In one of the SEC’s showcase Thursday night games, the Missouri Tigers and Auburn Tigers gave us an old-fashioned slugfest. You know, the type that you expect to see in the last game of the series, when pitching staffs have been thinned out, rather than the first, when teams are fresh and have one of their best (if not the best) starting pitchers on the hill.
Auburn survived 11-9, giving them a leg up in this series between two teams who could really use a conference series win.
- At a certain point, it became clear that neither team was going to get a stellar start from their starting pitcher and it became more about which starting pitcher would be able to survive the onslaught and get their team deeper into the game. Missouri had to feel a little bit better about this development, as Reggie McClain is the kind of guy who can usually limit damage and get into the late innings even when he’s not as his best, but on this night, even he wasn’t able to pull that off. Auburn’s Cole Lipscomb made it through 3.2 innings, giving up ten hits and nine runs, six of which were earned. Things really unraveled for him in the fourth inning, when the Tigers plated seven runs off of him and seemed to be spraying line drives all over the field on the first or second pitch of every at-bat. McClain lasted five innings, giving up 12 hits and eight runs, six of them earned. For two teams with pitching depth concerns, this was likely not a welcome development.
- With that being said, huge kudos are in order for Auburn reliever Ben Braymer. He has been among the team’s most effective pitchers all season, but he really outdid himself on Thursday, throwing five scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and a walk with 11 strikeouts. The strikeout number is a little surprising given that he had struck out 17 in his 24.2 innings coming into the game. That’s a solid figure, but not one that would have led you to predict that 11 of his 15 outs in this game would be via strikeout. His outing not only went a long way toward bringing home this win for Auburn, but it also sets them up about as well as they could have hoped for the last two games of this series.
- Niko Buentello has had a huge impact on the Auburn offense in his first season with the program and he came through again in the first game of this set, launching a home run in the eighth inning to break a 9-9 tie. That was his seventh home run of the season, tying him for the team lead with top hitter Anfernee Grier.
- Coming into the season, Melvin Gray was one of the biggest reasons for optimism about the potential potency of the Auburn Tigers’ offensive attack, but coming into this series, he had struggled to just a .208 average. The optimism about their offense turned out to be justified, but Gray just hasn’t been a big part of their success to this point. It must have been a sight for sore eyes, then, when Gray went 4-for-5 Thursday with a triple, two RBI, and three runs scored. Adding a hot Melvin Gray to an offense already hitting well over .300 as a team would be huge.
- There are still many more questions about the Missouri offense as a whole, but on this night, they got some contributions from players that they will need to have step up. Kirby McGuire, in the leadoff spot, was 2-for-4 with a walk and a double. Shane Benes was 2-for-5, Ian Nelson was 3-for-4, and Trey Harris was 2-for-5 with three RBI. Harris also holds the distinction of having perhaps the best at-bat of any Missouri hitter. In the first inning, with two outs and two men in scoring position, he fought Lipscomb to a nine-pitch at-bat before singling home both Missouri runners. Although he’s hitting just .255, Harris has shown some extra-base pop, as evidenced by his nine doubles (good for second on the team behind Zach Lavy), and with a solid .366 on-base percentage, he has still been finding his way on base.
- Considering there were 20 runs scored between the two teams, this was an oddly efficient game. The game ended up clocking in at two hours and 55 minutes, which seems at least a half-hour quicker than one would expect with this type of offensive output on both sides. The pace of the game was no doubt helped by the fact that the most prolific scoring inning, Missouri’s seven-run fourth inning, featured a number of first or second-pitch hits and that Braymer really settled things down in his five innings.
- To a certain degree, just about every Tanner Houck start feels like a must-win for Missouri when you work under the assumption that he’s likely going to leave the team in a position to do so, but the middle game of this series with Houck on the mound seems even bigger. Missouri is looking to continue their momentum after winning their series with Arkansas last weekend, and losing the first two games of this series would not be the way to do so. And with LSU (who bludgeoned Vanderbilt 13-4 in the other Thursday night SEC game) and South Carolina on the schedule for the next two weekends, they can’t really afford to dig a deeper hole in league play.