Bullpen power

Bama's sweep of Auburn featured late inning comebacks; three Brent Boyd home runs -- particularly his ninth inning game-winner in game two; Scott McClanahan's two brilliant defensive plays in game three, followed by his home run in the bottom half of the inning; and the outstanding pitching of Shane Sanders, even though his availability was questionable because of a shoulder injury. <br><br>However, nothing was more impressive than the performance of the Tide's relief pitchers.

Freshman left-hander Taylor Tankersley was called upon in Friday's game in the eighth inning, with one out, a runner on first base, and the score tied at 6-6. He retired the first batter he faced on a popup to the mound, then got the next batter to strike out swinging to end the inning. Bama took the lead with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, and Tankersley added two more strikeouts in the ninth inning to get the win.

Tankersley got the win Friday.

In Saturday's game Auburn led 4-1 in the fifth inning and appeared to be on the verge of another big inning when the bases were loaded with no outs and Bobby Huddleston, whose .390 batting average was by far the best for the Tigers, coming to the plate. Jared Woodward replaced starting pitcher Jeffrey Norris and got Huddleston to hit a harmless popup to the shortstop for the first out of the inning. Woodward then walked the next hitter to force in a run -- the only inherited run that would score off Tide relievers in the series -- and was replaced by junior right-hander Brian Reed.

Reed needed only three pitches to strike out the first batter he faced, then got a ground ball out to first base to end the inning. He allowed only three more base runners the rest of the way, getting the win on Boyd's heroics in the ninth.

Sanders pitched masterfully in the finale on Sunday, getting a career high nine strikeouts and through six innings allowing no walks and only two hits, both of which were singles. However, the first two batters in the top of the seventh each hit singles. Sanders then made an errant throw to first base with nobody covering, sending the runners to second and third with no outs, and Tankersley was summoned from the bullpen for his second appearance of the week-end.

Woodward yielded the only inherited run of the weekend for Bama.

Alabama had scored two runs in the first inning, but had only had two base runners in innings two through six (one of whom was retired on a double play), so the Tide's 2-0 lead was in serious jeopardy with momentum appearing to be ready to swing Auburn's way. Again Auburn's best hitter Huddleston was at bat, and on Tankersley's first pitch he hit a fly ball to center field for a routine catch by McClanahan for the first out of the inning. Auburn's speedy Sean Gamble tagged up at third and broke for home, but McClanahan (who holds the school record for most career outfield assists) threw a one-hopper to catcher Jeremy Brown to nail Gamble in a close play at the plate. On the next play McClanahan made a diving catch of a line drive to end the Auburn threat, resulting in Tankersley needing only two pitches in the inning. He then pitched the remainder of the game, allowing only two base runners (a two-out single in the eighth, and the leadoff hitter reaching on an error in the ninth), neither of whom made it past first base.

For the series, Bama relievers pitched 9 and 2/3 innings, giving up only four hits and two walks. They struck out nine batters (six by Tankersley and three by Reed), did not allow a run (the inherited runner who scored was charged against the starting pitcher), had no wild pitches, no balks, and no hit batters. Auburn had only four hits in 32 at bats, for a .125 batting average against the relief corps. Reed and Tankersley each picked up a win, with Tankersley adding a save.

In stark contrast, Auburn relievers pitched 5 and 2/3 innings, gave up nine hits, eight runs (one of which was unearned), five walks, two hit batters, and only had two strikeouts. Tide batters were 9 of 26 against the Auburn bullpen, for a .346 batting average.

Brent Boyd was the offensive hero in Saturday's game, but good relief pitching kept the Tide in it.

Reed now has 22 appearances, all in relief, a minuscule ERA of 1.25, a won loss record of 3-0, and has eight saves. In 36 innings pitched he has given up 29 hits, holding opponents to a .223 batting average. He has allowed only six walks, while striking out 34. Tankersley has made 16 appearances, all except two in relief, and has a 7-3 record, four saves, and an ERA of 2.72. He has pitched 46 and 1/3 inning, in which he has given up only 34 hits and 10 bases on balls, while striking out 53 and allowing opponents to hit only .209.

Freshmen Brent Carter and Eric Mennen have two saves each, with sophomore Landon Brazell adding one, to give the Tide an SEC leading 17 saves. Reed's 22 appearances has him tied for the most in the league, with his eight saves coming in second in that category. He leads the SEC in most games finished with 19. Tankersley is third in the conference in both ERA (Reed does not have enough innings pitched to qualify) and opponents' batting average, is tied for seventh place for number of wins, tied for eighth in saves, and ninth in games finished. The bullpen is also one of the primary reasons that Tide pitchers lead the SEC in ERA at 3.35.


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