Record: 1-0. Pace: 162-0 (!). Change on last season: 0
Questions about the offense appear to have been answered, at least for today, as the Diamondbacks released the bats, tying the team record for home-runs at Chase. Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark each went deep twice, once from the left and once from the right - becoming the first team-mates to do so since Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams did so for the Yankees in April 2000. But it was Chad Tracy who delivered the biggest blow, giving Arizona the lead for the fifth time with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. Tony Pena and Chad Qualls finally did what almost no other pitchers had been able to do this afternoon, and retired the last seven Rockies hitters, to preserve a wild, wacky, wonderful win.
Not quite the tight pitching contest we expected to see, between last year's Cy Young runner-up and the Rockies ace, who last season combined for a record of 38-16. Today... Not so much. Their line today: 6.1 IP, 13 H, 3 BB, 4 HR, 12 ER. The first batter for each side proved somewhat prophetic: Brandon Webb hit the first batter he faced, and would struggle with his control all day, Similarly, Lopez got things off to a predictive start for Arizona, homering in his first at-bat for the Diamondbacks to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Chris Snyder doubled home Conor Jackson in the bottom of the second, and it was looking like Arizona were well in control.
Not so fast. The wheels fell off the Webb wagon in the third frame; it was painfully obvious he was not in command of his sinker ball, which was staying up in the zone, or flying away. He allowed a hit to his opposing number, but the key at-bat was probably later, walking Atkins after giving Helton an unintentional intentional walk to get to the Colorado third-baseman. This brought Webb-killer Brad Hawpe to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs: he came in batting .340/.439/.723 off our ace, and Mr. Kryptonite emptied the bags with a double. That gave the Rockies a stunning 6-4 lead in the top of the third, and silenced the crowd at Chase Field. [It was announced as a 48,799 sellout, but I'm doubtful, unless there was a new 'Empty Seat' jersey on sale in the Team Shop...]
However, there are few better ways to answer a four-spot than with one of your own. Chris Young doubled, Stephen Drew walked, Tracy singled CY home and Eric Byrnes tied it up with a sacrifice fly [though he had a couple of other at-bats only his mother could love, striking out twice and not looking good doing so]. Then Tony Clark came up and swatted a two-run homer, to give Arizona back that two-run lead. I was surprised to see Brandon Webb make the last out of the inning, but it seems Melvin still wanted to give him a chance at the win. This proved a somewhat misguided decision, as Webb surrendered back-to-back homers for the first time in his career, to open the fourth inning. He got out of it without further trouble, but it was the end of his day - Webb allowed as many long balls in that one inning, as he did in his first nine starts and 63.1 IP last season.
No matter. Felipe Lopez, batting the other way round, added his second homer to lead off the bottom half, and give us the lead for the third time - I was particularly impressed that both of his long-balls went the other way. He's the first D-back to homer twice in his debut with us, and the first major-leaguer to do so for a new team since Richie Sexson for Seattle in April 2005. However, that lead didn't last much longer either. Doug Slaten came in and retired the first two hitters relatively easily, then allowed a double and an RBI single that let Colorado tie it up at seven. But Tony Clark wasn't going to let some switch-hitting newcomer show him up - in the bottom of the fifth, he followed Lopez by turning round and homering right-handed too. That made the score 8-7 after only five, and marked the seventh consecutive half-inning with a run or more.
Pause. Catch your breath. Have a scoreless frame, with Billy Buckner doing a fine job, first bailing Slaten out with the last batter in the sixth, and then posting a zero in the seventh - helped somewhat by an ill-advised steal attempt from the Rockies catcher [two of three prospective Colorado thieves were nailed today, though it took a nice grab by Lopez to extend Chris Snyder's errorless streak, on an early wayward throw down to second] Normal service i.e. runs was resumed in the seventh, as LOOGY Scott Schoeneweis surrendered a lead-off homer to Seth Smith. Who is a left-hander. SS had allowed only four homers to southpaws since 2002, so giving up one to the first such batter he faced here... Not so good.
Tony Pena got the last out there, and picked up the win as a result, because Chad Tracy homered - his third hit of the day and Arizona's fifth long ball - to lead off the bottom of the seventh and put the Diamondbacks back ahead once again. At this point, I think most of us just sat back, said, "Whatever!" and prepared to take anything the game threw at us. Which was, naturally, Pena and Chad Qualls sitting the Rockies down in order, with both men looking very, very good - Pena completely carved up Barmes to end the eighth, while Qualls got a weak flyball and a couple of simple groundouts. You will note the complete absence of Jon Rauch from the equation, even though it was a one-run game. We'll see how that plays out tomorrow.
