COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jackson Slaid was pretty far down the LSU lineup card as the Tigers battled South Carolina on the final day of the regular season Saturday afternoon at Columbia Stadium.
But as the Southeastern Conference showdown between the Tigers and the Gamecocks went into extra innings tied at 1-1, Slaid suddenly became a critical player.
LSU had runners on first and second with two out when Carolina coach Ray Tanner brought in left-handed reliever Tyler Webb so that switch-hitter Arby Fields would have to bat right-handed. LSU coach Paul Mainieri decided he’d rather send up the right-handed Slaid.
The only complication was that with two catchers ailing, Slaid was in the bullpen behind the fence in left-center helping to warm up relievers Nick Goody and Nick Rumbelow when Mainieri called for him.
“I just felt it was the right guy,” Mainieri said, “and if we had to hold the game up for a couple of minutes, that was the way we were going to do it.”
Slaid ran in from the bullpen like relief pitchers customarily do. He grabbed a bat, got the world’s shortest scouting report from on-deck hitter Mason Katz, who had faced Webb on Friday night, and stepped into the batter’s box.
He looked at three balls, took a strike, hit a foul ball, then hit a soft liner into right for the go-ahead run.
“I just tried to help the team out and put the barrel on it, and it worked out for me,” said Slaid, who was a starter at the beginning of the season but had just eight previous at-bats in Southeastern Conference play. “I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity. I was just glad to help my team.
“It’s like a lot of weight being lifted off.”
Mainieri said Slaid handled that at-bat the same way he handled his opportunities during the fall when he earned his early season opportunity.
“That’s what Jackson Slaid did all fall,” Mainieri said. “You’d get two strikes on him, and he’d slap a base hit to the opposite field, so that was really vintage Slaid, what I thought he was capable of doing.”
Slaid was one of several Tigers who were improbable heroes or somehow overcame adversity to help LSU win its first outright overall SEC championship since 2003.
Right-hander Ryan Eades, who had struggled in his previous four starts, pitched into and largely out of trouble as he “gave us a chance,” Mainieri said. Eades limited Carolina to one run in 5.1 innings.
“I feel a lot better about my performance today than I did about my performances the last few weeks,” Eades said. “I’m just really proud of this team, guys stepping up, guys going down and other guys just filling in.”
Eades worked with his third different catcher in as many starts as Tyler Moore was behind the plate in place of Jordy Snikeris, who suffered a bruised index finger on his throwing hard Friday afternoon. Snikeris caught Eades a week earlier after starting catcher Ty Ross was sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy.
“How about Tyler Moore catching two ball games after he hadn’t caught in months?” Mainieri said. “We’re on our third catcher in a week.
“That’s just amazing stuff.”
Snikeris batted twice with the sore finger and drew a walk to start the winning rally.
“When we got to the field, I had to throw a little bit, and that hurt the most,” Snikeris said. “I took a little (batting practice), and it felt good enough to hit and go compete.
“I told coach right then that I felt good enough to compete. Put me in whenever you need to.”
Even closer Nick Goody, who has had an outstanding season, had faced some adversity recently. He had his only blown save of the season against Vanderbilt last Sunday and wasn’t his sharpest in finishing a 9-6 victory against Nicholls State on Tuesday.
The first two Gamecocks to face him reached base and he found himself facing the potential tying run with none out. Goody took a moment to assess his situation before going back to work.
“I carry something in my back pocket, and I usually will just touch it,” Goody said. “It’s a coin with my favorite Bible verse on it, Luke 1:37.”
That verse says, “for nothing is impossible with God.”
“I kind of just know whatever happens, that’s what’s supposed to happen,” Goody said. “If it’s supposed to be interesting, it’s going to be interesting.”
Saturday’s game was certainly interesting, as were many of the central players.
“You never know who’s going to be the hero, but that’s been kind of the story of our team all year,” Mainieri said, “different hero every day.”
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