The week was a tough one to swallow for the defending national champions.
The rulers of the baseball world, at least for a stretch, looked far from their selves of old.
“My style has always been to put it all out there on the table with the players,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “If I screw up I admit it, and if they screw up I tell them they did. I try to be very matter of fact about it.”
Arguably the biggest fact taken from the series loss was that Anthony Ranaudo wasn’t in the Friday night form that Tiger fans have grown accustomed.
Instead, the Rebels beat Ranaudo up and down over the first two innings, taking advantage of heavy winds to jump on the LSU right-hander for nine runs on nine hits over just 1.2 innings of work.
Though the Tiger bats answered with seven runs after Ranaudo’s departure, the damage was too much to overcome. On a weekend where LSU would be swept for the first time all season, Ranaudo, the staff ace, had failed to set the tone.
“When I go 1.2 [innings] and give up nine earned runs and nine hits, no one is building off that,” Ranaudo said. “Nobody is enthused about that or has a lot of energy about that. It was a negative.
“It hit me hard a little bit. I tried to get us going Sunday and get the big win, and it didn’t happen for us. I just have to try and set the tone this Friday.”
The game one start against the Gators is another step in Ranaudo’s path to a comeback. After he missed four starts with elbow tenderness at the beginning of the season the junior has shown his human side.
Balls have been left up in the zone. Runs have been allowed. No matter wind or calm skies, Ranaudo doesn’t appear back to full strength.
Catcher Micah Gibbs has a different take.
“I think he is definitely in mid-season form,” Gibbs said. “What is tough for him is taking that month off. I think he is pitching as good as he was last year. I just think he has left a few balls up and people have taken advantage of it.
“I think he is ready to bounce back,” he added. “I don’t want to say the pressure is off him, but after what is made of [Ole Miss], you can tell that some pressure is off him now a couple of days after. That was one of the most highly touted pitching matchups probably in the history of college baseball. It’s an inordinate amount of pressure for two guys in there 20s.”
Though it’s not Oxford, and there will be no Pomeranz, a three-game set in Gainesville will put Ranaudo back in the line of fire just six days after what he tabbed as the worst outing of his career.
At 28-11 overall and 12-6 in conference, the Gators look to use the weekend to catapult themselves up and over South Carolina, who sits in first place headed into a home series with Alabama.
With Florida’s graduation ceremonies certain to leave the campus flooded with blue and orange, Ranaudo can only think of getting back onto the hill to toe the rubber.
“I want the ball in that situation,” he said. “I want the team to look at me as the guy, the stopper who will get us back on track.”