In the end, LSU and Arkansas managed to play 2 full 9-inning games. Arkansas won the first one, as Anthony Ranaudo had a very difficult outing and (as expected) Arkansas left-handed Dallas Keuchel kept our hitters at bay until he gave way to the relief pitchers in the 9th with the game well in hand for Arkansas. In the second game, Louis Coleman pitched a complete game 2-hit shutout gem to practically hand the game to us on a platter.
Anthony Ranaudo allowed 5 runs in only 6 innings of work, giving up a home run in the second to Arkansas's best slugger, Andy Wilkins. Ranaudo then gave up a big inning in the 4th, big inning in the 4th, when he let the first 4 hitters get on base with two doubles and two walks. Arkansas had scored two runs in the inning to tie the game at 3-apiece, when it looked like Ranaudo would fight his way out of the inning. He had induced a groundout that failed to advance the Razorback runner from 3rd. Then he struck out Colin Kuhn to bring up Arkansas's weak-hitting catcher Ryan Cisterna, batting about .200 and in the 9th hole. Ranaudo was up 1-2 on the count when he hit Cisterna with the next pitch, a fastball to the head.
Three big things happened on that at-bat. First, Cisterna was too hurt to continue playing. Second, in part as a result of the first, the Arkansas crowd turned pretty ugly. This had been starting in the second inning when Andy Wilkins hit a home run and he and Ranaudo exchanged some words as he was going around the bases. It got worse when Ranaudo hit Arkansas center fielder Will Eibner with a pitch in the next inning. The two HBPs were not intentional, but the Arkansas crowd was convinced otherwise.
The third and most important thing that happened was that the inning continued, and it brought up Arkansas's best hitter, Chase Leavitt, who got a two-out single that scored two runs and gave Arkansas a 5-3 lead. It would be enough, even though Ranaudo would settle down and get through the inning and the next two innings without any further damage.
LSU was never able to get to Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel. After a two-run home run by Dean in the 1st inning, the Tigers were not able to bring home any more runs until we notched one in the 4th to take a 3-1 lead, before Arkansas's big inning in their next at-bat. LSU went quietly in the 5th and 6th, and a botched bunt and a failed stolen base ended our threat in the 7th, before Arkansas put the game away with 4 runs against Ben Alsup in the bottom half of the 7th. We put up a run in the 9th, but it was far too late.
In the second game, Louis Coleman willed us to victory with his outstanding performance. Coleman needed only 112 pitches to go 9 innings, as he allowed a walk in the 1st, a single in the 2nd, a double in the 8th, and nothing else the rest of the night. No Razorback baserunner advanced past 1st base until the 8th inning double, and no Razorback runner advanced past second the entire game. Coleman recorded 6 strikeouts along the way and retired 19 straight between the second and 8th innings.
LSU got all the runs it needed in the 1st inning, as Jared Mitchell walked, Ryan Schimpf tripled him home, and Dean singled home Schimpf. What happened next illustrates (as much of the night did) that bunting is usually a terrible idea. After Lemahieu walked, LSU had runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out and the opposing pitcher reeling. We decided to bunt Hanover to get the runners over to second and third. It succeeded. Hanover sacrificed the runners over, and Ochinko knocked home Dean with a sacrifice fly. Leon Landry then struck out to end the inning.
Let's look at that bunt. The Arkansas pitcher TJ Forrest was struggling, having given up two walks, a single, and a triple to the first four hitters. He was struggling to throw strikes and when he threw strikes, we hit them hard. With one of our hotter hitters at the plate and two runners on, we decided to concede an out. Forrest settled down and got out of the inning with only 1 more run scoring.
Sure, it's possible that Hanover would have hit into a double play, and it's also entirely possible that we would have gotten no further runs in the inning without the bunt. It's also possible that Hanover would have gotten a hit, perhaps even a double or a home run. It's possible that a Hanover hit would have set TJ Forrest reeling even further and result in a truly big inning, like 5 or 6 runs. It may even have chased Arkansas's starter from the game, getting us into the bullpen early, which would have had implications for today's game as well as last night's.
Instead, we conceded an out and got one more run. TJ Forrest settled down and not only got out of the inning, but he retired 7 more hitters in succession before giving up an HBP and a walk in the 3rd. The Tigers didn't get another hit until the 4th inning, and Forrest pitched into the 6th inning.
Really, the whole night was a clinic on why bunting is bad. In the 7th inning of the first game, with LSU behind 5-3, LSU got the first two batters of the inning on to bring up Austin Nola. Nola got the bunt sign, but he couldn't get it down. He popped up to the pitcher, handing Arkansas an out. When Jared Mitchell was later caught stealing, LSU's opportunity to get back into the game was pretty much extinguished. Arkansas then put the game away. In the 5th inning of the second game, Micah Gibbs led off with a double. Nola again was called to bunt, and this time he successfully advanced the runner to third base. Jared Mitchell then hit a double to drive home Gibbs, but Gibbs would have scored anyway from second on a double. All we did was concede an out.
That's 3 bunts. One of them failed and got us only an out. Two of them were successful, and it is possible that we got one run we would not otherwise have gotten. One run (maybe) versus three outs, all in innings where the opposing pitcher was struggling. That's not a good way to use your most precious resource in baseball. It's unknown if any of those at-bats would have led to big innings had we not bunted, and it's entirely possible that the outcome of the first game may have been different had Austin Nola hit away instead of bunted.
Not only that, but it's possible that the outcome of today's game could have been affected had Tyler Hanover gotten a hit instead of merely bunted his way to an out. If Hanover had gotten a hit, TJ Forrest may not have gotten through the first inning and Arkansas would have had to tear up its bullpen just to get through the game. Arkansas would then be facing us in a rubber game today with a worn-out bullpen. I hate bunting. I hate bunting. I hate bunting.
I shouldn't say that, really. It's not like bunting is a universally terrible idea. Let's say you have a tie game in the bottom of the 9th and you have a runner on second with no outs. If the runner on second base scores, the game is over. Let's also say that you have a fast runner at the plate. If you bunt, you have a good chance of advancing the runner to third base where he can score on a grounder or on a long fly. All you need is that run to win, so that's the only thing that's important. Plus, with a fast runner you have a decent chance of avoiding the out anyway. I can see bunting in that situation. I can also see it in situations where you have a poor hitter at the plate and it's not practical to pinch-hit for him. Other than that, you're almost always better off hitting away.
The series continues today at 12:45pm. Austin Ross will go for LSU against Will Eibner, who doubles as Arkansas's centerfielder.