OMAHA, Nebraska -- In the space of a couple hours Monday night, LSU went from 17-0 and atop the College World Series brackets to 1-13 and facing elimination, and it lost one of its best pitchers for the season in the process.
"Last night was just a disaster from the get-go," usually cheery LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Tuesday afternoon at practice. "I've had more enjoyable days at the ballpark."
No. 1 seed Oregon State's 13-1 victory over the No. 4 seeded Tigers in the late game Monday night was LSU's second most lopsided loss out of 62 games in the College World Series since 1986 - second only to a 20-6 setback to Cal State Fullerton in an elimination game in 1994. LSU also tied its own record for most pitchers used in a CWS game with eight.
The Tigers (49-18) play Florida State (46-22) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in an elimination game on ESPN. LSU defeated the Seminoles, 5-4, on opening night of the CWS Saturday. Florida State eliminated Cal State Fullerton, 6-4, Monday afternoon. The LSU-Florida State winner will advance to a 2 p.m. game Friday against Oregon State (56-4).
Senior left-hander Jared Poche (11-3, 3.33 ERA) will start for the Tigers and go for his 39th career win, which will be a school record. Florida State is expected to start either sophomore right-hander Andrew Karp (2-3, 4.87 ERA) or sophomore right-hander Cole Sands (6-3, 5.05 ERA).
LSU starting pitcher Eric Walker, a freshman right-hander, lasted just two innings against Oregon State Monday as he aggravated a sore forearm injury first suffered a week previously in a scrimmage and left the game after throwing four painful pitches in the third inning. Walker had pitched without pain and with normal velocity during warm-ups and through the first two innings - allowing one run on two hits - before his forearm tightened up during warm-ups before the third inning.
"I don't think you'll see him again in the College World Series," Mainieri said Tuesday. "The pain radiated to more than just the forearm. It went into the triceps and elbow."
This could mean reconstructive surgery of the ulnar collateral ligament near the elbow, which is commonly known as Tommy John surgery after the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who had it first done successfully by orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe in 1974.The ulnar collateral ligament tends to get stretched, frayed or torn by the repeated throwing motion of pitching.
Walker has thrown 95 and two-thirds innings this season, which is not abnormally high for a college pitcher, but Mainieri said Walker told him he threw 115 innings as a junior and 95 innings as a senior at Martin High in Arlington, Texas.
"When we get back to Baton Rouge, he'll see an orthopedic and get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging test)," Mainieri said. "I can't take any more chances with him. The good news is, he said he didn't feel anything pop. He never had any arm issues until last week. The day after he threw the simulated game (June 6), he woke up and had tightness in his forearm. After treatment and rehab, everyone (trainers, doctors) was convinced he was 100 percent healthy before yesterday. His bullpen was awesome. I would have never put him in the game if I had any doubt whatsoever about his health. Everyone was convinced it was muscle fatigue."
If Walker does end up getting Tommy John surgery, he would likely miss all of the 2018 season as recovery from that procedure tends to take about a year.
"I don't want to speculate," Mainieri said. "He'll see the doctor when we get back."
Walker was visibly shaken during an interview after the game Monday night.
"It's extremely tough," he said as his throat tightened. "I can't really put it into words. The first reaction is you let your team down. It's tough to swallow. The tightness I had earlier last week kind of went away, and I felt great leading up to this. The first two innings I felt great, but in the third, I started to feel it. Obviously, I didn't want to hurt my team and be in the game and too tight to throw. I wasn't going to be effective. But obviously you want to do everything you can and be in there."
LSU trailed only 1-0 when Walker was relieved by Caleb Gilbert, but Oregon State took a 3-0 lead in the fifth with two unearned runs off Gilbert after a fielding error by shortstop Kramer Robertson. The Beavers added five in the sixth for a 8-0 lead with a grand slam home run by K.J. Harrison off LSU reliever Hunter Newman, then three more in the seventh for an 11-0 cushion before Zach Watson's home run in the seventh got LSU within 11-1. Oregon State added two in the eighth for the 13-1 final.
"When Eric went out, it kind of took the wind out of our sails," Mainieri said.
Even if healthy, Walker would not have been able to do it by himself, though. The Tigers, who have been one of the best fielding teams in the nation, committed two errors and had only two hits through the first eight innings with both by Watson. Then pinch-hitters Chris Reid and Jake Slaughter singled in the ninth.
The Tigers also looked mostly dead as the game drew on and the Beavers kept building the lead higher and higher.
"It was a heck of a way for a 17-game winning streak to end. We weren't very competitive," Mainieri said.
"I've got to be better," said Robertson, who is 0-for-8 at the plate in LSU's two CWS games with the error Monday and a misjudged line drive Saturday that he could've had. "Obviously, it's not been what I wanted. Made the error in the fifth. It was unfortunate. I've got to be better. I'll go out there tomorrow night with all the confidence in the world and do my best to help this team win."
The top of LSU's order - Robertson and Cole Freeman - are just 1-for-15 with no RBIs.
"I'm ready to get out there and ready to go," said Robertson, who along with Freeman came back for their senior years mainly to get to Omaha. "I am anxious to get out there and play, but not anxious where I'm pressing or anyone's pressing. We're just ready to go out there and have good at-bats and be ready for the next play that's hit to me. I'm excited for the game."
Freeman said things are not as bad as they seem, though the 12-run loss was LSU's largest margin of defeat this year by four runs.
"It's just one game," he said. "The biggest thing is we're not pressing. And you've got to take into consideration, we've won 17 of our last 18 games. We've just go to lay it all on the line now. We're still that same team that won 17 games in a row."
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet.
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