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AZ 5, Astros 1 - A game of two halves

Record 5-5. Change from last season: -1

In the middle of the fourth inning, things were looking pretty bleak for Arizona. We'd just seen the Astros tie the game at 1-1; Brandon Webb had already allowed seven hits, and been pitching out of the stretch to almost every hitter. Meanwhile, the only score we'd managed had been an RBI groundout, by Webb himself. Our prospects of beating the NL champions seemed as slim as a post-purge Olsen twin.

But then, it was like someone flicked a switch. Webb and Valverde retired the last 16 hitters they faced; we took the lead back again in the bottom of the fourth, and then pulled away down the stretch to a fairly comfortable victory. I suppose it should have been expected: Webb is a notoriously slow starter, and so it proved last night with his sinker becoming more brutal as the game went on. Witness the sixth, seventh and eighth innings:

  • Astros sixth
    Ensberg grounded out, Tracy to Jackson.
    Wilson grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
    Lane grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
  • Astros seventh
    Ausmus grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
    Everett grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
    Palmeiro struck out.
  • Astros eighth:
    Biggio grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
    Taveras grounded out, Counsell to Jackson.
    Berkman flied out to Byrnes.

Conor Jackson had two or more put-outs, in all but one of the eight innings Webb pitched. And pity poor Chris Snyder, having to come up from the crouch, then leg it all the way to cover first in case of any errant throws. Hell, I think next time Webb pitches, Snyder should save time and simply stand by the first-base coach. We could perhaps prop a showroom dummy behind the plate, with its fingers giving the sign for the sinkerball. That'd take care of Webb. :-)

Then Valverde came in, hurling 97 mph heat in the ninth, with two strikeouts - that's six in four innings, though he was also helped by the first real piece of Gold Glove defense from Orlando Hudson. After some ragged starts by our pitchers, this was just the tonic needed: as well as dropping our team ERA back down to 3.01, it gave our bullpen a much-needed rest. A little surprised to see Valverde trotted out in a non-save situation, but as long as he's available tonight if needed, I'm not concerned. [Lidge pitched for the Astros too, also fanning a pair, so no particular advantage there.]

It also, importantly, gave Webb his first win, after a pair of no-decisions. His ERA came down to 2.14, and it gave him his third quality start in a row - only Tom Glavine and Chris Capuano are currently alongside Webb in going 3-for-3 this season. His K's are a bit low so far, only 11 in 21 innings, but he's only allowed three walks (none last night), and that kind of control puts him up among the elite pitchers.

With Pettitte being a leftie, some shaking-up was done, with both Shawn Green and Johnny Estrada - whom I keep wanting to call Eric, for some reason... - sitting this one out. Replacing Green is right field was Easley, which was weird given he hasn't played there since 2004, but he did okay, going 1-for-4 and scoring a run. Snyder had two hits, and his team-leading 8th RBI, as did Orlando Hudson, so the bottom of our order was a good deal more producting than it has been lately. Conor Jackson also had two hits, including the first home run of his career not off someone called "Francis".

Amusing piece in the Banana today, concerning the songs that are played for the D'backs, and the ones they reckon should be played. It was in the "Living" section, and doesn't seem available online, but the best "should be" picks were Buffalo Stance for Craig Counsell; The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia for Johnny Estrada; and Under Pressure for Shawn Green. Well, I guess that'll do until someone comes up with a song called Can't Hit Lefties. ;-)

Mind you they do take some cheap stabs at the bullpen: "Not to say the bullpen is a glaring weak spot...but no one is confusing it with the good-hands people at Allstate." Er, the Arizona bullpen this season: 30 innings, 20 hits, ERA 2.40. Have they actually been watching the games? Oh, I forgot: we're talking about Banana writers here, aren't we. My mistake.