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LSU Baseball Ends Season Like It Began

Inconsistency has been the hallmark of Paul Manieri's Tigers this season.

  • So it's no surprise that the final regular season series against Auburn exhibited that trait in spades.
  • Friday night, the Tigers played a terrific game, defeating Auburn's top pitcher, Casey Mize, considered a high first round draft prospect. LSU's Ma'Khail Hilliard, who's certain to make the All-SEC Freshman team or there's no justice in the voting, outpitched the Mighty Casey. Furthermore, after the homestanding Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 5th on a Baltimore chop over the drawn-in infield, the LSU bats responded with a four-spot in the top of the 6th, then added two more in the 9th as Hilliard, with 1 2/3 innings of flawless relief from Todd Peterson, surrendered no more runs for a 6-2 win.
  • But the first and third games of the series were disasters on all fronts - pitching, hitting, and fielding.
  • It was especially troublesome that the spark that LSU showed Friday night was totally absent Saturday.
  • Of course, momentum in baseball is only as good as the next day's starter. And that's the main cause of the inconsistency this season. Zach Hess has been up and down as the #1 weekend starter and Manieri has never found a #3 starter.
  • Injuries have taken their toll also. Righthander Eric Watson, who blossomed late in the 2017 season, missed the entire season after Tommy John Surgery.
  • Caleb Gilbert, who also had pitched well down the stretch to the NCAA Finals last year, lost whatever touch he developed in 2017. He finished with a 5.33 ERA.
  • The bullpen was a work in progress all the way to the present. Again, no one who consistently turned in solid performances game after game. Peterson had several saves the last few weeks but that lowered his ERA to 4.97.
  • Apart from the pitching staff, the back injury to Josh Smith the first week of the season also hurt badly. Hal Hughes did a good enough job in the field but hit only .226.

Hosting a regional is out of the question. While some commentators say a 15-15 record in the tough SEC assures the Tigers of an NCAA big, it would be good to win at least one game in the tournament this coming week. As in basketball, sometimes upsets occur in conference tournaments that take up at-large spots in the 64-team field.

The Black and Blue Division
Black & Blue: A Smash-Mouth History of the NFL's Roughest Division, Bob Berghaus (2007)
The NFC Central was created on November 30, 1966, when the NFL split into four divisions for the first time ... The division had the two most recognizable coaches in George Halas and Vince Lombardi.
Halas had been around since the inception of the Bears as an owner, player and coach. To many it seemed as if no major decisions in the NFL were made without the approval of the Papa Bear.
"We were playing the Bears at Wrigley Field and there was snow all over the field and everyplace," recalled former Lions MLB and Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt.
"We lost the game 3-0. We're skating around there and (Chicago halfback) Willie Galimore is running all over the place. So I tackle him one time and I just happened to look at his shoes and he had his cleats off; he just had the iron pegs. So I jumped up and called timeout and called the official over and told him this is illegal, that he can't have this. So he got up and ran off the field. I said, 'I want to show you this and he's standing behind Halas.'
"The official says, 'George, we want to see Galimore's shoes, and George says his shoes are OK. I said bullshit he's got his cleats off and he's running all over the place. I said dammit these shoes are illegal and George says, 'I want to tell you guys his shoes are OK and both of you guys better get the hell out there and get the game going out there.'
"The official says, 'Come on, kid, let's go. I'm not going to argue with him.'"
Schmidt chuckled as he told the story. "George carried so much weight that he practically could convince everybody what to do and how to do it."

