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AZ 5, Padres 3 - There's No Place Like Home

Record: 9-8. Change on last season: +3

As a great philosopher once said, "Hello, hello - good to be back, good to be back." And so it proved last night at BOB, as we scored an amazing five - count 'em - runs. Even Royce Clayton tapped his ruby slippers together and smacked one somewhere over the rainbow and into the Emerald City. Yes, we're not in Kansas any more - or in Washington, Colorado or San Francisco. Despite scepticism from some quarters, friendly confines is correct. ;-)

Okay, it was hardly a tidal-wave of offensive power, but the last time we scored more than five runs, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Or does it just seem that way? [Actually, it was two weeks ago tonight] But as long as we keep the opposition from scoring more than five as well - and that's only happened three times in the same twelve game span - we'll always be in with a chance.

But who'd have thought it'd be our pitching that was keeping us in games, rather than our much vaunted offense? We knew we'd be more even than last year, with no more of the "Johnson, Webb and whoever shows up at the park" rotation we endured then. But in the first ten starts from slots 3-5 this year, Ortiz, Estes and Halsey have lost just twice, posting a 3.46 ERA. All I can say is, keep it up, guys.

Last night, it was Halsey's turn to shine, going a career-high seven innings, despite only throwing 86 pitches. He allowed five hits and a walk, with the sole runs coming on a pair of solo shots. After three starts, he has an ERA of 2.74; hey, Yankees, we'll trade him back to you for the Big Unit and his 5.13 ERA if you want. As long as you pay all of Johnson's salary. ;-)

Halsey showed grace under pressure in the fourth, with the Padres already having scored once and loaded the bases up again, but he struck out opposing pitcher Redding, then got Blum on a groundball to end the threat. In the fifth, he got defensive help from a fine grab by Gonzo down the left-field line, and Koplove returned to decent form to pitch a scoreless eighth. Lyon wobbled in the ninth, allowing a home run but settled down to nail his seventh save.

Fourteen hits led to five runs. Said Clayton, "Offensively, we stuttered there on the road. We weren't putting together runs in more than one inning, and it's tough to win ballgames if you don't keep attacking." Er, someone should direct Clayton's attention to a scoreboard that showed more zeroes for Arizona than San Diego.

But three of those came in the first on a pair of homeruns, one by Clayton, the other by Glaus, and I imagine the shock of finding himself trotting round the bases probably distorted Clayton's memory. After all, he did hit just eight home runs last year, despite playing 146 games for Colorado. Every starter had a hit: Glaus had three, while Clayton, Gonzo and McCracken managed a pair apiece.

Interesting suggestion by Otacon in the comments, suggesting a Cintron/Clayton platoon: Clayton against lefties, Cintron vs. righties. I am in favour of anything that reduces the number of bats for the Human Double-Play Machine. ;-) However, while Clayton hits both sets of pitchers equally modestly, Cintron has a much bigger gap in his performance (three-year averages):

     vs. right       vs left
Clayton: .253 .309 .373   .259 .331 .350
Cintron: .267 .311 .391   .317 .364 .457
Alex feasts on lefties, but is not much better than Clayton when it comes to right-handed pitchers. So perhaps the best option would be to play Cintron...all the time and send Clayton to Chicago. ;-)

Speaking of which [you want seamlessly smooth segues, we've got 'em!], Byron from The Cubdom dropped by, and wonders if attendance is generally lower this year - or perhaps it's just interest. The Cubs, for example, have had 97.9% attendance, which is only a little down on last year (98.9%), but Byron reports that the prices on the secondary market have dropped.

Looking at figures so far, 19 teams are playing games in front of smaller average crowds than last season; 11 are seeing bigger attendances, though that includes the Nationals. Worst are the Phillies, who were over 40,000 last year, but are barely at 29,000 this season. Arizona's drop is relative pedestrian in comparison, from 31,105 to 27,409.

Maybe it's steroid fatigue, finally infecting the fans. Because here's something else I noticed: slugging is down. Significantly down. There's been less than one homer per game so far, and that hasn't happened over a full season since 1993. Runs, doubles and slugging percentage are also appreciably off. This surely can't all be down to the absence of Mr. Bonds, can it?

More later, and not just a game preview either. ;-)