Late in the game, when victory was assured and the last few innings seemed more like a formality, the Alex Box crowd started chanting “Skip!” Bertman’s no longer the coach at LSU, but he casts a long shadow not only as athletic director, but as a living reminder of how great LSU baseball once was. The baseball coach at LSU has to both embrace the history of the team while also establishing himself as his own man.
Paul Mainieri may have finally become his own man last night. This is entirely his team, there are no Skip Berman recruits on it. He wasn’t a Skip assistant, so he doesn’t quite have the same crushing pressure as Smoke Laval had. Mainieiri can simply be the coach and build a team however he likes, which seems to look a lot like Skip’s teams. For all of the talk about Gorilla Ball, Skip’s teams also played some pretty good defense and boasted some pretty good pitchers. And throughout the series, the defense and pitching came through.
Mitchell made a great catch on Saturday, but it’s more than that. LSU pitchers don’t throw a ton of strikeouts. The pitcher lets the other team put the ball in play and lets the defense behind him make plays. And, as a rule, they have made plays. It’s not the highlight reel grabs, it’s the routine defensive plays that the team keeps making. Also, Mainieri’s been unafraid to go to his pen and pull out his best reliever.
If there was one theme this weekend, it was pitcher usage. Cryer’s Sunday start was the dominant news, and by the time he reached the mound, he was a complete disappointment. But witness the difference in bullpen usage in the final game between USM and LSU.
With two outs and two runners on and 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, Mainieri went to his pen. Martin only pitched 4 2/3 innings and had allowed only two runs, but in came Bertuccini. That’s the thing about the move, he owned it. He didn’t just go to the pen, he brought out his best reliever. Bert struck out four straight batters before handing things off to Bradford in the 7th. Bradford, of course, closed out the game.
Compare that with Southern Miss. In the 6th inning, with the score 4-2 and one runner already in and runners on 2nd and 3rd, USM went to the pen as well, but didn’t bring out its ace reliever, Conn. He wouldn’t make an appearance until the game was 6-2 and already looking like it was out of hand. Admittedly, Blake Dean ripped a triple off of Conn was the bases jacked, so it’s not like he was effective. The game was 9-2 and essentially over at that point. Conn, the nation’s best reliever, had appeared, but only when it was too late to make a difference in the game.
The lesson here is this: use your best reliever when the game is on the line. LSU did. And the bullpen shut the door. USM hesitated to use their best reliever, and they lost by seven runs. Don’t count on UC-Irvine to misuse their staff considering it is absolutely loaded and it would be hard to misuse it. We’ll worry about the Anteaters later, today, let’s just enjoy that we’re back where we belong, hosting a Super Regional.