Brett Auerbach is the backbone of Alabama baseball’s 13-game winning streak entering Friday. He’s started in as many as four positions, dependent exclusively on what hole he can fill to give the Crimson Tide the best possible lineup, and UA wouldn’t have its best possible lineup without him in it. The senior entered Friday with a .347 batting average, plus the team lead in walks, doubles and stolen bases.
Auerbach kept that streak alive with, of all things, a bunt.
Auerbach’s bunt single in the bottom of the 13th inning loaded the bases with no outs. The bunt moved Jackson Tate to third, where a wild pitch from Lipscomb pitcher Gavin Grubbs (0-1) could score him and give Alabama a 2-1 win.
When Auerbach stepped in the box for that at-bat, he was 3-for-6. In a night plagued with strikeouts — 17 of them for UA — he had only struck out once; fold in his previous four games and he had 10 hits in his last 24 at-bats. Still, he was not disappointed when he was asked to sacrifice bunt.
“I knew if I got it down, we would have a shot,” Auerbach said. “Second and third, one out, I like our odds there. I was lucky enough it didn’t run foul.”
The bunt ran parallel to the third base line for 40 or more feet as the catcher watched, hoping it would run foul. As it stayed true, Auerbach reached first without a throw, justifying an out-of-character decision for UA coach Brad Bohannon.
“I’m not a big sac bunt guy, and give our kids credit, they’ve done a good job of it when the game’s called for it,” Bohannon said. “Those are the decisions that I’m making over there.
“I knew the guy coming in out of the bullpen had a really good changeup and I knew (freshman designated hitter Owen Diodati) was on deck and he was going to have to hit a really good changeup, but the game is just screaming, ‘If you get a guy to third base with less than two outs, you’re a balk or a wild pitch or a sac fly or whatever away.’ I certainly did think about letting Brett swing the bat because I really, really believe in him.”
The bunt may have also been a way of solving what was an uncharacteristically down offensive night for the Tide (14-0). Alabama entered Friday hitting .323 with runners on base and .325 with runners on scoring position, but went a hollow 4-for-19 (.211) with runners on and 2-for-14 (.143) with runners in scoring position against Lipscomb (8-4).
The 17 strikeouts were by far the most of the season, and would have been even if the game ended with the 14 strikeouts through nine innings; UA had not struck out more than 10 times in a game before Friday. UA struck out looking in all three at-bats of the ninth inning to send the game to extra innings.
Ten of those strikeouts came from Birmingham native Scott Elgin and six more came from reliever Tyler Guilfoil, who pitched the ninth through 12th innings.
“I certainly want to give those guys credit, but we’re going to see some real stuff here in the next 10 weeks,” Bohannon said of the SEC schedule that lies ahead. “We made some mistakes tonight, I don’t think we brought our A-game offensively tonight.”
The A-game was not needed with the combination of Connor Prielipp, Chase Lee and Brock Guffey. Prielipp started the Tide with six innings of scoreless, two-hit ball and a career high 11 strikeouts, but his performance was outshined by Chase Lee.
Lee entered the game as the high-leverage situation reliever, entering when Lipscomb had runners on first and third with no outs in the top of the 7th, UA protecting a 1-0 lead. Lee’s lone miscue was a cleat failure: in fielding a bunt, Lee’s foot slipped from underneath him as he attempted to throw out the runner at home, allowing the run to score.
Lee immediately struck out the next three batters and did much of the same for the rest of his 5 1/3 innings. The length of the outing set a career high, as did his eight strikeouts.
The outing was far beyond anything Lee had done in the past: his previous career long was 2 1/3, and three of his four 2020 outings stopped shy of two innings.
“He was pitching great. It just kind of had the feel to me that we were going to play for a while,” Bohannon said. “We didn’t hit a lot of balls hard tonight.
“Chase, with a lower slot and lower effort delivery, he can extend it. I certainly didn’t see him throwing more pitches than Connor Prielipp tonight, but those are the decisions me and JJ talk a lot about. He did a great job of pitching in a different role than he normally does tonight.”
Lee handed it over to Guffey (3-0), who struck out five of the six batters he faced.
The series continues at 2 p.m. Saturday, with UA one win away from tying the school record for best start in program history and two wins away from breaking it. That record was set with a 15-0 start in 1997. The school record for longest winning streak at any point in a season is the 16-game streak by the 1999 team.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson