HOOVER, Ala. — This is not the way LSU freshman Doug Norman wanted his most important relief appearance to begin.
Norman allowed a leadoff single to Anfernee Grier and then misfired a throw to first on a pickoff attempt — a two-base error that put Grier at third base with no outs.
A rookie from South Carolina, Norman retired his next three batters. He shook off that rough opening few seconds to deliver what eventually was an impressive two-inning stay in LSU’s 9-8 comeback win over Auburn on Wednesday night in the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference tournament opener at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
In fact, LSU’s bullpen — a weak link, some might say — retired nine of 10 batters and pitched a scoreless final five innings, proving, maybe, that the relievers aren’t so bad after all.
LSU’s game Thursday night against Arkansas did not finish in time to make this edition of The Advocate.
Wednesday night’s wild comeback — the Tigers were down five runs twice — was highlighted by a six-run, six-hit fifth inning that thrust the Tigers into the lead. The loud bats overshadowed a gem from the pen.
Jake Godfrey, Norman, Hunter Devall, Hunter Newman, Zac Person and Parker Bugg combined to limit Auburn. None of the six relievers threw more than 27 pitches. They combined for 10 strikeouts — three by Person.
Norman’s recovery from those early woes may have been the brightest spot of all.
“It’s huge, especially for a guy like Dougie,” Person said. “He is a rookie, but he’s definitely not used to a situation like this — big postseason tournament, nice crowd. This situation is fresh for a guy like that. That’s even bigger that he was able to come out there and show some guts about himself. It’s huge. Made a big statement for the game. Made a big statement for the dugout.”
Godfrey allowed two runs on three hits in the third, and Grier scored on a sac-fly against Norman — the only runs Auburn rolled up on the Tigers’ bullpen.
Devall, who got the last spot on LSU’s travel roster, pitched a perfect sixth inning, and Person entered to mop up some missteps from Newman, who walked two. Person stranded the runners with an inning-ending strikeout, and Bugg closed the game with a four-batter ninth inning.
Bugg, Godfrey, Person, Alden Cartwright and Russell Reynolds are all guys coach Paul Mainieri mentioned as a possible closer. Jesse Stallings has blown four saves in SEC games and has slipped from that job.
“We don’t have on established closer that we’ve had most of the years, but a lot of the great teams in history didn’t have that closer,” the coach said. “Sometimes you just go with the hot hand.”
Hot in Hoover? Not
An unusual mid-May cool snap had SEC baseball fans scrambling for blankets and shopping for cold weather gear Thursday.
The temperature at first pitch for the LSU-Arkansas game was 63 degrees. The thermometer was expected to drop into the low 50s overnight.
Valerie Parker of Luling brought out two LSU tiger print blankets she keeps in her car, one for her and friend Charlotte Thorpe of Alexandria and another for Carolyn Selig, a spry 90-year-old fan from Baton Rouge who sat behind her.
Parker’s husband, Bob, sported a pair of long pants he had to buy from a local story.
“You do this long enough you know to be prepared,” said Valerie Parker, who said she and her husband have been coming to the SEC tournament for 15 years.
The new balls and the moved-in fences are making a difference at the Hoover Met.
Halfway through the SEC tournament — after Thursday’s first two games — nine home runs had been hit. That’s three more than were knocked out all of last year’s event.
The fences at the Hoover Met were moved in this season as Alabama played its home games at the park while its on-campus stadium undergoes renovations. The fences have been moved in 15 feet in the power alleys to 375 and 5 feet down the line to 335.
The new lower seam baseball could be behind some of the long balls, too. The balls, implemented this season, were expected to fly farther.
LSU’s five-run comeback against Auburn on Wednesday night was the second-biggest comeback in its SEC tournament history. LSU had a six-run comeback in a 12-7 win over Alabama in 1997.
It was the biggest comeback since a win over Alcorn State on April 29 of last season.
In that game, LSU also faced to five-run deficits — 5-0 and 6-1 — before winning 9-7. LSU had come back from two three-run deficits in games earlier this season.
The SEC tournament saw a record string of six straight one-run games from Tuesday night through Thursday morning, including LSU’s 9-8 victory over Auburn on Wednesday night.
The string started with Arkansas’ 2-1 win over Tennessee in the final game of Tuesday’s opening round and continued all day Wednesday with Texas A&M beating Alabama 4-3, Vanderbilt beating Missouri 7-6, LSU’s comeback win over Auburn and Arkansas’ 7-6 win over Florida. Alabama then eliminated Missouri 4-3 Thursday morning for the sixth-straight one-run outcome.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.