L-R: George Halas, Joe Schmidt, Willie Galimore
Dave Robinson, the former Packer, recalled hearing stories that Halas owned an apartment building that overlooked Wrigley and he would be up on the top floor on a Saturday before the game spying on the workout of the next day's opponents. "There was always that rumor that George would be up there with binoculars, watching us," said Robinson with a chuckle. "Vince would put his trick plays in Saturday practice just for George. Football was fun in those days. The word was that at one time George offered one thousand dollars for one Green Bay Packers play and Vince said, 'Hell, for a thousand dollars I'd send him one.' Stuff like that went on all the time."
What also went on was a style of football loved by purists and played by people who gave every ounce of blood and sweat they had. The only thing that could get Nitschke and Butkus off the field was a stretcher. Bill Brown and Dave Osborn, the running back tandem for the Vikings, would rather run through people than around them. Joe Kapp, the QB on the Vikings' first Super Bowl team, was the same way. It was the mindset of that team, of the entire division.
"We had a guy by the name of Bobby Bryant who was our corner," said Wally Hilgenberg, who started in all four Super Bowls for Minnesota. "Bobby was about six-foot one and 167 pounds and I can tell you that on two different occasions after he made a tackle he came over to me and said, 'Wally, my shoulder's out, put it back in.' And his shoulder was literally dislocated and I would jerk on it, pull down and it would pop back in. He would never leave the field. Today these guys get a little ding and they don't want to play for two weeks." ...
Hilgenberg ... was an All-American LB. "My brother was an assistant coach at the University of Iowa when I was playing for the Hawkeyes," said Hilgenberg. "The summer of my rookie year I went to the college all-star football game. The night before the game my brother and I were talking on the telephone, talking about the all-stars, the 1964 All-Stars playing the 1963 World Champion Chicago Bears."
During the conversation Hilgenberg was told by his brother to make sure that he opened up the game with a good lick on the player lined up opposite him.
"I'm playing LLB and we lose the toss and we kick off and the ball is on about the 30-yard line," Hilgenberg recalled. "The Bears come out of the huddle strong on my side and number 89 (Mike Ditka) walks to the line of scrimmage. I'm this rookie LB and just before the snap, I kind of drop my shoulder a little bit and as soon as the ball was snapped I threw a forearm, hit him on the chin. I knocked his head right straight back, really hit him hard.
"He just stood there after I hit him and grabbed me and pulled me in and looked straight at me and said, 'You want to play rough, huh, rookie?' And I said to myself, 'Oh, no, I just made him mad.' He kicked my butt the whole game. It had been the biggest battle ever in my life up until that time, and it was funny. I knew after the game I had got my butt kicked. After the game he came up and said, 'You did a good job, kid. I'll see you around. You'll make it in this league.'
"Well, it was just a real encouragement to me. I knew he didn't have to tell me that."

L-R: Bobby Bryant, Wally Hilgenberg, Mike Ditka
From the Archives: 1962 World Series Game 7

I added recollections from Felipe Alou's new autobiography and more pictures to the account of the Yankees' dramatic 1-0 victory over the Giants that ended in stunning/heart­breaking fashion.

Read the article ...

A First In 70 Years of Watching Baseball
Friday night, I attended UNO's game with Nicholls and saw something I've never witnessed in person since I started watching baseball at age six.
  • UNO 3B Owen Magee hit for the cycle. Furthermore, he did it in "natural order": single, double, triple, and home run.
  • To make the story better, Owen played ball for my high school, Brother Martin.
  • And to make it still better, we were sitting next to Owen's father.
  • A recent study by a SABR member puts the frequency of cycles in MLB at three in every 2000 games. So that achievement is much rarer than no hitters.
  • I saw a no-hitter by Clyde Wright at Anaheim in 1970 but never a cycle at any level of play. I trust my memory because I'd certainly remember a cycle if I saw one in person.

Some facts about major league cycle hitters.

  • What's the most any player hit in his career? The answer is three for players since 1903 (the year of the first World Series), which was done by three players.
    Bob Meusel, New York Yankees (1921, 1922, 1928)
    Babe Herman, Brooklyn Robins (1931 - twice) and Chicago Cubs (1933)
    Adrian Beltre, Seattle Mariners (2008) and Texas Rangers (2012, 2015)
  • Herman is tied with many other players for the most in a season with two. The most recent hitter to accomplish the feat was LSU's Aaron Hill, who did it with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012.
  • 14 players did it the way Magee did it Friday night. The natural cycle list includes Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Tony Lazzeri, and Ken Boyer. The most recent batter to do it was Gary Mathews Jr. of Texas in 2006.
  • Nine players' cycles included a grand slam. Among those are Hall of Famers Lazzeri, Jimmie Foxx, and Bill Terry. The most recent one was Benjie Molina of Texas in 2010.
  • Six players ended their cycles with a walkoff HR:
    Ken Boyer, St. Louis (1961), Cesar Tovar, Minnesota (1972), George Brett, Kansas City (1979), Dwight Evans, Boston Red Sox (1984), Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado (2010), and Nolan Arenado, Colorado (2017).
  • The youngest players to hit for the cycle are from different eras: New Orleans' own Mel Ott for the New York Giants in 1929 (20 years, 75 days) in the NL and Mike Trout of the Angels in 2013 (21 years, 288 days) in the AL.
  • Other interesting facts:
    During a two-week span in 1933, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, and Pinky Higgins all hit for the cycle with the Philadelphia Athletics.
    When Tony Lazzeri of the Yankees had a natural cycle that was completed with a grand slam on June 3, 1932, the feat was overlooked because Lou Gehrig hit four HRs in the same game.
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This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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