Bulldog Bullpen Breaks Down in Extra Inning to Lose Lead, Game

TUSCALOOSA – All the mound moves worked…until they didn’t. And when things went bad for the Bulldog bullpen they went entirely bad, cracking the gate for Alabama to take a 4-3 win over Mississippi State.

A bases-loaded walk of Chandler Taylor and RBI-single from Chance Vincent turned a 3-2 deficit into a stinging game-two loss to square the series. The rubber game was due to begin around 5:40. Both games were booked as seven-inning contests, but Alabama’s heroics had to await the ninth frame of the first one.

Not that the Crimson Tide offense had to do much to set up the rally. Just watching four Bulldog relievers each walk a batter sufficed to tie things up.

It began with a four-pitch pass by RHP Zac Houston, who’d entered in the eighth with a 2-2 tie to strand the winning run and another Tide runner and keep the game going. By the time he returned Houston had a lead to protect, too. Ironically, as Alabama reliever Matt Foster walked LF Reid Humphreys in leadoff. Though it would raise questions later, Mississippi State made the percentage move by pinch-running OF Mike Smith.

It worked well because CF Jacob Robson’s sacrifice bunt produced an error. Walters fielded fine, it was his flip dropped at first base that let Smith take third base. He might even have scored as the plate was un-covered.

It looked like a bigger deal as C Elih Marrero’s liner was robbed by shortstop Daniel Cucjen to save the run. SS Ryan Gridley mooted it with a fly ball to right for the lead.

The one that was walked-away. Houston was replaced after four-pitching the #9 batter by RHP Ryan Cyr, who had been good in a Tuesday start against Ole Miss. The expected sacrifice netted one out with a runner on second. Then Cyr couldn’t find the zone and four-pitched what would be the winning runner on.

Before that though it was seldom-used RHP Paul Young called in to walk the bases loaded, and exit immediately.

RHP Blake Smith had delivered in State’s 12-5 win Thursday. Two days later and as ninth pitcher used, he wasn’t the same. He walked Taylor on 3-1 for the tie. With sacks still stuffed and one out he did get ahead of Vincent. But with the defense playing in, the Tide third baseman only had to bounce something up the middle for the winner.

The loss went to Cyr (1-1), as the rookie allowed the first earned run of his college career. Foster (5-3) got the win on 2.2 innings with a run on one hit, a walk and two strikeouts.

With a crystal ball State might have stuck with starter RHP Austin Sexton just a little longer. But then he was not his sharpest either, and after some scuffles in the early innings gave away a 2-0 lead earned in the top of the fourth. Taylor and Vincent got on via base hits, and the first scored on a ground ball. RHP Jacob Billingsley entered on 2-2 count and after a foul ball gave up a two-out double by Will Haynie.

Billingsley did keep it a 2-2 tie with a strikeout. Then he began what would be later a trend with consecutive walks in the fifth. After a one-batter appearance by LHP Ethan Small, it was RHP Ryan Rigby escaping a bases-loaded jam. Rigby went on to throw 3.1 innings with a hit before he, too, got wild and walked three batters.

The last was an intentional pass in the eighth, though. And it allowed LHP Daniel Brown to take over and get a swinging strikeout; before Houston was given a right-side swinger to out. Meaning, all the bullpen moves were working through eight.

Tide starter Jake Walters, the best arm on the staff, put in 6.1 innings with the two runs allowed on seven hits. He only walked one and struck out six. All the damage was done in State’s fourth inning as DH Jack Kruger singled, and with one out 3B Gavin Collins did the same. Humphreys drove a fly that was wind-tailed to right and got under the glove of diving Taylor for a triple and two RBI.

State out-hit the home team eight to seven, and overlooked in the late breakdowns was the dozen Alabama runners left stranded to five Bulldogs. Kruger and Collins had a pair of hits in four turns each.

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