LSU’s Lange Adds To Legend StatusCollege World Series
OMAHA — LSU righthander Alex Lange knew he put his team in position to keep their national title hopes alive.
As he recorded the first out of the eighth inning with the Tigers leading Oregon State 3-1, LSU coach Paul Mainieri walked to the mound to remove Lange, who had thrown 115 pitches, from the game. An emotional Lange clapped his hands together, pointed to the sky and made the proud walk to the dugout with purple and gold clad faithful on their feet and his teammates waiting to greet him.
Lange had a couple of moments throughout the afternoon where it seemed like he was bending to the point of breaking. But in vintage Lange fashion, he found ways to escape potential jams and turned the ball over to suddenly unhittable freshman righthander Zack Hess in the eighth and ninth innings in the 3-1 victory over the Beavers.
If it’s the last time we see Lange on the mound in an LSU uniform, boy, what an encore.
“You know, their guy [Thompson] was 14-0, so it was his first loss of the year, but I like our guy, too. I felt confident in Alex’s ability to go out there and throw a gem,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That’s usually what he does after a less than stellar performance. He never loses confidence and always gets himself prepared for the next start. He turns the page really quick and this is why I think he’s going to be an outstanding professional pitcher. He turns the page.”
With righthander Eric Walker on the shelf the rest of the CWS because of forearm tightness and the Tigers running short on arms, it was integral for Lange to put together a strong start. He needed to save as much bullpen as possible.
He did just that, though there were some interesting and controversial moments. Lange got off to a good start against the Beavers, who had a 23-game winning streak snapped. He retired the first seven OSU hitters he faced, earning strikeouts on a pair of 92-93 mph fastballs in the second, while punching out Adley Rutschman on a filthy power curve to begin the third.
Then came our afternoon bout with umpire drama, which unfortunately, has become a common occurrence at this CWS.
Oregon State, at least for a moment, seemed to figure out Lange. After Rustchman’s strike out, Michael Gretler hit a double, while Lange worked himself into some trouble with a walk of nine-hole hitter Cadyn Grenier. OSU leadoff hitter Steven Kwan then hit a ball down the left-field line, which struck the yellow line going up the green outfield wall. Third base umpire and crew chief Danny Collins called the ball foul. Replays showed Kwan’s hit, which would’ve easily been a double and potentially scored two runs, was fair, but Collins didn’t ask for a review, and Oregon State coach Pat Casey didn’t know if the call was right or wrong. He admitted after the game he was told the ball was fair by a staff member, but it was too late to initiate a replay request. Casey didn’t blame the umpires. He took the blame.
“I could not see the ball. So, you know what, I should have asked for a review. My understanding from the NCAA is the crew chief should have asked for a review,” Casey said. “But I can ask for a review, and I didn’t. And I should have. That’s on me. I should have asked for a review. And I don’t know how that would have affected things, but it certainly would have put us in pretty good position, that’s for sure.”
OSU still got on the board that inning on a bases-loaded walk to Trevor Larnach, but Lange, as he has done so many times throughout his career, got out of the log jam with a strikeout of hot-hitting K.J. Harrison on a filthy 83 mph power curve.
The Beavers had a chance to make some waves that inning, but Lange got into a groove after finding a way to escape the third with just a run allowed, albeit with some help.
“I was hoping they’d call it foul. When the ball’s hit down the line, I didn’t think he hit it as good as he did, but he got the barrel there,” Lange said. “I’m looking at it [ball], and you’re just kind of talking to it like a golfer talks to a ball. I was like: “Get foul, get foul”. Then, they called it foul.
“I thought it was foul, but coming back and what I heard in the dugout, it might have been fair,” he continued. “So, I’m just glad they called a foul. Obviously, that was a pretty big situation.”
Lange got into a groove and was electric the rest of the way. He worked around a one-out double in the fourth inning and a two-out walk in the fifth, while retiring seven straight OSU hitters from the sixth until the point he left the game with one out in the eighth.
Lange stepped up when the Tigers needed him the most. Just as usual. He had some command issues at times early on, but finished the game with eight strikeouts, four walks and allowed just a run on two hits in 7.1 innings.
“You know, he’s been in big games. He pitched like a big-game guy. He threw the ball where needed to when he needed to. And he’s good. Man, he’s real good,” Casey said. “And I like our club, I like our guys. But like I said, we had very few opportunities to do what I think we were trying to do, and when we got those opportunities, we didn’t’ seize them. And we had a couple of guys that kind of drifted away from what we were trying to do, and a couple of times those were in crucial situations. But he was really good.”
Who knows what would’ve transpired for Oregon State in that third inning had the umpires mad the correct call after a review, or how that would’ve affected Lange’s performance. But history suggests that Lange would’ve bounced back just like he always does.
The Tigers have had plenty of heroes over the past few seasons, but more often than not, Lange has been a step above everyone else.
Mainieri said after the game that Lange likely will throw against if the Tigers advance to next week’s title series. But if that was all she wrote for the Lange era at LSU, what a finish it was.
In trademark Lange fashion, he put the Tigers on his back.
And for that, he’ll savor this one for a long time.
“Coach says the next game is the biggest game. We’ve been here before, backs against the wall, elimination game in Omaha,” Lange said. “This is my second time pitching in that situation. I had a sense of calmness about me this morning when I woke up and got to the yard. I was expecting to be amped and juiced up, but I was calm and relaxed. And keeping your team in the ballgame and keeping the season alive is pretty awesome.”