Auburn drops to 12-13 overall and 1-3 in SEC play while the Commodores improve to 15-7, 3-1 in conference play.
Coming into Friday night's game Price had a record of just 2-2, but an ERA of only 2.67. In six starts this season opposing teams were only hitting .185 against the powerful left-hander. Against Auburn he was even better than that as he struck out a career-high 11 batters to pick up his third victory of the season. Coach Tommy Slater said all you can do on a night like that is tip your hat to a great player.
"David Price is outstanding," Slater said. "That's the best pitcher we've seen all year. I thought our kids battled their hearts out. We hit a lot of balls hard, but credit Vanderbilt because when we did they played very good defense behind him. When he needed a strikeout he was able to reach back and get a little bit more…Price was outstanding. The cutter was pretty good as well. What can you say, the kid was real good."
The loss spoiled the best outing of the season by Auburn starter Brett Butts. Pitching five scoreless innings and striking out a career high six hitters, Butts gave the Tigers a chance against one of the league's best pitchers. Slater said the pitching performance was all he could have asked for out of Butts.
"I was proud of our kids battling as hard as they did," Slater said. "I thought we played pretty well on defense tonight. We made some pretty nice plays behind Butts to get him out of innings. I was really proud of Brett going out there and giving us a great outing for five innings."
Auburn's only threat came in the first inning as a one-out single by Russell Dixon gave the Tigers some hope. After moving to second on an error after being picked-off first base, Dixon moved to third on a Josh Donaldson ground ball. He would be stranded though as Andy Bennett flew out to end the inning.
Russell Dixon got Auburn's only hit of the night.
While he didn't allow a run, Butts lived dangerously all night for the Tigers. It started in the first as center fielder David Macias led off with a single to left field. After moving to second on a ground ball Macias watched as SEC Freshman of the Week Pedro Alvarez earned a walk from Butts to bring catcher Brian Hernandez to the plate. He delivered with a sharp single to right field, but a strong throw from Russell Dixon kept Macias at third. It proved to be a huge play as Butts got Ryan Flaherty on a strikeout and Dominic de la Osa on a pop up to end the threat.
With Price dominating the Tigers the Commodores went back to work against Butts in the third as Macias again reached to lead off with a walk. After getting two quick outs, Butts got in a jam with Hernandez delivering his second hit of the game with a single to center field. The Auburn sophomore came through once again though as he got first baseman Ryan Flaherty on a strikeout to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.
Things remained scoreless until Vanderbilt once again threatened in the fifth with Macias reaching on a walk to lead off once again. Second baseman Alex Feinberg followed with a single to left as it appeared the Commodores had Butts figured out. Butts came back strong with a strikeout of Alvarez and a fly out of Hernandez before issuing a walk to Flaherty to load the bases once again. Just like he had done twice before in this game, Butts finished strong as third baseman Phillip Stringer snagged a de la Osa liner to end the inning with the game still scoreless.
After stranding runners left and right Vanderbilt finally got to Auburn in the sixth inning. With reliever Bryan Woodall on for Butts after the sophomore neared 100 pitches, the Tigers quickly got the first two outs of the inning before number nine hitter Shea Robin got a fastball to hit and drove it for a double. That was all Vanderbilt needed as Macias again proved to be a thorn in Auburn's side as his single scored Robin to break the scoreless tie.
With Price still cruising, the Commodores added an insurance run as Alvarez led off the seventh with a sharp double down the right field line. Woodall got out number one, but fellow reliever Andy Masten came on and promptly gave up a single to Flaherty that easily scored Alvarez to put the Commodores up 2-0. That's all that Price would need as he shut the door on the Tigers the rest of the way with a one-out single in the first to Dixon the only hit he allowed on the night.
Macia and Hernandez led the way for Vanderbilt with two hits each as the Commodores finished the night with nine hits. They stranded 11 on the night though as Auburn pitchers did a good job with runners on base.
Saturday the Tigers give the ball to junior Chris Dennis for the start. A hard-luck pitcher this season with shoulder problems coming off arm surgery his first issue and then a recent bout with pleurisy (an infection of the membrane surrounding the lungs) keeping him out of his normal Friday night start, Dennis should be ready to go on Saturday. That's something Slater said should help his team against a very good Vanderbilt team.
"We needed to give Chris an extra day because of the pleurisy and the cold conditions," Slater said. "Travis (Auburn trainer Travis Johnston) thought that might exacerbate some of the issues with Chris' pleurisy. Chris felt a little bit better today than yesterday. Certainly we look forward to getting him out of the mound tomorrow."
The first pitch for game two of the series is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.