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AZ 2, Cardinals 1 - Better Late Than Never

Record: 42-45. Change on last season: +11

We avoid the sweep, albeit by pretty much the narrowest possible margin - winning a single game, with a one-run margin, and that comes in the bottom of the ninth innings of the series finale.

Vargas's streak of victories comes to an end, in no small part because, so does his streak of monstrous run-support - all he got this time was a Stinnett homer. But, all told, this was probably his best start in a Diamondbacks uniform, leaving with a four-hit shutout in the eighth innings. He was clearly spent (though 108 pitches wasn't his longest outing for us - he threw 117 against Detroit the start before last - those two are his longest since May last year) and was yanked after letting the tying run reach third with one out.

Enter Almando Almanza - and for his Diamondbacks debut, you merely have to face Albert Pujols, possibly the best hitter in the NL, with a 1-0 lead, and runners on the corners. Welcome to Arizona, Almando! :-) But to his credit: one pitch, and Pujols popped it up. However, Valverde couldn't repeat the trick and former D'back Reggie Sanders tied the game, though Valverde escaped further damage (albeit thanks largely to Glaus being 6'5", and thus able to snag Rolen's line drive).

This merely set the stage for Gonzo to win it with a homer to right-center, leading off the bottom of the ninth, after Cormier had kept the Cardinals scoreless in the top. This was much needed, given his recent 1-for-19 slump, and was a surprise given he was facing Louis LOOGY (wasn't there a song about that?) Ray King, against whom Gonzalez was 1-for-9 in his career. Said King, "Every once in a while, you get beat, and tonight, I just got beat."

Another fabulous quote from Gonzalez: "It's just a good feeling to come up with a big hit for them. I know, every time I go out there, guys are counting on me. I try to stay late and work on my stuff and things like that, but I try not to show a struggle to my teammates. Even though they all know what's been going on, I try to keep an even keel out there, because when you're considered one of the leaders of the team you have to stay even." Do he have a script-writer for that kind of stuff? :-)

Interesting decision by La Russa to let his pitcher hit in the top of the ninth, with the go-ahead run at third, knowing full we he wasn't going to pitch against Gonzo. And all credit for Vargas, who finally showed the kind of performance for which we'd been hoping. Unlike some, I'm not prepared to anoint him the second coming of Curt Schilling, or even "one of Arizona's most consistent pitchers," but I think it is true to say he has improved each start:
06/21 5.0 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
06/26 6.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
07/02 5.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
07/07 7.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

However, this hardly overshadowed the obvious failure of our offense in this series. Seven runs in four games, no hits with runners in scoring position over the last three contests (our runs came on three homers and a sac. fly), a BB/K ratio of 7/28, and an overall batting average of .202 (26-for-129). Needless to say, hitters dominate the below-the-line category of:

Heroes and Zeroes, Series 28: vs. Cardinals, at home
Vazquez: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 2 ER, 8 K
Vargas: 7.1 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 6 K
Glaus: 7-for-12, 3 RBI
------------------------------------
Gonzalez: 2-for-16, game-winning home run
Aquino: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 ER
Counsell: 2-for-15

Vazquez and Vargas delivered, though neither got the win, and Glaus was the only hitter to produce - albeit that his failure with runners in scoring position continues. Gonzalez' series-ending hit boosted him from last place; Aquino's woeful performance out of the bullpen was a grave disappointment; while Counsell's slump continues (he's 5-for-28 this month - but was 5-for-31 in the first week of June too).

40% of our rotation is now on the DL, with Shawn Estes the latest casualty. He aggravated an injury to his foot, largely while legging out his first hit of the year - a triple - in Tuesday's game. After a CT scan, he may miss anywhere from two to four weeks; at least it wasn't a full-blown stress fracture, which would have meant around six weeks out. Brandon Medders was called back up from Tucson, and Mike Gosling will, at least initially, fill in for Estes in the rotation. Elsewhere on the injury front:

  • Brandon Lyon is getting an day off before his next bullpen session, because of some pain in his arm - but it's not thought to be related to the elbow ligament that landed him on the DL.

  • Oscar Villarreal, kidney stones permitting, could throw on Saturday.

  • Russ Ortiz is scheduled to be re-evaluated next Wednesday, four weeks after his stress fracture; if he's going well, he could throw in the bullpen soon after the All-Star break.

Thanks to frienetic, William K, Otacon and Devin for commenting on yesterday's entries. frienetic says they rarely use the D'backs broadcasters on MLB.tv - which perhaps says more about Grace and Brennaman than anything else! Or maybe it's just a realization that more people probably want to see "the other team". I know a lot of people aren't too happy with the G+B show, but I don't mind them too much. Grace can be an idiot at times, but at others, his perception of the game is almost spectacular; when he's calling pitch-sequences, and clearly has a better idea of what's coming than the hitter, it borders on the eerie.