It’s hard to imagine Kevin Gausman envisioned his final outing in Alex Box Stadium would end like this.
He walked off the mound after the seventh inning toward the visitor’s dugout, despite playing in the stadium he’s called home for two years. His team trailed 3-1, the eventual final score, and Gausman lost for only the second time the season.
Leaving Baton Rouge would already be hard enough. Leaving with a loss made it that much tougher to stomach.
“It got a little emotional in that last inning, when I was looking at the fans,” Gausman said. “This has been my home.”
The disappointment of defeat seems more severe after the high Gausman felt following the completion of Friday’s game. LSU coach Paul Mainieri opted to send Gausman to the mound in the 12th inning, a surprising decision given Gausman was scheduled to start the next game.
Mainieri called it the toughest decision he’s made since naming then-freshman Austin Nola as the starting shortstop in 2009. But when it came down to it, Mainieri wanted his best arm on the mound.
“Our chance of winning (Saturday) was going to take some boldness,” Mainieri said. “We had a chance to win, and I knew it would be somewhat controversial, especially if it didn’t work. But our best chance to win that game was with Kevin Gausman on the mound.”
The move paid off as Gausman breezed through the frame, needing only 12 pitches to induce two fly outs and an inning-ending strikeout. Quieting the Stony Brook offense opened the door for Mason Katz to deliver the game-winning hit in the next half-inning.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m a competitor so I definitely wanted the ball,” Gausman said. “It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
But he didn’t have long to dwell on his success. Less than an hour later he was back on the mound with a chance to earn his second win of the day and send his team to Omaha.
|Kevin Gausman: 'It got a little emotional in that last inning, when I was looking at the fans.'|
He’d been in a situation similar to this before. As a high school senior, Gausman earned a save in a state playoff game before throwing a complete-game victory that same day. He knew he needed to relax between games and stick to his routine.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature and the Stony Brook offense caught up to him.
Gausman struck out four batters in 2.1 innings of work before a steady rain started to fall. It wasn’t enough to force the umpires to halt the game, but enough to cause Gausman to lose grip on his breaking pitches.
He resorted to a mixture of fastballs and changeups, but Stony Brook hitters managed to get on Gausman for two runs in the third inning.
Kevin Courtney laced a one-out double to right-center field. He advanced to third on a wild pitch after three straight Gausman pitches wound up in the dirt. Courtney scored in the next at-bat when Sal Intagliata drove him home with a single up the middle.
The Seawolves collected two more hits in the inning, the second a RBI-single by Willie Carmona.
“I was inconsistent hitting my spots,” Gausman said. “I got into some hitter’s counts and had to throw fastballs. I was living down for most of the game, and the three pitches I left up are the ones that hurt me.”
Gausman settled down after that, allowing just two hits – one a solo home run by Courtney in the fifth inning. He did just enough to keep his team within shouting distance, but Stony Brook starting pitcher Tyler Johnson spoiled Gausman’s fairy tale ending.
The 33rd round draft pick of the Oakland A’s allowed just one unearned run on three hits, outdueling the fourth overall pick in his farewell outing.
Gausman could return next season, though a multi-million dollar signing bonus makes that highly unlikely. Regardless of his future, most would have wished for a different ending to this chapter of Gausman’s career, which finished with what Mainieri called a courageous performance.
“It’s a shame our guy had to lose that game,” Mainieri said. “He pitched his heart out, and I’m so proud of Kevin and what he’s done for our team.”