.
“Just staying loose,” Moore said of his 2-hit night. “Staying confident and staying with the right approach.”
The four-run inning was the Tigers’ biggest in 45 innings since they hung up four runs to put Alabama away in a 7-1 win on April 14.
"We had a good inning,” Rhymes said. “Any time you can load the bases up, it puts pressure on the defense. We came up with some big hits and that led to a big inning."
That was all LSU managed, though.
Rhymes’ bloop double in the fifth inning was the Tigers’ only other hit as the Southeastern bullpen teamed up to retire 15 of the final 18 hitters.
“We kind of stalled and they started making better pitches,” Rhymes said. “But we got enough when we had to.”
And a few plays to keep the Lions from doing any more damage.
Southeastern got a run in the first on Joe Broussard’s two-out wild pitch and a second when Hernandez dashed home from second base on Joey Bourgeois’ wild pitch after a leadoff single and stolen base.
Two inning before that, Lions coach Jay Artigues tried to catch the Tigers napping when he called a suicide squeeze with Hebert on third base, one out and a full count on Ladd Rhodes. But Rhodes missed the pitch and Ross tagged Hebert out.
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That missed chance came against Brent Bonvillain, who took over for Broussard in the fourth inning and earned his third win. Despite the costly wild pitches, seven LSU relievers limited Southeastern to four hits and struck out 13.
Now the focus shifts back to the SEC and Georgia (24-18), which comes to Alex Box Stadium this weekend.
“We know it’s going to be another battle,” said Rhymes, whose average is at .497 after a 1-for-3 night.