Record: 69-77. Change on last season: +3
Rookies in starting lineup: 4
Exclusive Brandon Webb interview!!!
Yes, at today's ballgame, AZ SnakePit had a chance to speak with Arizona's ace and Cy Young contender, Brandon Webb. We now present the full transcript of this meeting:
Me: Can you sign my ticket stub, please?
Brandon Webb: Sure.
Me: Much appreciated. Best of luck for the rest of the season.
Brandon Webb: Thanks
You can send the Pulitzer to the usual address. Never let it be said that we don't achieve the heights of investigative journalism, fearlessly asking the questions that need to be asked. :-) Okay, in truth, this was me regressing to the level of pure fandom - just ask Mrs. SnakePit, who received a delirious "OMG! Guess who I just met?" text message immediately afterwards. And it's no bad thing, to realise that no matter how snarky and cynical I may sometimes get, beneath that sarcastic exterior there still beats - and probably always will beat - the heart of a pure Diamondbacks fan.
It was purely by chance. I arrived at the park about 2pm, with plenty of time to kill before first pitch, and noticed the D'backs were warming up in the outfield, so headed over towards the bullpen corner. Going down towards the front, I noticed someone surrounded by fans near the fence...hang on, not "someone" - that's BRANDON WEBB. Resisting the urge to throw myself at his feet, with a cry of "We're not worthy, we're not worthy!", I hung back and watched him chat to the spectators, while I awaited my turn. He seemed down-to-earth, and since he wasn't pitching today, credit to him for being there at all, since I guess he didn't "have" to be out there, signing autographs.
That corner, just on the home-plate side of the left-field bullpen, seems to be the golden triangle for getting autographs - as you'll notice from the ticket, I also got Chris Snyder's, just after he'd completed warming up. It was good to be able to congratulate him on his excellent season, and he also gets bonus points for having a signature that's actually legible; that always impresses me, since my own resembles the tracks of a badly-impaired chicken. It's a good place to take pics too: I ended up right behind two D'backs play hard toss, and I did realise that one passed ball, could be the last thing I saw. Just as I thought that, a wild pitch did occur, fortunately thumping into the fence beside me. Hmm, maybe I'll move along just a little bit.
Sorry for the blur.
It's hard to take photos when you're flinching...
As for the game, did anyone not think, "Oh, no - not again", when Robert Fick smacked a two-run double in the eighth inning, and brought 40-homer man Alfonso Soriano to the plate as the tying run? Even as Livan Hernandez ended the seventh having retired 21 of 22 Nationals' hitters, and had a 4-0 edge, this never felt comfortable. For we'd already seen this season against Washington, that we could lose bigger leads than this, later than this - and when they scored twice in the eighth, and Hernandez went 2-0 on Soriano...
However, Livan flipped up one of his classic junk-curves, measured at 61 mph (he had a couple even slower, sub-sixty!), and Soriano hit it off the end of the bat. It still went back, back, all the way to the warning track before Gonzo gratefully reeled it in. That was the turning point, right there, though I kinda wonder why he was pitching to Soriano at all, with a base open. But for a more detailed analysis of the game, let's go over the eight Points of Interest mentioned in the preview:
Three or more rookies in the starting line-up = HIT. I was delighted to see all four of our Futurebacks, in fact. I suspect the game not being televised, meant Melvin figures he can do what he wants, without anyone noticing. And the results speak for themselves: Q, D, J and Y = 7-for-14; the other four position players = 2-for-16. Any questions?
Now that's what I call a lineup!
Error-free baseball = HIT. Solid defense, with only one really spectacular play. That was Quentin stealing a home-run away from Schneider, by climbing the wall in the right-field corner. It was one of those where there was a pause after the leap, before the crowd realised he'd actually pulled it off. He got a nice round of applause jogging back to the dugout, and again during his next at-bat. I think the crowd is warming to the rookies.
Homer by Tracy = MISS. By just about everyone else though! Well, four separate D'backs went deep - Jackson in the second, Hudson in the third, then Drew and Snyder in the fourth. [Jackson just missed a second homer in his second at-bat, but it was hauled in at the wall] All four, curiously, were solo shots - in the past five games, we have hit eleven four-baggers, ten of them with nobody aboard. Our first six hits today were for extra bases.
