Chris Chinea hit a game-winning, inside-the-park home run Saturday night.
Chalk that up as one of the most bizarre ways to decide an LSU baseball game. But the 220-pound first baseman made the impossible happen to help lead the Tigers to a 7-3, series-tying victory against Kentucky.
Chinea came to the plate with the game tied 2-2 in the eighth and two men aboard. He sent a liner to center maybe 200 feet, and UK CF Kyle Barrett made a diving attempt that came up short. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and came to rest under the padding.
RF Marcus Carson got to it and immediately raised his hands to signal a dead ball. Chinea meanwhile circled the bases and stomped on the dish to complete his three-run homer.
But the umpires initially ruled it a ground rule double, which coincidentally goes against the ground rules. Those state that so long as the ball is visible, it’s still in play.
Paul Mainieri stormed out to argue the call, and after a long deliberation by the umpires, they ruled Chinea safe, providing LSU its three-run lead.
“The ground rule is clearly stated,” Mainieri said. “I went over them before the game [Friday] and said ‘if you can see the ball under the outfield fence, they have to go get it.’ Well, everybody in the world could see it.”
Chinea waited anxiously in the dugout while the umpires discussed the call. He at least knew that the go-ahead run would score, so there was some relief. He just wanted to know if he would as well.
He did, and it was his first homer of the season. Who could’ve guessed Chinea’s first one wouldn’t clear the fence.
“I think everyone’s surprised,” Chinea said. “I’m probably one of the slowest guys on the team….But hey, a home run’s a home run.”
LSU has now hit inside-the-park home runs in two of its last three games, with Mark Laird getting one Tuesday against Tulane. It also marked Chinea’s first of the season — of any variety.
“I’ve been working with Mark Laird,” Chinea joked. “He taught me how to do inside-the-parkers, so I took his advice, worked in the cage and it happened to me.”
Jared Foster crushed a two-run homer over the scoreobard later in that inning to add cushion to the lead, but it was Chinea’s homer that didn’t leave the field of play that decided it.
The Tigers even the series with Kentucky, and the two teams will play the rubber match Sunday at 11 a.m.
“It’s satisfying to know we have a chance to win the series, even though we haven’t played our best game of the weekend yet,” Mainieri said. “We did OK, but we didn’t play great. We let some opportunities get away, but we’ve obviously got a really great pitcher out there.”
LSU got another spectacular outing from Alex Lange. The freshman matched his season-high with 13 strikeouts, allowing just one unearned run in seven innings.
He left with a 2-1 lead but finished with a no decision, after Zac Person allowed Kentucky to tie it in the eighth.
“It’s really a shame he didn’t get credit for the win,” Mainieri said. “He certainly pitched great. An amazing performance by him.”
But Lange didn’t see his outing so positively. He dwelled more on his five walks than that remarkable strikeout total.
“The five walks hurts,” Lange said. “That’s unacceptable. I have to make improvements on that…The walks will kill you, especially against an SEC team.”
Lange may not be perfectly content with that performance, but his team will certainly take the win. They hope it’ll translate into another Sunday.
“Everybody loses games. Everybody beats everybody in this league,” Mainieri said. “Each day is a new day, and today we found a way to win. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll play our best game.”
Unique homer lifts LSU past Kentucky, 7-3
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