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AZ 2/4/13/9, Braves 1/2/9/3 - Back From The Grave...

Record: 34-22. Change on last season: +4

Well, that was fun. Drive like maniacs for six hours, help Brain Damage Films sell a bunch of videos, see the odd superstar, drink far too much, sleep, rinse, repeat in reverse, end up back in Phoenix several hundred dollars poorer, but having had a thoroughly good time. How could it be elsewise, around the likes of these fine people?

Mind you, both Nick and the Diamondbacks did such a sterling job in my absence, I'm scared to return, for fear of jinxing them! A four-game sweep on the road, against the reigning NL East champions? I should really go away more often. :-) No question, Nick did his job, and I'm pleased to see that I come back to find us now 2.5 games ahead of the pack in the NL West.

I didn't see much of the games, so any comments I have will be pretty ill-informed. We did tune in to Friday's game on the road to Burbank, and were astonished to hear it was still scoreless in the eighth inning. But, hey: we have the bases loaded and no-one out. How can we fail to score? Uh, well, after a shutout streak of 24 innings...quite easily. Tracy struck out, then the Braves has Jackson played perfectly, and he lined out. But Shawn Green came through with a clutch, two-out hit, and our PT Cruiser wobbled significantly for a few seconds as we cheered.

Jorge Julio, the new closer, came in, allowed a home-run, but then shut the Braves down to get the save. However, the real hero was Juan Cruz, and any idiot who dropped him from their fantasy team, after his nine-run first inning must now be kicking themselves [thwack!] for their rank stupidity [kapow!] in letting such a good pitcher [bam!] go. [Pause to apply soothing lotion to my self-inflicted injuries] Here's his line since then:
Cruz: 19 IP, 11 H, 6 BB, 13 K, 2 ER

We then moved on to Friday, but nothing much happened on the baseball front, as the game got rained out. Saturday, therefore became "let's play two!" day, and we got off on the right foot, with another win, courtesy of a quality start from Enrique Gonzalez. Six innings, four hits, only one walk and a sprightly eight K's, as he got the victory against a pitcher more than fifteen years and four hundred starts his senior, in John Smoltz.

However, any elation for him over this fine performance was likely brief. Gonzalez was sent back down to the minors immediately afterwards - ostensibly to make way for Terry Mulholland, but we all know what's coming back up from Tucson. The return of the Huge Manatee appears inevitable - however, think I dodged a bullet, since it seems likely I will miss the "joy" of seeing Ortiz pitch next week. He's scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday: we're going on Thursday.

Anyway, back on Saturday afternoon, our bullpen shut down the Braves after EGon's departure, Lyon once more fanning the side: in his past three appearances, he's K'd eight of ten batters faced. Offensively, looking at the lines, Tracy was the star with three hits, including a home-run, but Gonzalez had a pair of doubles, and Green two hits as well. Four runs for Arizona may not sound like much, but after a total of two in the previous two games combined - one of them, a 13-innings affair - we'll settle for that.

Not such "settling" was required in the night-cap, however: we pounded out eighteen hits, including four homers, on our way to a 13-9 victory. And the offensive star was...er, Damion Easley? Yep. The man who came in with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 31 games, smacked three homers and seven RBIs in five at-bats. Hudson and Davanon had three hits each, while Byrnes, Gonzalez, Jackson and Snyder all added a pair - Byrnes had three RBIs. Not a bad day for a team without Shawn Green, Chad Tracy or Johnny Estrada: their replacements went 9-for-15 with 8 RBIs.

And we needed pretty much all the offense we could muster, since the Braves rapped out thirteen hits and nine runs - albeit only four earned, thanks to errors by Counsell and Hudson. We had a 10-2 lead at the seventh-inning stretch, but Atlanta put up a seven-spot off Medders, and had the tying run at the plate with one out. However, Valverde, in his first outing since being demoted from closer, got the last two Braves hitters.

Easley's third homer of the day restored a credible margin in the ninth, and Julio came in, even though a) it wasn't a save situation, and b) he'd already appeared in the afternoon game, albeit only throwing nine pitches. He walked two, but didn't give up any runs - still, hardly the hoped-for vote of confidence. I suspect, from Melvin's rumbings, that Valverde may be back sooner rather than later: he pitched 1.2 innings, allowed a hit and a walk, while fanning two.

Vargas was pulled with two outs in the sixth, at 105 pitches, so didn't quite get the quality start, but did get the W. He walked none, and struck out three, while giving up six hits. Mulholland's first appearance back off the DL was scarcely auspicious, allowing a home-run to Marcus Giles, the only batter he faced.

We completed the sweep this afternoon - the first time Atlanta have gone 0-4 in a series since May 1995, and our first 4-0 one since August 3-5, 2002 (including, like this series, a double-header). I caught the final out in the ninth inning, just after coming over the border from California (KTAR stretches further out from Phoenix than I expected). Again, the normally bench players proved the hottest hands: DaVanon, Easley and Clark were 9-for-14 with 8 RBIs (Estrada also had a pair of hits).

Easley had a three-run shot in the second, but it wasn't until the ninth that things felt really comfortable, however. We scored four runs to finally pull away from the Braves, spurred by another three-run homer, one of a pair to leave the park from Clark. He went 4-for-5 to climb above the Mendoza line for the first time since April 26th, following a horrible May in which he hit .129.

Batista went 6.2 innings, allowed seven hits and two walks, fanned five and gave up three earned runs - he was pulled after allowing a two-run homer to Renteria in the seventh. Medders, Vizcaino and - I almost fell out of the passenger seat when I heard this one - Kevin Jarvis pitched the remainder. I'd forgotten he was still on the roster. Maybe not for much longer though: Ortiz's return will require another roster move...

Heroes and Zeroes
Series 19: vs. Braves, on road.

Easley: 7-for-12, 4 HR, 10 RBI
Cruz: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 0 ER
DaVanon: 7-for-12, HR, 3 RBI
------------------------------------------
Medders: 1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 0 K, 6 R, 1 ER
Counsell: 1-for-12, 0 BB, 3 K

How hot was Easley? He had 20 bases in the series: twice as many as he had in all of May. He had more HR these 12 at-bats, than in April and May this season, plus all of August and September last year (163 at-bats in total). Another member of the bench, DaVanon, matched Easley for hits, but couldn't match the power. Cruz's fine outing was the best of our starters, though an honourable mention to Gonzalez, who got his first win. Now, back to Tucson with you.

Not much to complain about, naturally. Medders' inning of work, though not exactly helped by our defense, did leave a lot to be desired. And Counsell's work in the leadoff spot was also well short of what we've come to expect from him. But overall, an excellent series, finishing off a tough roadtrip in fine style, at 7-3, tied for the best in franchise history - and the three losses were all by one run. It doesn't immediately get any easier, with the Phillies, Mets and Giants - three more teams with winning records - but at least we're at home, where we are 17-9. And we're now more games above .500 than at any time since 2002.

Thanks to everyone for keeping things ticking while I was away - first and foremost, once again, Mr. Pineda. Unfortunately, I couldn't get close enough to Bruce to mutter "woodshed" to him. [Photo ops for him and Lance Henriksen were $35 a pop; autographs, $20...] But also to: VIII, azdb7, dahlian, William K, johngordonma, frienetic, IndyDBack, Devin, Spencer, azshadowwalker, Ben, Keith and Micmac99 for keeping things lively. (Ab)Normal service should be resumed tomorrow: and to finish, here's another appropriate image from the convention: D'backs fans prepare to welcome back Russ Ortiz