Kevin Gausman had been in these kinds of conversations before with LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
And more often than not, those talks ended with the Tigers’ coach patting his ace on the backside after Gausman has handed the ball over to a reliever.
|Mound meeting: LSU coach Paul Mainieri went to talk things over with Kevin Gausman in the 9th inning|
So when Mainieri trotted out to the mound with one out in the ninth inning Friday after Vanderbilt’s Anthony Gomez lashed a single through the middle, well, Gausman was expecting a similar line of discussion.
Mainieri surprised Gausman, though, and two pitches later the LSU sophomore allowed his coach and 6,535 fans at Alex Box Stadium to exhale.
Gausman coaxed Commodores cleanup hitter Conrad Gregor into a 3-6-3 double play to slam the door on a taut 2-1 Tigers victory in the series opener.
That finished off Gausman’s second career complete game and the first start-to-finish effort by an LSU pitcher this season.
Friday’s victory lifted the third-ranked Tigers’ SEC record to 17-8, which sews up the No. 1 seed in the West Division and a first-round bye at the league tournament in Hoover, Ala.
There was a preliminary give-and-take between Mainieri and Gausman as LSU (39-11 overall) batted in the eighth inning, going up and down against Vandy starter T.J. Pecoraro, who was nearly as dazzling as Gausman.
“Coach came down to me in the eighth inning and asked me how I felt,” said Gausman, who nabbed his 8th victory. “I think I was at 116 (pitches) before the ninth, and usually he doesn’t let starters go nine innings. He asked me how I felt and I told him it was all mine.”
And in the ninth, after Gomez collected the Commodores’ fifth hit and turned Gregor into the potential go-ahead run?
“He came out and ‘I was like Coach I know you’re not going to take me out right here,’ ” Gausman said with a smile. “He was like ‘No of course not. I feel comfortable with you getting a ground-ball double play right here. Just throw something down in the zone and get a ground ball.’ ”
Mainieri said a few words from catcher Ty Ross reaffirmed his gut feeling that Gausman was OK to pitch to Gregor.
“I wanted to let him stay in,” Mainieri said. “I just wanted to make sure he felt strong and still had some life on his fastball.”
Whatever Gausman had left worked.
He threw a ball and then served up the pitch that Gregor yanked sharply to first baseman Tyler Moore, who gobbled the ball up, threw a strike to Austin Nola and hustled over to the bag for the relay throw that capped LSU’s 11th one-run SEC victory of the season.
“I actually wanted to catch the ball from second,” Gausman said. “That’s the most action I get all night. Maybe get a scoop in there. That would’ve been cool.”
While Gausman didn’t get his way on that one, he pretty much owned the rest of the night.
The lanky right-hander struck out 11, his fifth game this season with a double-digit strikeout total – the fourth in league play. Six times, the Commodores (24-25, 11-14) went up and down as Gausman got stronger as the game progressed.
"Gausman had a good fastball,” Vandy leadoff hitter Tony Kemp said. “It wasn’t straight at all. It had good movement. He worked in the curveball, slider and changeup. You’ve got to tip your cap to him."
The Commodores’ lone run came in the third inning right after the Tigers staked Gausman to a 2-0 lead with what seemed like a promising offensive start against Pecoraro (0-4).
LSU got on the scoreboard with a two-run second inning, with Ross and Tyler Hanover producing RBI swings.
Raph Rhymes opened the frame by rolling a ball down the third-base line that he beat out for an infield single – his 72nd of the season – to put the Tigers in business.
With one out, Grant Dozar punched an opposite-field base hit through the left side. Both runners took off on a full-count pitch to Ross and he delivered, rifling a single to center field that plated Rhymes and sent Dozar hustling to third base.
Hanover also worked Pecoraro deep in the count before slamming a ball to center field that seemed to he headed towards extra bases. But Commodores center fielder Connor Harrell chased it down, dove and snared the ball for the second out. Dozar sprinted home for the second run, though, and a 2-0 LSU advantage.
|Ty Ross: Contributed an RBI single in a 2-run 2nd inning -- the only runs the Tigers scored|
Vandy cut the deficit in half in the third inning, with Gausman’s only walk coming back to haunt him.
With one out, Commodores’ third baseman Vince Conde – a .212 hitter when the game began – chopped his team’s first hit through the middle, barely clearing Gausman’s outstretched glove.
Jack Lupo fanned for the second out, but Kemp worked Gausman for a walk to put runners at first and second base. Gausman jumped ahead of Mike Yastrzemski 0-and-2 and was poised to slam the door with no damage done.
But after fouling off a pitch, Yastrzemski rolled a ball between the mound and first base that Moore scooped up and underhanded to Gausman covering, but the Tigers’ pitcher couldn’t find the bag with his feet.
Conde broke on contact and never slowed down, dashing home before Gausman could spin around and throw to the plate.
That was all Vanderbilt scratched out, as Gausman refused to budge again.
He mowed down 17 of the final 20 batters and got some help when Ross gunned down Conde trying to steal second after he zapped a one-out single to right field in the fifth inning.
Gausman’s best inning might’ve been the seventh when he buckled down after Gregor dropped a leadoff hit to right field to open the at-bat. After that, Gausman struck out Connor Harrell, Spencer Navin and Connor Castellano on 11 pitches.
For good measure, he caught the pesky Conde looking for strike three to start the eighth.
“Gausman was outstanding,” Ross said. “He was throwing his two-seam fastball off the table and he was throwing hard too. … That was some big league stuff there we saw (Friday).
“He got better as the game went on and just locked in more and more.”
The Tigers had similar problems vs. Pecoraro.
Using an effective changeup, the sophomore righty settled down after the busy second inning and set down 19 of the final 21 hitters he faced. LSU put solid swings on several balls, but the Commodores’ defense never blinked.
“It’s a tough loss, but exciting to get into a pitchers’ duel like that,” Pecoraro said. “It gets the blood flowing and makes me remember why I’m doing it. (Gausman) pitched a great game and threw the ball right past our guys. We had some great defensive plays that kept me in the game.”
The teams are scheduled to resume the series at 7 p.m. Saturday, although rainy weather is forecast throughout the day in Baton Rouge.
SERIES UPDATE: LSU 2, Vanderbilt 1
VIDEO: Ross says Gausman looked big league
VIDEO:Rhymes, Dozar on pitching
VIDEO: Nola moves up in rotation
Playing with a purpose
NOTES: Plenty at stake for the Tigers