So, not quite the game expected, but the victory is the main thing, even if seriously more stressful than anticipated: it felt like I was watching a three-hour edition of 24, and certainly has to go down as one of, perhaps even the most memorable Opening Day game in franchise history. Webb's performance was definitely disappointing, and he is usually good right out of the gate - but at least he ended with a no-decision. The bullpen was about what we expected: Buckner, Pena and Qualls were very solid, but both our lefties, Schoeneweis and Slaten, struggled to do their job. The offense really stepped it up, fortunately: the Mad Scientist got it spot on with his insertion of Clark into the line-up, though Byrnes' presence was hardly felt. Felipe Lopez was excellent too, and the defense was smooth and hardly can be criticized. Props to Chip Hale too, who sent two runners home on close plays, and both scored.
Master of his domain: Chad Tracy, +34.0%
Honorary mention: Clark, +29.8%; Lopez, +22.1%; Qualls, +17.0%; Peña, +16.7%
God-emperor of suck: Brandon Webb, -43.5%
Dishonorable mention: Schoeneweis, -14.0%
To explain the chart above, for those who might be new here. At any point in the game, based on the current score, innings, men on base, etc. and what has happened in the history of baseball with the same situation, you can figure out the percentage chance of a team winning. This changes with each play, whether it's an out made or not, and the above is a visual graph of the victory odds, and gives a nice sense of the ebb and flow of the game. It will always start at 50%, and end up either at 0% [if the home team wins] or 100% [if the visitors do]. You can also work out which players were involved in the most important play: today, Chad Tracy was the big man: his seventh-inning homer alone lifted our chances from 59.0% to 78.6%, and all told, his at-bats added 34%. You can click on the graph if you want to see full details.
A lot of audio from our partners over at KTAR today, and we've got post-game interviews with all the major players in today's slugfest. Firstly, Clark discusses the crazy opening day, and his sudden burst of power; then, Lopez says he was just trying to put good swings on the ball. Melvin talks about the good work done by the bullpen, and Qualls says he is pleased to get the save, and how it must have been a fun game to watch. Not quite sure, "fun" is the first word I'd choose, Chad! The other Chad, Tracy, cautions there's still a long way to go, and Webb finishes things off by admitting his arm stiffened up a bit, and he was simply behind in the count too much.
Audio courtesy of KTAR 620
The other thing I do after every game is namecheck everyone who commented in the Gameday Thread. I think we were close to record numbers, with a total of 1,444 comments across the three threads, from 39 people, including myself. Here's the rollcall: unnamedDBacksfan, soco, Azreous, Bcawz, snakecharmer, DbacksSkins, emilylovesthedbacks, kishi, mrssoco, AJforAZ, Giannaros, Muu, hotclaws, Poseidon's Fist, Rox Girl, Turambar, Tooch27, Gravity, Captain D Bag, thinkbluebleedblue, J Up, pierzynskirules, luckycc, Zephon, Brendan Scolari, dahlian, Wimb, Diamondhacks, Augie's Army, oklahomasooners, AF DBacks Fanatic, Pyromnc, Lisalisa8, SeanMillerSavior, DKuon, sergey606, DB FAN34 and PinchHitLancePainter. Thanks in particular to the friendly visiting fans and also the new peeps: Giannaros, Tooch27, Pyromnc, DKuon and DB FAN34. Oh, and SeanMillerSavior, we know you're RAMJB, so consider yourself on a last warning: cause the slightest trouble and you're toast.
It's nice to get the season off to a winning start, and hopefully, we've got all the drama out of the way for this series. I would love to settle for a couple of boring, blowout victories in the remaining games tomorrow and Wednesday, with Haren and Davis bringing down the pitching hammer. Certainly, we could do with Dan going seven or more innings tomorrow, and at the moment, the decision to go with an extra bullpen arm for the first week of the season is definitely looking like a wise one. Of course, the Dodgers rolled over the Padres too, so we find ourselves tied for first with them atop the National League West tonight. I think it may not be the lest time. Oh, well; one down, 161 to go!