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AZ 3, Reds 0 - Sinking into the Red(s)

Record: 28-19. Change on last season: 0

Another fabulous performance from Brandon Webb: his second, consecutive complete-game shutout. Off we scurry to the books, to find out the last time a Diamondback pitcher did that. The answer is - in fact, the only previous time it happened - May 9th and 14th, 2003, when Curt Schilling did it against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. That was actually the only time Schilling had more than one shutout in a season with us.

It's something the Big Unit never managed in his time here, even though he had 14 shutouts, and did pitch back-to-back complete games more than once. Indeed, on April 9/14/20th 2000, Johnson threw three straight complete games - but an earned run in the second one spoilt things. So that's one area where Brandon Webb has now surpassed Randy. Only 3,900 more strikeouts to go...

Though I have to admit the combined line for Johnson - 27 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 32 K - takes some beating. Perhaps the nearest contender is another Randy three-peat, from June 25th to July 5th, 1999. Three more complete games, with an amazing forty-three strikeouts in 25 innings...and he lost all three, despite allowing just four earned runs, as we were shutout every game. [Which also explains why it was 25 innings, not 27 - in two of the cases, the opposition only batted eight times] That year, Johnson had 12 complete games for us in 35 starts: no NL pitcher has even reached double-figures since.

Curiously, however, the franchise mark for posting straight zeroes on the board belongs to neither Curt nor Randy, but a much less-renowned name: Andy Benes. He put up 28 shutout innings between September 7th and 27th in our inaugural season - then added four more at the start of 1999. Webb is currently only at 18.1, so has some way to go to challenge that record. Though the important thing, teamwise, is the W by his name, not the shutout streak.

In this case, Webb allowed seven hits and one walk, striking out five. The Reds came close to breaking through on multiple occasions: three times, they have a man on third with less than two outs, but Webb was always able to get the big out when he needed it. He threw only 106 pitches, got his league-leading eighth win, and brought his ERA down to a miniscule 2.18, also the best in the National League.

And, boy, did he need to be the best, as our hitters were clearly taking part in a campaign to get Eric Milton nominated to the All-Star game. Milton, whose contract has been one of the few to rival Russ Ortiz for failure to meet expectations, suddenly became an invincible, dominating force on the mound. He allowed only three hits and no walks over eight innings, fanning nine D'backs.

Though technically, it was less than nine, because certain D'backs K'd on multiple occasions. Brandon Webb, for example, went down three times; fair enough. Less amusing, however, was Chad Tracy, who not only made his 3rd error, but followed Webb with a trio of whiffs against Milton, then added one more for good measure in the ninth. He's now at 46 for the season: =4th in the league, and on pace for 159 this year. The Chad Tracy Special K Watch looms on the horizon, with all the subtlety of a peeved elephant. This now seems officially A Significant Issue.

Due to our f(l)ailings, all we had to show through eight innings was a single run, and even that was aided by more questionable defense from the opposition. Entering the ninth, with a 1-0 edge, Melvin had an interesting dilemma. Leave Webb out there, and risk him getting a loss? Or send out Valverde, whose outings earlier in the week would have blown this lead, and then some?

Fortunately, Jackson walked, and Shawn Green rendered it moot with a two-run homer, his second hit of the game. He's now third in the NL, batting .333 for the year; startling, given he started off the season 3-for-30. Estrada was credited with his 32nd RBI, that's ten more than the next-best NL catcher, Michael "Sucker Punch" Barrett (who just got whacked with a ten-game suspension, so is unlikely to threaten J-strada any time soon).

But this was, unquestionably, Brandon Webb's day again. All-Star starter? Cy Young? It's perhaps too early for both these, but so far, he seems to be intent on demonstrating his qualities with increasing vigour, almost every start. The win, coupled with a Dodgers' loss, gives us breathing room atop the division for the first time. Not much, admittedly, but it's a refreshing change to be able to go to bed knowing that, whatever happens tomorrow, we'll still lead the NL West.

Thanks to VIII, Stephen, Englishdback (see - the TV coverage didn't jinx us!), William K, Spencer, and IndyDback (look forward to your report on the games...hint, hint!) for their comments, while I was kept "amused", filling in forms detailing my non-verbal communication skills. Somehow, I don't quite think they meant blogging the 2006 D'backs... ;-)

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