The Diamondbacks emphatically ended a streak going back almost five months, to the final game of the NLDS, getting their first victory in eight attempts, by crushing the Chicago White Sox in a split-squad game at Tucson Electric Park this afternoon, 12-5, in front of 7,361. A little later, the other half of the roster also beat the White Sox, rallying from a 5-0 deficit down in Hermosillo, Mexico, before a crowd of 12,855. Since we were at the first game, that's where we'll concentrate our efforts. ;-)
I was picked up by shoe, tap and tmar just after 9 am, though not before being getting a call to my cel-phone from a Denver Post reporter. After I'd pontificated at some legth on the Rockies-D'backs rivalry [hey, at least he didn't ask me about the Denver Players Club...], he then replied with "And as a follow-up question: can we pick you up in about five minutes?" Yes, I'd been magnificently punked by tap, who can attest to the string of expletives which flowed freely from my lips as a result. Fine work.
It being a Sunday morning, we made good time down the road, picking up Matt on the way, and arriving at TEP just before the gates opened. The intention had been to see batting practice, but it appears that takes place elsewhere on the complex, and the grass was untroubled by players until they began taking their warmups shortly before the game. However, the concession stands were open, so beers were quaffed and we rejoiced in the simple joy of, once again, being inside a baseball park for a game. The long, dark winter was finally over! Wandered round for a bit, explored the team shop and picked up a remaindered NLCS Series T-shirt for $5. That was particularly sweet, having "laughed and walked away" from the same T-shirts during the series itself, when they were hideously over-priced at $32.
Our tickets were five rows behind the D-backs on-deck circle, and the ones just in front were, surprisingly, unoccupied, so that gave us plenty of additional opportunity to spread out. The front row seemed to be occupied by someone of note from the White Sox organization, judging by how often people came down to shake him by the hand, etc. Think his name was Tom, but beyond that, we've got no idea. We were really more concerned with our own players; a split-squad game meant that we only had about half the regulars starting, but also gave us a good chance to scope out some of the bench players and prospects on the roster.
It was one of those who got the game off to the best possible start for Arizona. Chris Burke, playing third-base and hitting leadoff, crushed a change-up from ex-Diamondback Javier Vazquez to right-center, to open the top of the first inning - it was particularly sweet, having been well behind the previous pitch, a fastball. Burke also showed good discipline at the top of the order, following up his home-run with three walks, and played well at third. He's looking like a pretty decent pick-up, and will likely be particularly important if, as seems likely, Tracy isn't ready by Opening Day.
After some shaky performances in the first three games, it was good to see our offense get its act together, assisted by Javier Vazquez serving up batting practice [five hits, two walks and five earned runs in 2.1 innings]. By the middle of the fourth innings, we had romped out to a 9-0 lead, with Chris Snyder and Trot Nixon both following Burke in going deep. Snyder, in particular, had a good day, with two doubles to add to his homer. Nixon had two hits and a walk, starting in right-field and Ojeda, playing shortstop, also had two hits. The split-squad also meant that players tended to stay in the game longer than in the previous contests: Burke came to the plate six times; Jackson, Salazar and Owings five each.
Micah (above) was, as noted previously, our DH and also batted eighth in the lineup, ahead of Augie. The results were somewhat mixed: he went 1-for-5, and seemed to be mostly concerned with the "Hitter" part of Designated Hitter, swinging aggressively at the first pitch on most of his at-bats. He's expected to hit seventh tomorrow, when he'll be pitching. Though our seats were sheltered, there was a very stiff breeze blowing left-to-right - the flags in the outfield were virtually flying horizontal for much of the game, and it definitely put a chill on things for fans sitting in the grass beyond the outfield walls. It didn't help the fielders either: Jeff Salazar clanked one off his glove in center [from ex-D'back Carlos Quentin], and Augie Ojeda missed entirely a towering, swirling pop-up. Both were, somewhat charitably, scored hits.
On the mound, the 'A' pitchers did well. Doug Davis (below) threw two hitless innings, though did walk two men in the second, and benefited from a smartly-turned double-play, started by Burke. Brandon Medders followed him, and added two more zeroes, with three strikeouts, including a brutal dissection of Quentin, who still seems to be every bit as vulnerable to sliders down and away in a White Sox uniform, as he was in a Diamondbacks one. Green and Roemer were next up, and neither exactly shined: five hits, three earned runs for the former, four hits and a walk, two earned runs for the latter. However, by the time Green appeared, we had reached double-digits and Chicago were still to get off the mark, so the impact of their shakiness was lessened. Fruto followed with a perfect ninth, after we'd added two more runs, to complete a comprehensive and very satisfactory victory.
Finally got to hand over the 'trophy' to the winner of the 2007 AZ SnakePit Fantasy Baseball league, as Otacon was present at the game. Good to meet him, and relieve our "Diamondbacks cabinet" of the weight of one excess Orlando Hudson bobblehead.
Inevitably, Superfan Susan was there, in the section next to ours, immediately behind the Diamondbacks dugout. I think, after some initial qualms, I've finally 'got' her attitude, and am cool with it: she is basically the team mom, always enthusiastic, up-beat and encouraging. I almost expected her to go into the dugout and hand out orange slices between innings. :-)
Conor Jackson stole a base. We don't see that often [three career, in 310 major-league games], but he got a beautiful jump off first and took the bag easily. Kirk Gibson was managing for AZ, Melvin being with the other half of the team, and I presume he gave the steal sign. Before Jackson's next at-bat, when he was standing in the on-deck circle, I yelled at him, "We'll have to call you GoJack from now on." Judging by the nod of appreciation with which he responded, I think he liked that...
It must be odd for Quentin to be playing for the White Sox, after so many years, either with Arizona or Tucson. The general consensus is that we wish him all the best: it's certainly a lot easier to root for him, playing in the American League, than for Hairston. [tmar still has some of the 'Free Scott Hairston' shirts from last year - any Padres fans interested?]
Big props to Shoe for driving us down there, and especially to tap for being the designated driver on the way home. Though he should be aware that I will have my revenge for his little joke. Oh, yes, I shall... :-)
Meanwhile, down in Hermosillo, the other half of the team were staging a sterling comeback to take victory. 5-0 down in the bottom of the sixth, and still 6-2 down in the bottom of the eighth, they scored twice there and added three runs in the bottom of the ninth to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Romero, playing left-field, was the player of the game with three hits and a trio of RBI, while DH Justin Upton went 3-for-3. Parra's perfect season came to an end though: he went 1-for-4, reducing his spring batting average to a mere .700...
On the mound, Edgar Gonzalez gave the D-backs two perfect innings to start with. But Enright coughed up a major phlegm-globber of a performance, allowing six hits and a walk while retiring four batters. The middle-relief arms of Ambriz and Peguero were somewhat ho-hum, but Bill Murphy picked up the victory, retiring all four hitters he faced. The fielding was somewhat up and down: we picked off two White Sox, but also saw three errors, committed by Parra, Reynolds and Mercham. Bonifacio can't have been feeling well, as he hit into a double-play and was also caught stealing - both most un-Bonifaciolike.
Finally, couple of links that might be of interest. Bizofbaseball.com has an interview with Jeff Moorad. And in the Republic, Nick Piecoro talks about and to Chris Burke - based on today's performance, I certainly look forward to seeing more of Mr. Burke in a Diamondbacks' uniform.