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AZ 5, Padres 3 - Safe, but hardly sound

Record: 62-61. Change on last season: +5

That was far, far closer than it should have been. What transpired in the ninth inning largely washed away the good taste left by an excellent outing from Vargas, both with the ball and at the plate. We came in with a comfortable four-run lead, but Jorge Julio was jopelessly jorrible, walking three hitters while getting the first two outs. He was eventually pulled for Tony Pena, who gave up an infield hit and a bases-loaded walk to Piazza, before striking out Bellhorn with the tying run at second base.

This averted what would have been a total disaster. Between Julio and Pena, it took the two of them 45 pitches to get the last three outs, on a hit and four walks. Maybe we should only put Julio in for save situations, as his performances yesterday and today - when a save was not on the line - left an awful lot to be desired. The way this race is shaping up, we can ill afford to blow this kind of game, but Julio does not exactly give me a warm, fuzzy feeling of comfort.

What did, however, was Claudio Vargas, who posted his third straight quality start. In seven innings, he gave up just one run on three hits and two walks, while fanning five. Vargas seems to love pitching in Petco: his start there earlier this season was his best of the year, resulting in seven shutout innings. Indeed, overall, his ERA against San Diego this year is a delightful 0.56, with ten hits and two walks in 16 IP [Only one pitcher with 10+ innings has a better ERA against the Padres: John Smoltz, who has totally owned them, with 23 scoreless frames]

We faced an emergency starter in Thompson because scheduled starter Clay Hensley "felt pain in his left buttocks in recent days." Hey, you think that's bad: SS Khalil Greene is on the 15-day DL "with a strained left middle finger". Now, that's what I call clubhouse presence. ;-) But the Padres starter matched zeroes with Vargas through the front four innings, and you could argue he pitched better, throwing more strikes and getting ahead of hitters.

However, we caught a break in the fifth, when Cameron misplayed a ball in center field, and Hudson ended up on second. Drew struck out [he had our only two K's today; he now has 31 in 120 at-bats, which is ahead of Tracy's pace and would be a franchise-record projected over a full season] and Snyder was intentionally walked to get to Vargas. However, he drove a 0-1 fastball from Thompson into the right-center gap, scoring both Hudson and Snyder. That was definitely a huge break there: Vargas came in hitting 3-for-38, though curiously, two of those three hits were doubles. Make that "three of four" now.

The Padres pulled one back on the bottom of the inning, Shawn Green misplaying a ball to right and giving Walker an extra base - he came home on a sacrifice fly. However, we added a pair of two-out runs next time Arizona batted, on a single by Drew and a wild pitch. It should have been more, but Green was called out at second on a force, a woefully incorrect call because Barfield never had the ball in his control. Drew added our fifth run in the ninth, on a double, sacrifice, sacrifice fly, interrupted briefly by Carlos Quentin picking up his third major-league plunking - he's already passed O-Dawg's total for the entire season!

Then, there came the bottom of the ninth, about which I really don't want to talk any more. Instead, let's praise Ahwatukee, who won their first 2006 Little League World Series game 1-0. Well done to them for that, hopefully they can go deep into the tournament. Though I have been reading the book Little League, Big Dreams by Charles Euchner (author of The Last Nine Innings), and have to say, my innocent illusions concerning the World Series are evaporating fast... More on that next week, I think.

Thanks to flyingdutchman and TheMainMan for their comments on the game - the latter suggests it's time formally to hand over closer duties to Pena, or possibly even Valverde. It's certainly something to think about. I can't say I get the fuzzies thinking about anyone in our bullpen, but Pena can, at least, throw strikes most of the time. Today, he threw 11 of 17, while Julio managed only 10 of 28. I usually look at 55-60% strikes as the acceptable range for a reliever - not the 36% Jorge managed today.

Right, off to Trash City's Gong Show, which should be fun. Back tomorrow morning with the Gameday Thread, though having seen Snakes on a Train last night, and Sssssss this morning, we're contemplating a double-bill of Anacondas 2 and - at last! - Snakes on a Plane. On the other hand, I guess watching the Diamondbacks game would also fit into the general theme... :-)

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