by Carl DuboisJune 23, 2009 1:45 AM
Raise your hand if you saw that game coming.
Don't elevate the digits if you think the issue is whether anyone anticipated an LSU victory by one run against Texas, which the Tigers accomplished by a score of 7-6 in 11 innings on a hot, muggy Monday night at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium.
No, the devil is in the details, and Game 1 of the College World Series national championship series threw us a series of plot-point curveballs that combined for more than four hours of compelling, dramatic baseball.
Reality TV has nothing on what unfolded on the field in defiance of all the prefab storylines LSU and Texas spent at least a year setting us up to expect. This was real, and it was real good.
There are probably countless Hollywood scripts, gathering dust somewhere, that feature a player getting off the ground, receiving an IV and making the game-winning play. LSU freshman center fielder Mikie Mahtook walked off those pages, picked himself off the ground after early-innings cramps and, replenished with direct-to-vein fluids, stroked the two-out single up the middle in the top of the 11th to score D.J. LeMahieu with the deciding run.
But really, the rest of it?
LSU (55-16) is one victory away from its sixth national championship after a series of twists that made everyone rethink Texas (49-15-1) and the way these things are won.
The Tigers can wrap it up by winning Game 2, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT, and if this one is another instant classic, the official DVD should come inside an IV bag and be packed amid shredded pregame notes that did none of us any good in trying to guess what would happen.
LSU starting pitcher Louis Coleman patiently worked through 367 nights between giving up the North Carolina grand slam that ended the Tigers' stay at the 2008 CWS and getting on the mound in a position to put LSU within a victory of winning the 2009 edition.
Texas nearly bled him dry with paper cuts, pounding him for five long-ball runs without a grand slam or any other kind of multi-run homer. No, the Longhorns tortured Coleman with five solo shots, two by Russell Moldenhauer.
This was a new and perversely treacherous definition of small ball: a series of solo home runs -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- as maddening as the play-for-one-run, sacrifice-bunt innings Texas and its coach are famous for spinning out again and again at opponents.
Three Texas batters -- the first, third and fifth of the fourth inning -- drove Coleman pitches over the wall to give the Longhorns a 3-1 lead, quite the answer to Ryan Schimpf's first-inning homer for LSU.
His teammate Jared Mitchell, notorious for his struggles against left-handed pitching, drove a two-out, two-run triple off one of the game's best lefties, Austin Wood, to make it 3-3 in the sixth.
No, put your hand down. You didn't see any of this coming.
Texas got this far with late-innings rallies, and yet it was LeMahieu, wearing LSU purple, dropping a two-run double near the left-field corner when the Tigers were down to their last out in the top of the ninth. That made it 6-6 and gave LSU closer Matty Ott a chance to try to stop another magical Texas finish from occurring.
Ott (4-2) hit the first batter he faced, steadily gained confidence in his stuff and recovered to strike out three consecutive batters at one point. The first of those ended the 10th inning; the last two began the Texas 11th.
Connor Rowe, whose game-ending home run Friday night lifted Texas to a comeback victory against Arizona State to put the Longhorns into the championship series, was the last batter to face Coleman three days later -- and he hit the last of five Texas home runs off the LSU senior right-hander.
Ott retired him on a ground ball to second base to end Monday's game.
“Hard to describe the emotions I feel about this game, but I am going to try," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said moments later. "This was the most courageous, never-say-die resolve that I’ve ever seen from one of my teams in 27 years of coaching. That was the definition of team effort, and it will be what I reference when I talk to teams in the future about team effort.”
Texas coach Augie Garrido found himself on the wrong end of what his Longhorns had been doing to opponents this postseason.
“It was an incredible game between two teams that were doing unbelievable things to win a game," Garrido said. “The team that lost the game was going to feel the wrath of baseball. We were that team tonight. It was an incredible performance by both teams.”
Texas used five pitchers. LSU used four.
“Matty Ott was the key to this game, coming in and tossing three closeout innings,” Mainieri said. “That was great, but they were all great. (Chad) Jones coming in and throwing an inning, (Paul) Bertuccini and of course Matty. Our bullpen has been maligned this season; I’m not sure it has been deserved. Our bullpen has been a great asset over the last three months of the season.”
