You knew this one would be different in the top of the 1st. After Florida had struggled to get baserunners in each of the first two games of this series, the Gators loaded the bases in the first inning on two 2-out singles and a HBP (the HBP occurred with a 3-ball count, so it was just like a walk). LSU starter Austin Ross induced a fly out to Mikie Mahtook, but the psychological damage was done, as was the damage to the pitch count. Ross pitched over 20 pitches in the first inning.
I knew at that point that we would have to put up runs to win this game. I had confidence, but I had a feeling that if we were going to win this one, it would be a high scoring game.
The second clue that this would be a different game would come in the bottom of the first inning. Florida starting pitcher Nick Maronde, a hard throwing lefty, had an easy 1-2-3 inning, inducing a weak grounder by Mahtook and striking out both Schimpf and Dean in just a few pitches each.
Austin Ross got through the second inning easily, but Florida got to him in the third. Florida leadoff man Avery Barnes had an infield single. Mike Mooney then hit a sharp grounder fielded by Sean Ochinko at first. He cut down the lead runner at second base, and while Austin Nola made a nifty play on what was a poor delivery to try to turn the double play, Mooney beat it out by a quarter-step at first. A ground rule double put runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out. Ross looked like he could get out of it after he struck out the next batter. An intentional walk loaded the bases. Brandon MacArthur hit a tough grounder towards the hole on the left side of the infield that Nola did a good job to keep out of the infield but could not make a play to any base. Nola's range saved a run, but it was for nought as Jonathan Pigott hit a clean single that gave Florida its second and third runs of the inning. Ross would then finally get out of the inning with another strikeout.
Meanwhile, Nick Maronde cruised through the first four innings. The first hit LSU got in the game was a solo home run by Ryan Schimpf. Through 4 innings, Maronde faced only two over the minimum number of batters.
In the 5th inning, Florida again broke through, stringing together a 2-out single followed by a 2-out double to plate another run and chase Austin Ross. Paul Bertuccini came into the game and finished up the inning. Bertuccini would pitch the 6th and had a nice outing, recording 4 outs without giving up a baserunner.
LSU would get the run back in its half of the 5th inning. Derek Helenihi (subbing for an ill Jared Mitchell) singled, advanced on a balk, and then advanced to third on a single by Gibbs to give us runners at the corners with one out. Austin Nola hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Helenihi and we were still within reach at 4-2.
LSU ran itself out of a run in the 6th, as Maronde ran out of gas and Florida went to its bullpen. Ryan Schimpf walked on 4 pitches, but then Blake Dean struck out for the third straight time, and then Schimpf was caught trying to steal second. It was costly, as Lemahieu promptly hit a double that probably would have brought Schimpf home from first. We were unable to bring Lemahieu home.
I know our resident baseball expert Poseur at least can live with our aggressive baserunning strategy. I admit that it seems sometimes that running aggressively puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defenses and induces errors and bad decisions, but it seems to me that this team seems to do itself a lot more harm than good with its aggressive baserunning. I'm not going to do the research on it, but I don't recall us stealing a base in this series, but we did use aggressive baserunning to run ourselves into a triple play in Saturday's game. Later in the same game, we used aggressive baserunning on a shallow fly ball to run ourselves into a double play. Here, in a close game, Ryan Schimpf got an out on the bases that probably would have resulted in a run had he just stayed where he was.
I think with the exception of Jared Mitchell this team just needs to play it safe on the bases.
Anyway, the floodgates opened in the 7th. Paul Mainieri went to the bullpen again and brought in Chad Jones to pitch to someone other than lefthanded hitters. It didn't work, but ultimately it didn't matter. Jones did not have a good outing, allowing 3 hits and recording only one out. He would be credited with two earned runs against, but the third runner would score an unearned run later against Nolan Cain.
Florida would get two more against Buzzy Haydel in the 8th to make the score 9-3, where it stayed to the end. I guess the experiment of using position players as relief pitchers didn't work out in this particular game, but it hardly mattered. We never scored enough runs to overcome the four given up by Austin Ross, for which you can credit Nick Maronde and the rest of the Florida pitching staff. They really pitched a strong game. Ross was good but not great, and if we had gotten better offense and uniformly good relief pitching, he would be getting credit for a win now.
I was incorrect on Saturday when I said our magic number was 2. It was two against Florida and Ole Miss, where it still remains as Ole Miss finally beat Mississippi State. I forgot all about Bama though, who thanks to a sweep of Arkansas finds themselves only 1/2 game behind us (darn rain-outs). Our magic number over Bama is 3, and while we hold a tie-breaker advantage over them, a tie is only possible if we have a rainout against Mississippi State next weekend.