While there were many significant events during the game, the story of the night was shaky defense by the normally solid Alabama squad and Auburn's ability to take advantage of the lapses to come away with the victory. Time and time again an Alabama mistake led to offense for the Tigers and center fielder Bruce Edwards said that the Tigers were determined not to let those opportunities go to waste this time around.
"That's something we as a team have been trying to do a better job on, capitalizing when we have opportunities," Edwards said. "When they gave us opportunities we capitalized on them and it made a difference in the game."
At no time did the mistakes help the Tigers more than in the sixth inning. Trailing 5-1 Auburn was looking to make something happen and it did in a big way. Leading off against Alabama starter Bernard Robert, catcher Josh Donaldson singled sharply to left to put the Tigers in business. Following a fly ball to left by Russell Dixon for out number one, left fielder Jeff Boutwell singled up the middle to put Donaldson in scoring position with just one out. Up next, shortstop Justin Bristow hit a high chopper to Greg Paiml at short. Looking for the short out, Paiml threw to Evan Bush at second, but the throw was late to load the bases for Phillip Stringer.
That's when the strange happenings occurred on this Saturday night. Getting an inside pitch, Stringer pulled the ball to third baseman Matt Downs. Attempting to start the double play, Downs' throw was wide of Bush at second. Donaldson scored on the play and the error allowed Boutwell to race home as well with the inning's second run. Trying to cut down Bristow at third, right fielder Ryan Rhoden threw the ball away at third. The second error allowed Bristow to race home and Stringer to advance to third. The Tigers weren't finished though as Edwards drilled a triple to center field to score Stringer and tie the game at five. Tyler Johnstone finished the scoring in the inning with a single to center field that plated Edwards for the fifth run of the frame for Auburn. Now leading 6-5 the Tigers turned the ball over to the bullpen and Andy Masten to hold the lead against the solid offensive club from Alabama.
The Tigers added to the lead in the eighth inning as an error by Ryan Rhoden in right field added the seventh run on the board. With Edwards on first and two outs after beating out a possible double play ball, Johnstone came up looking to put something in the gap for Edwards. He didn't quite accomplish the feat as he hit a liner right at Rhoden in right. Coming up a few steps to catch the ball, Rhoden missed it completely. The ball rolled deep into right field to easily score Edwards and make it 7-5 Tigers. Johnstone was thrown out at third to end the inning, but the damage was done.
It proved to be a huge run for the Tigers as the Crimson Tide answered back in the bottom of the inning off Auburn closer Luke Greinke. Struggling to find the strike zone, Greinke fell behind early against pinch hitter Spencer Pennington and gave up a single to right. Following a fly ball out, Greinke again fell behind and Paiml made him pay with a single to center. A walk to Salem followed to bring Downs to the plate. Getting a pitch to pull, Downs hit a grounder to Stringer at third. He went across the diamond for out number two, but the run scored to cut the lead to just one. Facing designated hitter Alexis Avila, Greinke coaxed a fly ball to left to end the inning with Auburn up 7-6. He got the Crimson Tide 1-2-3 in the ninth to give the Tigers the win, but said he was just happy to get out of there with the victory.
"I just threw strikes against and let them put the ball in play and it worked out," Greinke said. "I got in a little trouble in the first inning I was in. I mixed up some pitches and got out of the inning."
Greinke threw just 31 pitches in two innings to earn his sixth save.
The victory never would have happened without the toughness shown by freshman pitcher Evan Crawford. Giving up five runs the first two innings, Crawford settled down to pitch five strong innings for the Tigers before turning things over the reliever Andy Masten. Masten pitched two scoreless innings before Greinke closed the door for the final two frames. Coach Tommy Slater said that for the second night in a row the pitching was all he could have asked for.
"Alabama did a great job in the first two innings of putting up some runs on Evan," Slater said. "A lot of true freshmen would cave right there, but he didn't he went back out and put up three zeros for us. That's huge. If he can't do that for us then we have no chance of winning that game. Credit them for doing a great job in the first two innings, but let's give a lot of credit to Evan Crawford for showing some guts and putting up zeros in a game when he got touched up a little bit early.
"That gets him to 100 pitches and we go to Andy Masten," he added. "Masten was outstanding in middle relief. If we have the lead late we're going to turn the ball over to Luke Greinke. He's been outstanding for us all year in the closer role. The one thing about Luke that we know is that he's going to fill up the strike zone. He's not going to get beat with walks. He's going to make you beat him. He did that again tonight."
Early on the story was the Alabama offense as they had three hits and took advantage of a walk by Crawford to score three early runs. They added three more hits in the second to score two runs before the freshman would settle in and get catcher Kody Valverde on a fly ball to end the inning. A throwing error by Bush at second gave the Tigers their first run as Greinke scored from third on a wild attempt at a double play by Bush. Although it didn't seem like it a the time, the run would be a huge one for the Tigers as they came away with the 7-6 win.
Johnstone, Donaldson and Bristow all had two hits for the Tigers as they touched up Alabama pitching for 11 hits on the night. On the mound Crawford allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings to earn the victory and improve to 5-5 on the year. Robert took the loss for the Crimson Tide, allowing seven runs on 10 hits in seven innings and throwing 129 pitches. At the plate Paiml had three hits while both Avila and Bush added two hits.
Sunday's game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start from Tuscaloosa with junior Chris Dennis on the mound for the Tigers against Tommy Hunter for the Crimson Tide. The game will be shown live on CSS.