Crosby got his shutout on 122 official pitches, only seven of them hit safely and none producing a Tiger run. It was a few more tosses than Coach Ron Polk would normally allow in the first half of a league season, but Crosby—who put in four innings as the midweek starter against Samford—showed no wear or tear over the course of this complete stint.
"I was ready to throw," said the sophomore righthander, who was definitely eager to take his turn in the rotation after rain last weekend shortened State's preceeding series at Tennessee. "I threw four innings Tuesday (against Samford), I felt pretty strong after bullpen Friday, and I felt pretty good today."
Pretty good? Crosby was closer to great, scattering those seven hits (five singles, a double and a triple) while striking out a matching seven Tigers. And he did not issue a single base on balls all day, which was key to Polk's decision to let the kid keep tossing into the late frames. Not that the second-year transfer from Georgia Tech imagined he was going to go the distance this Sunday.
"Me and my Dad were talking yesterday, I'd never more than seven innings before." 7.1 to be exact, against Birmingham-Southern last season. Now he was facing a SEC opponent from the state of Alabama, that had battered State's Saturday starter around for seven runs in the opening innings.
Yet as soon as Crosby retired the first three Tigers who stepped into the batter's box, he knew he was onto something this Sunday. "After getting through the first inning, with a big crowd, I felt pretty comfortable today." Comfortable enough to record the first full-route SEC shutout by a Dog hurler since Alan Johnson blanked LSU in 2003.
"Every pitch was working," said Crosby. "The slider, changeup, and fastball were pretty good." He also put many of those pitches on the inside corner of the dish, not letting the Tigers try to use the prevailing breeze to left as they had in hitting three Saturday homers.
"He had good stuff," catcher Thomas Berkery reported. "He went out, threw strikes and got ahead, he didn't walk anybody all day. That was the key."
Auburn's Jared Shore wasn't as successful. The righty was a late call to get the ball Sunday, in only his second start of the season. He had 20 relief appearances. His stint turned out to last about as long as it would have out of the bullpen—1.2 innings with two runs allowed, both in that second inning, on a couple or RBI-doubles. Shore (0-1) also walked a pair with no strikeouts.
The Bulldogs did no damage in the first inning but got to Shore in the second, helped by a leadoff walk to Joseph Hunter. The centerfielder promptly stole second and with one out Berkery lined a clean double into leftfield for the opening RBI. DH Brian LaNinfa's one-hop shot to shortstop was mishandled but Berkery could not advance from second, and was forced at third as Ed Easley grounded to the pitcher.
There was no chance to double-up the batter, though, so shortstop Bunky Kateon got to swing. He liked a 1-1 offering and drove it into and over right-centerfield on one bounce. The ground-rule double plated LaNinfa, put State in front 2-0, and produced a pitching change with southpaw Grant Cardwell taking over to face the top of MSU's order. Jeffrey Rea watched a full-count ball go low and filled the sacks, but Jeff Butts bit on a 2-1 changeup and flew out to centerfield.
With one out in MSU's third Hunter punched a single through the right side, and first baseman Brad Jones went the other way to drop a safety in front of the leftfielder. Berkery worked the count full and with both runners moving lined a single over the shortstop. Hunter jogged home easily and Jones was stopped at third base so LaNinfa could drive him in with a base hit placed almost identically to Berkery's.
"We just tried to put the ball in play," Berkery said of the RBI knocks. Gardwell was fortunate to get out of this frame with his team down only 4-0, but a fly-ball double from Rea and walk of Butts opened the AU bullpen gate again. This time it was righthander Cliff Mullins, who got a double-play and fly-out to end that threat.
Mullins finished the day out, recording five full innings with one hit and three whiffs. But he could not make up the deficit, and Crosby was not giving Auburn's offense many chances to get on the scoreboard. A pair of singles in the second inning came to nought, and a two-out triple by Clete Thomas in the third was neutralized as cleanup man Karl Amonite popped out to shortstop.
"I loved pitching with a lead," said Crosby, "you just let them put it in play."
Crosby was able to retire the sides in his fourth and the first two batters in his fifth inning, when Bruce Edwards grounded to deep shortstop for a scratch single. He took off for second on the first pitch and Tyler Johnstone singled behind him for Tigers on the corners. Crosby got a visit from the pitching coach, though nobody was warming up. "He told me just settle down, we had a lead, just get some outs," Crosby said.
And he did, with a fly-out to center by slugger Thomas. It wasn't the last threat as Crosby had to strand Tigers in scoring positions in both the sixth and seventh turns. By then Polk was thinking about relievers, wanting to give guys like Mike Valentine or Jamie Gant some work with a lead. "He said in the seventh inning just get these outs and you're done," Crosby said. "I told him I felt pretty good and wanted to throw some more!"
The coach gave the OK and Crosby retired the sides in the last two innings, the final three on routine ninth-inning fly balls.
State managed eight hits off the three Tiger arms, three of them doubles, with Jones and Berkery collecting a pair of hits each.
The Bulldogs came out of their fourth conference weekend standing third in the Western Division, a half-game in front of both Auburn and Mississippi and a full win behind second-place Arkansas. Alabama's series win in Oxford has the Tide well in front of the West pack at 8-4 and tied for the overall league lead with South Carolina. So though State would have loved to score a homefield sweep, foiled only by Saturday's 8-7 setback, taking this series from the #16-ranked visitors eased the sting of the abbreviated sweeping last weekend at Tennesee.
MSU has also won three of the four league series to stay right in the thick of a gritty SEC race here in April. "We had a lot of confidence coming in," Berkery said. "Hopefully we can just carry this over. Every series is important, there's no letting up. We'll play them all like it's our last series."
The next last series will be three games at Georgia, which is 3-8 SEC and 18-14 overall after losing a series at home to Florida. Before that, State hosts Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday and Samford on Wednesday with 6:30 start times each evening.