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30 Greatest Tigers of the Decade: #19 Lane Mestepey

#19 Lane Mestepey
#19 Lane Mestepey

Oh, what could have been.  Lane Mestepey was great, but he could have been even greater.  It does him a disservice to talk about what might have been, but he is a classic cautionary tale.  Boyd World did some good work on pitcher abuse at the NCAA level, and Mestepey was one of his examples of how overwork can eventually have negative long-term consequences.  Like major shoulder surgery after your sophomore year. 

Mestepey burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2001.  He led the SEC in wins, starts, and innings as he emerged as the team ace right away.  His 3.75 ERA was 8th in the SEC, but he also showed his ability to come up huge in big games.  He didn't let up a run in the SEC tournament, then was named to the Baton Rouge All-Regional team (by pitching 6 innings in relief two days after pitching a 6-inning start), and then pitched a masterful game against Tulane in the Super Regional (he won Game 1, but LSU lost that series).

He was an easy choice for Freshman All-American but he was a second team All-American as well.  Next year, he improved in almost every way, leading the SEC with a 2.59 ERA and earning All-America honors.  Once again, he came up huge in the postseason.  He actually allowed one run this time in the SEC tournament and he had a complete game in the Regional though he did lose his start against Rice in the Supers. 

And at this point, the 283.2 innings pitched caught up with Mestepey.  Had he never thrown another pitch, he probably would have made this list, but had he been used just a little more carefully, with just a little more concern for overuse... he could have been the next Ben McDonald.  Instead, he sat out a year and then slowly climbed back up the mountain. 

His junior year, Mestepey was relegated to starting midweek games until late in the year.  And then, come the postseason, the flip switched again.  Actually, his first start back was against Vandy ace and future first round pick Jeremy Sowers.  Mestepey won 3-2.  He tore through the SEC tournament and the regionals, allowing only one run in 17 innings. His five hitter against A&M brought LSU back to Omaha in 2004.  Finally, his senior year, the injuries and workload caught up to him.  He posted a 4.94 ERA, a full run higher than any of his other seasons.  Typically, he won his last start.  In the postseason.

He ranks second all-time in wins at LSU.  He ranks first in starts and, of course, innings pitched.  Lane Mestepey was a man among boys.  He was the man.