Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't easy but Auburn put an end to a six-game losing streak in conference play as the Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break open a tie game and held off a Vanderbilt rally in the ninth to salvage a win in the series 5-4 Sunday at Plainsman Park.
After a Joseph Sanders single scored Josh Donaldson with the go-ahead run in the eighth, Andy Bennett's two-run homer provided the insurance for the Tigers as they improved to 29-24 overall and 8-19 in SEC play. Top-ranked Vanderbilt falls to 43-10 overall, 19-8 in conference action.
"We've gone through a little stretch here without winning and with the way we've lost, last night the way we lost and the losses at Mississippi State, just to get a win makes the kids feel good," Slater says. "For all the work they're putting in, for the way they're playing and the resiliency they're showing, I'm just so happy for the players for them to get rewarded with a W. That's the best thing we've played all year."
Tied at two in the bottom of the eighth after surviving a scare in the top of the inning, Auburn was looking for a spark and it came from Donaldson to lead off the frame. Getting a pitch to drive, Donaldson launched a double off the wall in left field to put the Tigers in business. Following a sacrifice bunt by Mike Bianucci to move Donaldson to third with one out, Vanderbilt went to the bullpen for ace closer Casey Weathers to face Auburn freshman Joseph Sanders.
Fighting back from an 0-2 count, Sanders fought off a 95 mile per hour fastball and laced it through a drawn in infield on the right side. Making a great diving stop, Alex Feinberg couldn't make a play at home or first and that allowed Donaldson to score and Sanders was safe at first. Falling behind 0-2 himself, Bennett stayed in against the hard throwing Weathers before depositing the ball off the top of the wall in right field for his first home run of the season. The blast put Auburn up 5-2 and Bennett says he was just looking to stay alive until Weathers made a mistake.
"It was a good at-bat," Bennett says. "I was looking fastball because the guy has a 95-98 MPH fastball. He's going to come with his best pitch right after you. Once I got two strikes I was basically looking for a fastball away to hopefully go opposite field with it. He spun a curveball a little bit and I was fortunate enough to make good contact with it."
Leading 5-2, the Tigers would have to sweat through the top of the ninth as reliever Brett Butts, in his third inning of work, struggled to pick up his second win of the year. Leading off the frame, Pedro Alvarez singled to left field to put the Commodores in attack mode. They got some help next as Butts walked Ryan Flaherty to bring the tying run to the plate. A fly ball to right field for the first out moved the lead runner from second to third before Butts got what appeared to be a double-play ball to second base but Robert Brooks' flip to shortstop Phillip Stringer was off the mark. The error allowed Alvarez to score and left Vandy with two runners on and still just one out.
Another fly ball out got Butts to within an out of the win but Shea Robin's bloop single to left scored Flaherty with pinch-runner Jonathan White moving to third on the hit. That brought leadoff man David Macias to the plate for the Commodores. A thorn in Auburn's side all weekend, Macias ended the game with a whimper as he struck out to end the rally and give the Tigers the victory.
For the third straight day the Auburn Tigers jumped on top of number one Vanderbilt. This time it came in the third inning off the bat of Donaldson. With just one home run in SEC play, coming in the opening night win against South Carolina, Donaldson jumped on a pitch with two outs and nobody on and drove it over the wall in left field for his 10th bomb of the season and a 1-0 lead for the Tigers.
Josh Donaldson celebrates his 10th home run of the season.
Just like they had done for the entire series, Vanderbilt answered back in the top of the third for the only time they got to Auburn starter Bryan Woodall the entire day. With one out in the inning Dominic de la Osa singled but was thrown out trying to steal second by Donaldson, the third runner caught stealing on the day. It would prove to be big as Alvarez continued his hot weekend with a solo homer to center field to tie the game. The blast was the 15th of the year for Alvarez and brought the Commodores back even.
The tie would last only a short time as Auburn came right back to take the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Once again the Tigers did their damage with two outs and nobody on as a two-out walk to Ross Smith and a stolen base put him into scoring position for Stringer. Coming up big, the former Tulane player singled to left field to score Smith and give Auburn the lead. Stringer was thrown out on a very questionable play at second base to kill the rally but the Tigers still had the lead and Woodall was cruising on the mound.
His good pitching continued in the fifth as he held the Commodores scoreless in his last inning of work and setting up the offense for another offensive opportunity in the bottom of the stanza. Leading off, Bruce Edwards drilled a double high off the wall in left field to put Auburn's fastest player in scoring position with nobody out. Auburn looked to be in good shape with the heart of the order coming to the plate but Luke Greinke failed to get a bunt down to move Edwards to third. After that both Donaldson and Bianucci also didn't get the job done to leave Edwards stranded and the Tigers holding a one-run lead.
With a blister giving him problems, Woodall gave way to Dennis in the sixth after allowing just four hits and one run on 89 pitches. Right away Shea Robin singled to put the pressure on the senior but he responded by getting the next two batters to bring de la Osa to the plate. Driving the ball deep to center, the right fielder looked like he at least would tie the game but Edwards made a leaping grab against the center field wall to preserve the one-run lead for the Tigers.
It would remain that way until the top of the eighth when the long ball again bit the Tigers. With one out in the inning, Robin took Butts over the wall in right field for a solo home run to again tie the game, this time at two. The home run was the second of the season for Robin and the first since opening day. Butts then walked Macias on four consecutive pitches before a fly ball by Alex Feinberg for the second out. Butts finished things off by getting de la Osa to pop up to Brooks to end the threat with the game tied at two and set the stage for the late dramatics as the Tigers earned a victory over the nation's number one team.
Edwards, Donaldson and Bennett all had two hits for the Tigers as they had 10 hits on the day against Vanderbilt pitching. For the Commodores Robin had three hits while Alvarez added two.
Auburn returns to action to close out the regular season beginning Thursday when the Tigers travel to Kentucky to face the Wildcats in a three-game series lasting until Saturday. Game times are 6 p.m. on Friday, 5:30 on Saturday and 12:30 on Sunday. All times are central and both Friday and Sunday can be seen on Fox Sports Net.