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AZ 1, Padres 3 - The Gonzo Farewell Weekend, Part III

Record: 76-85. Change on last season: -1
Rookies in starting lineup: 3

The Padres clinched post-season baseball with a win at Chase Field, as the Diamondbacks hitters again struggled. That's eight runs in total we've scored over the three games thus far, and while our pitching was good, it just wasn't "good enough", and the final score ended up as a mirror-image of last night. Extending the symmetry, the winning team also did the bulk of the damage on a two-run homer in both games - and their respective center-fielders were responsible, too - while both winning pitchers allowed four hits. And if you take the first letter of the names of those hitters, it spells out 'RUSS IS DEAD'. No, really... :-)

It was a kinda weird game as far as Arizona was concerned. Starting pitcher Juan Cruz threw two perfect innings, striking out three, and was then removed. EdGon then came in, but was ineffective, allowing three runs on three hits and two walks in three innings. Though how much was due to the unusual situation, it's hard to tell: I note the big discrepancy between his ERA as a starter (3.00) and a reliever (8.38). The big blow was Mike Cameron's 455-foot blast off the facade to Friday's Front Row, which gave the Padres a two-run lead in the fifth; the Padres didn't have a hit until that inning. They added another in the sixth, after Bard's smash ricocheted off EdGon's glove for an infield hit.

He departed thereafter, and a smorgasbord of relievers took us through the final four innings. Choate and Medders were a bit ineffective, each retiring only half the hitters they faced, but they didn't allow any runs. Julio was better, in what might well be his last appearance for us too: one walk in 1.2 innings of work. And Brandon Lyon pitched the ninth; after a leadoff double, my paranoia whispered he'd been instructed to throw batting practice to the Padres, so Hoffman wouldn't get a save opportunity. But with the aid of a poor bunt attempt, he posted a zero and kept the lead at two.

Meanwhile, Wells had shut down the Diamondbacks with undeniable, ruthless efficiency. In those six innings, he threw only 78 pitches - including just 24 to get through the second, third and fourth - and we didn't get a single man past first base against him. All Arizona had to show for their efforts, was Stephen Drew's splashdown pinch-hit homer into the pool, the 31st in ballpark history. That was a rare highpoint in a disappointing day. Even the expected 35,000 crowd didn't quite turn up, with the official figure being just north of 33,000. However, word is (thanks, Jeff!) that the lower deck was completely sold out for tomorrow's game on Saturday morning, and the upper deck is rapidly heading towards that too. The biggest crowd of the year is, hopefully, the result.

And, yes, Luis Gonzalez got two hits, including a single to lead off the ninth, which briefly gave us hope of pulling something out against Hoffman. He was replaced, as yesterday, by a pinch-runner, largely to give the crowd a chance to adore him some more as he walked back to the dugout. However, the optimism was utterly snuffed out in just two pitches, as Byrnes hit straight into a double-play, and Jackson grounded out too, both on the first pitch they saw. Hoffman's 45th save took just five pitches, and one wonders whether that total, combined with him breaking the all-time save record, will get him the Cy Young this year. I've a nasty feeling, it just might, especially if the Padres win the division.

As well as Luis Gonzalez, Hudson also had two hits; it's going to come down to the final day to decide whether he or Jackson has the highest average of any qualifying D'back. O-Dawg is at .289, while Jackson is a couple of points higher at .291. There are a couple of other categories up for grabs, notably RBI: Byrnes has the lead there at 79, and Jackson (78) and Tracy (77) could be in with a shout. Jackson still leads GIDPs, on 18, but Hudson and Estrada both have just one less, even if Estrada's career as a D'back seems to have come to an abrupt end.

Jackson and Counsell are tied for HBPs on nine, though Carlos Quentin, arguably, should have the lead, having had eight, and been robbed of two by optically-deficient umpires. Next year, the franchise record (held by Andy Fox, with 18 in 1998) seems all but certain to tumble. Speaking of franchise records, there's one that won't be tumbling. Tracy has done a good job cutting back on the strikeouts, and will finish the year well short of Troy Glaus's tally of 145 last season. Chad only has 129 thus far, and probably won't even take second place from Jay Bell, who fanned 132 times in 1999.

However, the most important thing for tomorrow is getting Brandon Webb a win, and giving him the best chance possible at the Cy Young. Houston just held on to beat Atlanta, meaning the Cardinals still need a win to clinch the division, so Chris Carpenter will indeed go for them on Sunday. He can't beat Webb's record, only hope to tie it: see my entry earlier in the week for a sampling of what Webb needs to do to hang on to the ERA title. If he does that and gets the win, it should be a foregone conclusion: the Cy Young goes to the pitcher with most wins and the lowest ERA. That's all we can hope for, anyway.

Thanks to unnamedDBacksfan, DiamondbacksWIn, nihil67, icecoldmo and suitsmetoATnT for their comments, as the season draws to an almost close. Just one game to go: the Padres need a win to clinch the division, home-field advantage and an easier opponent (probably) in the NLCS. We need a win for the reasons explained in the above paragraph, and also to match last season's total of 77. The past nine games, we've been alternating wins and losses; that means we're "scheduled" for victory. And it would seem kinda appropriate, in an ironic way, that after all the upheavals, changes, scandals and rookie promotions, we end up with exactly the same record as in 2005...

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