By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
With Tyler Slaton 90 feet away and representing the tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday against Eastern Michigan, Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware wasted a 3-0 count after taking a strike and then fouling off another.
At 3-and-2, he chased Charlie Land’s breaking ball at his knees for the second out of the inning. Boulware walked over to the dugout shaking his head, feeling as though he let his team down despite producing four RBIs in the weekend series.
The good news is Eastern Michigan’s John Rubino made Boulware feel much better when he took Steven Duggar’s grounder and threw it over the Clemson dugout, allowing Slaton to trot home with the tying run.
“That took a huge weight off my chest, especially after my bad at-bat,” Boulware said. “I never wish anything bad on anyone, but I was so glad to see that error and we were able to capitalize on it. We needed that. I don’t know if we would have been able to win that game if we did not capitalize on that.”
The Tigers won the game on the next at-bat as third baseman Jay Baum singled hard to short, scoring Duggar from second with the game-winning run in a 9-7 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Baum later scored after advancing to third on two wild pitches and then scored when designated hitter Chris Okey was picked off first base after drawing a walk.
“That was big. They jumped up on us, but everyone stayed calm,” Baum said. “We knew we were going to come back.”
Trailing by two runs, Eastern Michigan rallied to score three in the top of the seventh inning to grab a 7-6 lead. Both Rubino and right fielder Sam Ott doubled to tie the game up then Ott scored the go-ahead run moments later on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Tyler Krieger.
But like Baum said, there was no panic in the Tigers’ eyes. Slaton led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a walk then scored on the throwing error from Rubino before Baum delivered the game winner on a 3-2 count.
“Our kids have some toughness, too,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “We had to battle back. We had a lead then we relinquished it. We got it again then lost it, again. Then we got it back again so we showed some resilience today, too.
“I like some of the things I saw. We just have to keep growing and getting a little better.”
One of the things Leggett liked was the play of Baum. The junior had a double and a triple on Sunday, while driving in two runs. He finished the three-game series—which the Tigers won 2-1 by the way—5 of 13 with three RBIs.
“He did a nice job. He has been hitting with men on base and that is what we need out of him,” Leggett said. “He the ball well to left- and right-centerfield and then hit that one up the middle. If he can stay in that zone, he is going to be able to help us for sure.”
Baum’s play at the plate was a marked improvement from last year when he battled just .228 and had only eight RBIs. He only had four doubles and two triples all of last season and had a slugging percentage of .287.
“This gives me a ton of confidence,” Clemson’s third baseman said. “I’m feeling great. I’m excited to get up there and hit.”
And no one was more excited to see him get the game-winning hit than Boulware.
“I saw the kid in high school, the kid has talent,” Boulware said. “He is one of the most athletic kids on our team. I know when something clicks with him he is going to be good. He is going to produce.
“I know last year he struggled, but I think there were other factors he was dealing with and working with, but he is really good. Once he gets in a groove and they let him do his own thing, he is going to hit. I have all the confidence in Jay Baum.”