Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:54 PM
OMAHA, Neb. — Let this be a lesson to LSU.
It turns out you can’t just show up here in every four years or so and expect to waltz through the College World Series.
The format keeps you almost a week whether you do anything or not. But the Tigers barely did a toe tap in their first trip to TD Ameritrade Park before heading home after a 4-2 loss to North Carolina on Tuesday.
The Tigers have defined Omaha and the CWS for much of the last two decades with six national championships.
But when they show up with a team full of first-timers — LSU hadn’t been here since winning the 2009 CWS title — they look like any old rube visitor wandering in wide-eyed and ready to fall for anything.
They might as well have been Stony Brook.
Omaha still loves them.
The city just didn’t recognize them this time.
Neither did their own fans who made the trip. Neither did their head coach, who went in seemingly about as confident with this team as you be on this big of a stage against this kind of competition.
It didn’t seem like a team ready to get stage fright.
But it did.
“I tried to downplay it,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said of having a team of players who had never been here before.
He thought they would be immune. He thought the school being Omaha royalty would be enough to offset any newbie jitters.
The LSU fans, veterans all, were cocky as every, ready to party and pick up where they left off while adjusting to new digs.
The players seemed in awe.
“We just didn’t play very good,” Mainieri said, sounding a little dumbfounded by it.
It looked nothing like the team that rolled through the regular season.
That’s baseball, you could say, the most fickle of sports.
There are no upsets, really.
But that wasn’t LSU baseball.
Certainly not the Omaha-style LSU baseball anyway.
Once North Carolina took a 2-0 lead in the elimination game and the Tigers were quickly playing from behind again, they looked deflated and frustrated, dejected and all but beaten.
They were fighting, they were trying. Of course they were.
But that’s not the way LSU does it up here.
The body language was all wrong.
Too many heads down.
It just didn’t look right.
Oh, you can blame the ballpark.
It’s not the dimensions.
But maybe TD Ameritrade didn’t know who it was dealing with. Maybe the new stadium hadn’t gotten the memo. Maybe it wasn’t aware that LSU is supposed to get all the breaks in Omaha.
The hallowed ground across town at Rosenblatt always seemed to smile on the Tigers.
It took care of them, often with a wink.
This place, this place treated them like first-timers with no legacy.
TD Ameritrade seemed to be saying, You get no special favors from me.
Shame on the Tigers for not getting up here the last two years to introduce themselves to this place.
Maybe they’re going to have to carve a whole new legacy in the downtown stadium.
They didn’t look much like the darlings of Omaha or the daredevils of the College World Series.
They looked like any old college baseball team.
The Tigers have gone two-and-out before. It happens.
They’ve played far worse. They once got eliminated in a 20-5 loss.
This time they lost games 2-1 and 4-2, hardly embarrassing.
“It wasn’t like we got blown out of games,” Mainieri said. “We were right there and just couldn’t come through with the play here or hit there or a pitch there.
“We were in position to win the games.”
And that’s the point. Both losses in this quick exit were the kind that LSU has made a history of winning.
It’s been a big part of the Tigers’ charm in Omaha. It wasn’t all bashing their way into the finals. There were sleights of hand as well.
And this team did it plenty of times in the regular season.
Everything was setting up in both games. The Omaha fans certainly were recognizing another patented LSU comeback both Sunday and Tuesday.
And no Tiger could ever come through with the clutch hit.
It’s not the Tigers we’ve come to know up here.
Sure, they’ve gone two-and-out before, but they never left with just three runs in two games for their troubles. Twice they limped home with nine total runs. That was the fewest until this trip.
That would have been plenty this week.
But it wasn’t runs that were missing.
It was the LSU aura.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org