Garrido was and will continue to be questioned about some of his pitching changes.
“In hindsight, if I could take the cards back, I might do that. The decisions I made managing pitching did not work out,” he said.
Texas starting pitcher Chance Ruffin left with two outs in the sixth inning and the Longhorns nursing a 3-1 lead. He gave up singles to Blake Dean and Micah Gibbs, then set down Mahtook with what was Ruffin's 10th and final strikeout of the evening.
Garrido replaced him with Wood, whose 0-1 pitch Mitchell drove to left-center field for the triple that tied the score and escalated the second-guessing about the coach's decision to remove Ruffin from the game.
“My calf was cramping, but that is not what took me out,” Ruffin said. “I was feeling fine, and I fought through. Taking me out was just the decision that was made.”
LSU scored its last six runs after the second out of an inning. Mahtook's RBI single off Brandon Workman (3-4) was the last example and the one that made the difference in the outcome.
“He was throwing hard, and I saw that from the dugout. I made a point to put my foot down early and look for my pitch. He left one up, and I took it up the middle," Mahtook said.
That brought to reality what Mainieri said he thought earlier in the game when Texas was teeing off against a visibly frustrated Coleman.
“I went out to Coleman and said, 'at least they’re solo home runs.' I told my hitters 'We’re going to have to hit to win the ballgame,' but the way the ball was flying around the park I had confidence that we would win," Mainieri said.
LeMahieu hit a two-out solo home run in the seventh to pull LSU to within 5-4 right after Texas scored two in the sixth for a two-run lead. Rowe answered LeMahieu's homer with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the inning for a 6-4 lead.
That's where things stayed until LeMahieu's ninth-inning double followed a Sean Ochinko one-out single, a Derek Helenihi walk and a strikeout of late-innings sub Tyler Hanover for the second out.
Hanover swung at and missed a pitch that would have been ball three and struck out on a 3-2 pitch that would have been ball four to load the bases. It wasn't the first time LSU helped out a Texas pitcher in trouble.
Ruffin walked Ochinko to lead off the fifth, and Helenihi swung at a 2-0 pitch instead of making Ruffin prove he could still consistently throw strikes. Helenihi's fly ball to left field was the first out of the inning.
Austin Nola made Ruffin work even less, fouling the first pitch in the air near first base for the second out. LeMahieu made the third out with a swinging strikeout.
Ott said fatigue wasn't an issue during his three shutout innings.
“I was feeling good the whole time. We practice and lift weights to keep conditioned. Throughout the season, I told myself that I need to be able to throw three to four innings because I might need to step in and throw later in the season.”
There are no more than two games left this season, and it could end tonight.
It's supposed to be hotter than it was Monday. It's hard to imagine it being more unpredictably dramatic.
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Game 2 pitching
It will be a surprise to many if LSU doesn't start sophomore right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (11-3, 2.87) on what some will call three days' rest. Ranaudo came out of the 14-5 victory against Arkansas around 5:30 p.m. Friday, so by first pitch he will have gone four 24-hour cycles between pitches.
In the baseball world, that's three days' rest.
Freshman right-hander Taylor Jungmann is the probable starter for Texas. Jungmann (10-3, 2.21) pitched to one batter Monday night, walking Helenihi in LSU's two-run ninth inning.
The remaining schedule for the best-of-three series:
6 p.m. CDT
Texas (visitor) vs. LSU (home)
Game 3 (if necessary)
6 p.m. CDT
LSU (visitor) vs. Texas (home)
Carl Dubois began covering LSU sports regularly in 1999. He watched Monday's game on ESPN and got player and coach reaction from the postgame news conference through the NCAA's Web site. He was looking forward to writing this story on a replacement laptop that finally arrived Monday, but Dell sent him the wrong one, and there are issues. He borrowed yet another computer, which he has done for almost all of LSU's 14-game winning streak. You can contact him by writing him at carl1061 'at' gmail.com.