Drew's HR trot: quiet and non-demonstrative
No K's for Drew = HIT. In addition to his homer, he also had two walks for the first time in his major-league career, showing good plate discipline. That gives him five for September, which is already more than he managed in July or August, and he has more walks than strikeouts this month too, a marked improvement on previous ratios.
Double by Gonzo = MISS. Gonzalez, in fact, went 0-for-5, with five men left on base. The most damaging was in the eighth, when we would dearly have loved an insurance run. Arizona loaded the bases with one out, but Hudson struck out, and Gonzalez then grounded out on the first pitch he saw. The replay of his 50th double still got the biggest round of applause all night.
Quality start from Hernandez v2.0 = HIT. After a shaky start, where he allowed hits to the first two Nationals hitters, Livan settled down very well. He got Soriano caught trying to steal third, then almost got a double-play with the runner trying to advance to third on a foul pop-up to Jackson [looked like Tracy missed the tag]. After cruising through seven, he hit trouble in the eighth, but still got the win. The final line - eight innings, six hits, no walks, two earned runs - was more than acceptable.
Livan warms up for those 60-mph pitches :-)
WHIP of 1.00 or less by the bullpen plus Save for Valverde = TWO HITS. I'll put these two together since, because of Livan's eight innings stint, Valverde was the only reliever we got to see. After a leadoff single, meaning the Nationals had three outs with the tying run at the plate, he buckled down, and retired the next three, the final two on strikeouts. That gives him a career-high 16 saves this year, and we'll be looking for a strong performance down the stretch to give him the closer's role for 2007. I do notice they've abandoned all the showy stuff surrounding Valverde's entramce, which they had earlier on in the season at Chase.
Before the game, I browsed the team shop for a bit. Great to see Drew, Jackson and Quentin shirts available - I'm sure Young will follow soon. One of Drew's broken bats was available for $150; even though he's only played a couple of months, the only D'back commanding a higher price for their broken lumber was Luis Gonzalez. However, tucked away at the back in the 'Clearance' section, was a poignant reminder of those who are no longer with us...
Available only in XXL and XXXL
They had two people throwing out the first pitch: I think one was somebody from Fry's, while the other was an Arizona Supreme Court judge. But how can you have two ? Isn't one the ceremonial first pitch, and the other the ceremonial second pitch? Is it cheaper if you're happy to throw out a pseudo-first pitch?
How often do two teams meet, having two players with a different spelling of the same name, occupying the same position? I refer, of course, to the two catchers today: Schneider and Snyder. That sounds more like an ambulance-chasing law firm than anything...
They were giving away packs of baseball cards on the way in. I tried to swap the Tim Wakefield I got for the Luis Gonzalez card held by the Boston fan in front of me [I assume he was Boston - he was wearing a Papelbon shirt], but there was nothing doing there.
The out-of-town scoreboard seemed to be having some serious problems. At one point, it was showing the same set of scores on both AL + NL boards: took them several innings to get it all sorted out.
The first-inning dismissal (below) was the 16th time Soriano has been nailed on the basepaths this year. At the current rate, he may well end up getting 40 "caught stealings" [is there such a word?] before he gets 40 stolen bases.
Young struck out twice: the first time Armas really made him look like a rookie...which he is, so I guess that's alright then. :-) However, on a later appearance, home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez rang him up when it was only strike two - that's definitely not given rookies a fair chance... The mistake was rectified, and Young ended up walking that at-bat.
Mustard won the relish race, soundly destroying the theory, noted at the last game, that whichever condiment is last at second base will always win. Back to the drawing-board, guys...
Only 19,031 in attendance, which certainly made for a fast exit from the ballpark. Amazing how many people didn't hang around for the ninth, even though there was hardly a crowd to beat. Guess they must have had a lot more confidence in Arizona holding the lead than I did! That crowd was the lowest since May 24th, and the sixth-smallest in franchise history.
A 75% hit-rate on expectations for the game, so I'm happy. It was, all round, a fine performance, with our rookies once again shining, which gives me great hope for the future. Thanks to jeremy, William K, VIII and icecoldmo for their comments, especially in my absence! Fangraph, Heroes and Zeroes, etc. to follow tomorrow; it's an off-day, so plenty of time there.
Besides, I've already had to write this whole thing out twice, having accidentally kicked the plug out when reaching for the printer. That must rank pretty high up anyone's list of "things that make you go aaaaaarrrggh." Also, more details on the Tucson Sidewinders 6-3 win tonight, which puts them one game away from the PCL title.