HOOVER, Ala.—Michael Roth is on the short list of most charismatic players in college baseball. Truly, he's a reporter's dream.
He's also a coach's dream—and not just because he's one of the nation's best pitchers. Because he's honest.
So when Roth told South Carolina coach Ray Tanner that he wanted to pitch in Wednesday's SEC tournament opener instead of Thursday as the coaches had originally planned, Tanner listened to his junior lefthander. Roth, in turn, threw South Carolina's first complete game of the year in a 7-3 win against Auburn.
"You know, over the years that I've been coaching—as an assistant, a head coach, a long time—I've always listened to players, but sometimes you have to really evaluate what you hear," Tanner said. "Sometimes they tell you what you want to hear, and sometimes they're not completely honest and open. But ever since Michael Roth has been in our program, he's been candid from day one.
"He explained why he wanted to go today . . . I said, 'All right, big guy. As long as you're solid with your information, let's go.' "
Roth's information turned out to be rock-solid, but if Tanner had known who was whispering in Roth's ear, he might have given it a little extra thought. Roth last pitched in Thursday's series opener against Arkansas, when he gave up 10 hits and took his third loss of the season. He was eager to get back out there and put his rocky (relative to the high standard he has set for himself this season) past two weeks behind him. He told the coaches his arm felt fine, and he wanted to be the guy who started South Carolina's SEC tournament run. It also would give him some extra time to prepare for regionals.
But once he got out on the mound, he incorporated some advice from an unusual source.
"The main adjustment coming into this game, I was getting a lot of stuff from my mom, weirdly enough," Roth said. "The past two weeks, I'd been on a two-game skid. A lot of times you don't want to listen to your parents, but oddly enough, I got some advice from my mom after the Alabama game. She said, 'You know what, you're working a lot slower than I'd like to see you work.' Looking back, that's probably the best advice I've gotten. I came out with a quicker pace today, and it worked for me."
Auburn actually jumped on Roth for three unearned runs in the first inning, capped by Kevin Patterson's two-run double. The Tigers hit four balls hard in the frame, and three of them were hits.
Thereafter, Roth held the Tigers scoreless on three hits over the final eight innings. He retired the final 13 batters he faced to improve to 11-3 with a miniscule 1.17 ERA in 108 innings this season.
Roth's changeup is his best pitch, and he said he didn't have his best changeup early in the game, but it came around as his outing progressed, and he said he spotted his fastball better than he has recently. Once he got into a groove, and the Gamecocks surged ahead in the middle innings, the game was effectively over.
"The day didn't start out so well with the first inning Auburn put out, so I knew it was going to be difficult for us, but I knew Michael would stay in there and battle for us," Tanner said. "I didn't think he'd shut it out for us the rest of the way, but I knew he's battle for us and give us a chance if we put a few runs on the board, and he was better than that.
"We knew it would be difficult today, but Michael was special."
And as usual, Roth won the press conference, too.
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