Baton Rouge, La.--The Auburn Tigers got just what the doctor ordered on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium as a Robert Brooks grand slam staked Auburn to the early advantage and then starter Paul Burnside made it stand up as he pitched a complete game three-hitter in a 6-1 Auburn victory. It was the first complete game in nearly two full years for Auburn and the first in a SEC game since Arnold Hughey accomplished the feat against Alabama in 2004. With the win Auburn improves to 22-11 overall and 2-8 in league play while LSU falls to 17-14-1, 3-6-1 in SEC action.
Dominant all night, Burnside did exactly what a Friday night starter is supposed to do in the SEC. Controlling things from the first inning until the final out, the Montgomery native needed just 108 pitches to throw the complete game and give Auburn a modest three-game winning streak. Slater says it was huge for his team to get a pitching performance like the one Burnside delivered Friday night.
"Paul was outstanding," Slater says. "He was in total command of the strike zone with all his pitches. We played good defense behind him as well. His pitch count never got up there. He was so efficient throwing strikes. He was getting outs early in the count. Butch (Thompson) preaches to these guys to pitch to contact and let the defense work. Paul certainly did that. A complete game on only 108 pitches, that's pretty impressive."
While Burnside was the story of the day, Auburn also played fantastic defense behind the sophomore. Turning two huge double plays as well as several nice catches in the outfield on a windy night in Red Stick, Burnside says he couldn't have done it without the guys behind him with the gloves.
"It definitely wasn't all me," Burnside says. "The defense worked their tails off for me. You've got (Ryan) Jenkins behind the plate blocking balls left and right for me. He hosed a guy that really helped me out early in the game at second base. It was really a team effort out there."
Looking to have a good start on the road, Auburn got to work right away in the top of the first inning. Leading off, Bruce Edwards worked a walk from LSU starter Charlie Furbush to get things going. Advancing to second on a wild pitch and third on a stolen base, Edwards would score with one out in the inning on an error by LSU center fielder Jared Mitchell. Misplaying a Josh Donaldson fly ball, Mitchell's error allowed Edwards to score and Donaldson to move to second. Following a Dustin Spruill strikeout, Donaldson stole third base with Joseph Sanders at the plate. It proved to be a huge play as Sanders hit a bouncer off of Furbush for an infield single. Donaldson scored on the play to give Auburn the early 2-0 lead.
With Burnside cruising on the mound, Auburn got offensive in the third inning to break the game open early. Leading off, Luke Greinke put down a perfect bunt for a single to bring Donaldson to the plate. Furbush then helped Auburn's cause as he threw away a Donaldson ground ball at second to bring Spruill to the plate with two runners on base. Getting a pitch to hit on a 2-0 count, Spruill ripped a single to load the bases with nobody out. Following a Sanders strikeout, it was time for Brooks to do his damage. Jumping on a 0-1 breaking ball, Brooks lifted it to right field and it cleared the wall for a grand slam. The blast was Brooks' first of the season and gave Auburn a commanding six-run advantage. Slater says that's just what he's come to expect from his talented true freshman from Enterprise.
"He's a special, special player," Slater says of Brooks. "He's a really, really good defensive player. He's playing outstanding defense for us. The thing I love about Robert, whether he's 0-4 or 2-4 or 4-4 that's the same kid out there every day. He never mopes. He's mature beyond his years. A lot of young players will hang their heads when things aren't going well for them. Robert hadn't had a lot of hits the last couple of weekends but he's never hung his head. He's just got a great disposition for this game. I love the way he plays."
Robert Brooks' first home run of the season gave Burnside all the cushion he would need.
Burnside didn't let up despite having the big lead as he sat down LSU in order in both the third and fourth innings. Auburn looked like they would break the game open in the top of the fifth as back-to-back singles by Sanders and Brooks put runners on the corners with nobody out against Furbush. Showing that he wasn't done yet, Furbush came back to strike out Ross Smith, Ryan Jenkins and Phillip Stringer to end the Auburn threat.
Still hitless heading to the fifth, LSU got a runner on with one out as catcher Sean Ochinko was hit by a pitch. It wouldn't matter though as Burnside got Steven Waguespack to pop up to Brooks for the second out and a fly ball brought the inning to a close with LSU still searching for its first hit off Burnside.
With LSU reliever Matt Jackson dealing on the mound, keeping Auburn scoreless at the plate, the Bengal Tigers finally got to Burnside in the bottom of the sixth inning. Leading off, J.T. Wise drilled a 0-2 pitch for a double to left field to break up the no-hitter and put LSU in business. Burnside came back to get the next two hitters and looked as if he would escape without any damage but Mitchell pulled a ground ball just out of the reach of Sanders at first base for the second double of the inning. Wise scored on the hit to break up the shutout. Auburn still led 6-1 going to the seventh where once again LSU would threaten.
Leading off the bottom of the seventh, designated hitter Blake Dean doubled to extend his hitting streak to 12 games and put LSU in business. Things got tense for a moment as an Ochinko ground ball to Stringer was thrown low to Sanders at first. The error allowed Dean to advance to third and left LSU with runners on the corners and nobody out. Then came the defensive play of the game for the Tigers. Burnside got Waguespack to hit a fly ball into left field. Going right into the teeth of the wind, the fly ball set up Greinke to make a good throw. He did just that, hitting Donaldson who threw to Jenkins in time to gun down Dean at the plate for the double play. Burnside then got the final out of the inning on a pop up to Stringer. At the end of seven innings, Auburn led 6-1.
From there it was all Burnside as the big sophomore sat down LSU in order the final two innings to earn the complete game victory. With the win Auburn heads into Saturday looking for its first SEC series victory since April 21-23 of last season when the Tigers defeated the Florida Gators. Freshman Taylor Thompson (3-0, 3.48 ERA) will get the call for Auburn against sophomore Ryan Byrd (4-0, 3.18) on Saturday at 3 p.m.