The predicted heavyweight title fight between Alex Lange and Florida's AJ Puk was all that and then some as LSU scraped out yet another late inning comeback to drag the Gators through 14 innings for a 5-3 win in the longest game in SEC Tournament history.
LSU was the visitor in this game and presumed #1 overall MLB draft pick AJ Puk came out dealing for the Gators. For most of his 7.1IP, 7K appearance, Puk didn't allow the Tigers more than a hit in any inning and the tall left hander certainly must have impressed the gaggle of scouts sitting behind home plate. Alex Lange was just as great for the Tigers, and in fact had a slightly better stat line at the end of the night with 11Ks in 7.0 IP, but as has been the case often this year, Lange needed a few batters to find his stuff at the beginning of the night, and LSU started the game off in a small hole that seemed insurmountable.
After a leadoff pop out, the Gators jumped on Lange early in the 1st, going double, double, triple to score two runs. Lange then walked 2 more to load the bases and it almost seemed like he would not survive the 1st. However he quickly found his control and struck out the next 2 batters to escape the frame with no more damage done. Lange cruised through the rest of his start, notching 11 Ks and facing the minimum in 5 of his 7 innings.
With Puk and Lange dealing, the game became a stalemate as the night drew on. LSU was never able to string things together, even when they could make contact on Puk, and the Gators seemed content that their 2 runs would be enough to win the night. The Tigers finally broke through in the 8th. After an Antoine Duplantis double, Jake Fraley sent a ground ball up the middle. The throw was made to the catcher on the infield, who saw Fraley trying for a double and threw the ball to 2B wide and back into centerfield, scoring 1 on the error. Puk, who was then over 100 pitches, was then lifted but his replacement Shaun Anderson wasn't immediately ready and the Tigers pounced on him. Robertson scored Fraley on a ground ball single to 3B (with a botched call at the plate), then stole 2B and got a WP to move to 3B, where Bryce Jordan brought him home on another ground ball up the middle.
Hunter Newman took over for Lange in the 8th and had a fine outing until the leadoff batter in the 9th. UF's speedy CF Buddy Reed popped to left, where defensive replacement Brennan Breaux misjudged the ball at the foul line and dropped the catch. It was originally ruled a foul ball, but a video replay clearly showed the ball was fair and the ump awarded Reed second base. He was then sacrificed to 3B, then brought in on a ground ball single by Deacon Liput. The inning might have continued if Liput hadn't again been caught stealing. Liput was 12-12 on stolen bases entering the series vs LSU last weekend and would end the night with his 4th straight failed stolen base attempt against LSU.
And so began the slog. Newman was replaced by Jessie Stallings to start the 10th and while it was one hell of an adventure, Stallings would surrender no runs in his 5 innings of relief work, despite giving up 5 walks and facing bases loaded twice. The scariest moment came in the bottom of the 11th, where 2 walks and a botched play by Stallings on a bunt gave Florida the bases loaded with no outs. Then, well, it's best I try to explain this with a visual aid
EVERYONE WAKE UP GET OUT OF BED AND LOOK AT THIS DEFENSIVE SETUP pic.twitter.com/M8618OjaIC— Landon Howell (@landonhowell) May 26, 2016
Paul Mainieri pulled Fraley from center field and replaced him with Trey Dawson and set him up on the infield so that LSU had 5 infielders and no one in center. It being a tie game in the bottom half of the inning with the bases loaded, anything that got into center field was going to end the game anyway, so Mainieri pushed all of his chips in and let Stallings try to save his own mess. And I can hardly believe what I saw, but it worked. Stallings got a pop out to 2B, then a screaming liner to 3B that Chris Reid caught an dove for the bag to double off the runner.
The game continued to the 14th, where the Gator's defense just collapsed. Jordan Romero, who was subbed in for Mike Papierski (who had a fine night defensively, but went 0-5 at the plate), finally, mercifully, got out of the slump he's been in for more than 2 weeks, hit a ground ball to right with two men on to retake the lead. After a pitching change, Cole Freeman followed it up with a ground ball RBI of his own for a little insurance. Compared to the rest of his outing, Stallings had an uneventful bottom of the 14th, walking the lead off man but inducing 3 straight pop ups to end the game. At 5 hours, 7 minutes, it was the longest game in SEC Tournament history.
ANYTHING IS POSSUM-BALL pic.twitter.com/fBqJ3A8EVg— PodKATT (@valleyshook) May 26, 2016
LSU continues to ride this possum insanity right to the brink and keeps coming away with Ws. LSU will get the full day's sleep and come back to the ballpark for the final game of Thursday against Mississippi St. Jared Poche will be on the mound. Meanwhile, the Gators have to come right back in less than 9 hours to play an elimination game in the hot Hoover sun around Noon. It's a damn good thing LSU won.