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June 17, 2012

Webb delivers one more time



OMAHA, Neb. -- It's hard to get him to smile, much less talk about himself. Tyler Webb doesn't really fit into the entire "fun" aspect of South Carolina's baseball team.

That's no problem. He's pitched his way right into being a linchpin of the team.

Although closer Matt Price will always be the final guy out of the bullpen, and thus the final guy to appear in the boxscore with "Save" beside it, it's Webb who has become the setup man. Webb has pitched in each of South Carolina's last five games, and he's gotten stronger in each.

His last performance was when he stared down Florida's Brian Johnson, who was upset with himself for tossing a rather shabby game during the College World Series opener between the two on Saturday. Trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning and with the bases full of Gators, Johnson knew he could instantly redeem himself by swatting a ball into the gap.

Webb threw and Johnson swung, but the liner settled into Adam Matthews' glove to end the threat. USC went on to win 7-3, Price recording the final six outs, and Webb got another pat on the back.

Just the way he likes it. If Webb has to quietly or anonymously have a good season, that's fine and dandy.

"Being a reliever, you know you're not going to be in there that long," the tall and powerful yet quiet and low-key left-hander rumbled on Friday. "You just try to throw as well as you can and as hard as you can, right then and there. You don't really pace yourself. Maybe that helped me a little bit, knowing I had to give it everything I had when I came in."

Webb was good enough in each of his first two fall practices that he earned a weekend starter role, even over some guy named Michael Roth before the 2011 season. He never held onto it, being just un-tidy enough to lose the spot as the season progressed.

But once he made the transition to situational reliever, often as a setup man, the problems disappeared. Webb is 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA this season, and has gotten the job done every time he's been asked in the postseason.

Webb struck out two Clemson batters on June 2, then four more in a 2 1-3-inning performance the next day. Burning a fastball that was clocked as high as 94, Webb saved an over-taxed bullpen that had used Price for over three innings the day before.

"That's the hardest I think I've ever thrown," Webb said, offering a brief break in the stoicism. "Something was working out."

The evolution of Webb was at times frustrating, but coach Ray Tanner was glad to see it finally come. There was never a question of the talent, but Webb always seemed to be missing that "it" factor - he never was quite comfortable on the mound as a starter.

"Never an issue of whether or not he had the stuff," Tanner recently said. "He did. But we'd put him out there and he just wasn't as sharp. So I asked him how he felt about being a reliever."

Webb was non-committal, as many pitchers are. They all want to start, but as a reliever, Webb would be given another chance. He knew very well how Tanner leans on his veteran players, and as a junior, Webb was very much one of those.

He went to the bullpen, usually as a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy) but developed into what the Gamecocks were missing - a setup man in the mold of John Taylor, who logged 50 appearances during the 2011 season and was such a staple in the late games that the motto was "Taylor and Price, and read the last rites."

Webb may not be the most vocal guy in the world, or the most likely to start some kind of bullpen antic - during Saturday's game, when each of the bullpen crew had one of the beachballs that are inflated and batted around the TD Ameritrade Park bleachers, Webb sat in the middle with arms folded without one.

But what's more fun than playing a vital role and winning?

"I don't know if I expected it," Webb said. "I just went out there and tried to throw as well as I could.

"I don't know if I'd go that far, if I'd scream or anything (after a big game). (The Clemson game) was definitely an exciting moment, probably the most intense besides winning it all. It was a big game, and I knew Matt wouldn't pitch. It was definitely exciting."

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