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AZ 5/8, Astros 4/4 - How Sweep It Is...

Record: 29-23. Change on last season: -1. Pace: 90-72.

Quote of the day: "He was throwing 84 miles per hour and making guys look stupid." -- Mark Reynolds on Livan Hernandez

A bit of catching-up needed; in fact, I've got a lot to get through today, but at least I have the day off, so it's just me and my high-speed Internet connection [no, the novelty hasn't worn off yet - can you tell? :-)] First, let's crank the Wayback Machine to Saturday, when the Diamondbacks held on for their 13th one-run victory of the season so far. The Astros took an early lead, on a first-inning groundout, but Brandon Webb then settled down, giving us seven quality innings, on seven hits and a walk with eight K's and just one other run.

Meanwhile, the offense got Arizona back into the game. Snyder doubled home Quentin with no outs in the third, and we then nicely manufactured a run, with Webb bunting his catcher over to third, from where Young brought him home to give us a 2-1 lead, with our weapon of choice, the sacrifice fly. Though the Astros used that against us, tying the game again at two in the sixth, we went ahead again in the seventh on - what else? - another sac.fly, this time from Tony Clark. [We currently have 26, putting us on pace for 81; that would break the major-league record, currently held by the 1984 A's at 77. Hudson leads with five; the highest figure by one player is 19, by Gil Hodges of Brooklyn in 1954, so that seems out of reach.]

We finally got another hit with runners in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh, when Eric Byrnes doubled home Snyder and Hairston to make it a huge (by Diamondbacks' standards, anyway) three-run lead. However, the Astros made it interesting again when Carlos Lee homered off Tony Peña in the eighth with a man aboard, to leave us with a one-run lead again. That is, of course, just where we want the opposition, and Jose Valverde posted a solid 1-2-3 inning, striking out Morgan Ensberg to slam the door.

I have to say, Papa Grande has been very, very good of late. Since blowing a save in horrible fashion against the Mets [I still have nightmares about that one], he has thrown ten scoreless innings, and allowed only three hits and one walk, while striking out nine. Of particular note, he's retired the last thirteen batters in a row, which has certainly helped my nerves considerably. Could he end up being the Diamondback who goes to the All-Star game? He certainly should be given consideration, since his 18 saves leads all of the major-leagues: the Tribune concurs. I think picking our representative will be the subject of next week's poll.

Back at Chase, Snyder was the only man to get us more than one hit, though Mark Reynolds walked twice. This will happen, rookie or not, when you have an OPS of 1.335. You can't stop Mark Reynolds, you can only hope to contain him, as Goose said in yesterday's Gameday thread. Interesting spread of views in the poll on what to do with him when Tracy comes back, with no alternative currently rating more than 27%. Two people think Reynolds should be sent back to the minors: I'd like to thank Mrs. Hammock and Mrs. Callaspo for stopping by. Oh, wait - probably not Mrs. Callaspo...

DiamondbacksWIn, suitsmetoATnT, singaporedbacksfan, Goose, Muu, AZDarkKnight and VIII were in attendance in the Gameday Thread for that one. I did try to watch the game, honest, but the TVs in the hotel bar were showing the NBA. So instead, I had a very nice dinner with Mrs. SnakePit in the San Jose Doubletree: I recommend the prime rib. 8-)

Gameday Graph

[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Brandon Webb, +19.9%
God-emperor of suck: Carlos Quentin, -3.5%

On Sunday, Livan Hernandez threw a complete game, his first since September 2005. Though that doesn't cover the magnitude of this one: few complete games involve the pitcher concerned allowing quite so many hits. Indeed, only once since 2002 has an NL starter thrown nine innings and given up 11+ like Livan - Greg Maddux served up 12 on August 11, 2005 against St. Louis. [Curiously, both were tagged for four runs yet got the win, walked none and threw 114 pitches.] The figures in Livan's case were padded by a ninth in which he was clearly failing - the Astros got to him for four hits, two runs, and got the tying run to the on-deck circle. Had there not been a six-run lead, he wouldn't have been left there, needless to say.

It certainly didn't look so good early on. The first batter we sent up, Chris Young, was carved up like honeyroast ham by Roy "Lee Harvey" Oswalt on three pitches. There was also an embarrassing incident in the third, when both Callaspo (Hudson having finally been convinced to take a day off) and Jackson opted to field Oswalt's bunt, leaving no-one at first-base. Luckily, Hernandez got a double-play on the very next pitch. The defensive woes continued: Carlos Quentin botched a grounder to right-center by Berkman, who ended up on third, and scored the Astros' first run. How bad a gaffe was that? Berkman hasn't hit a legitimate triple in almost 1,200 plate-appearances, since July 8, 2005.

Redemption was swift for Carlos, however. His next at-bat, in the fifth, with Houston still 1-0 up, he uncorked one 403 feet into the left-center bleachers: coming after Snyder's walk, it gave us a lead we would never surrender. Chris Young added an RBI single, and we were 3-1 ahead. The Astros did their own bit of "get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in" in the seventh, but we scored four of our own on the seventh, on four RBI singles by Callaspo, Byrnes, Reynolds and Jackson - albeit helped a bit by a pair of Astros errors. We batted around, Hernandez both leading off and making the last out of the inning.

Despite Hernandez allowing three long outs in the eighth, he was sent out there to finish the game off in the ninth. He struggled a bit...okay, a lot, after getting the first two outs. The crowd at Chase was on their feet, until a homer and three singles sent nervous shivers of concern through the crowd. Surely we couldn't blow a six-run ninth inning lead, could we? Could we? Finally, he got Lamb to send a fly-ball down the left-field line, where Eric Byrnes covered a lot of ground to make a much-needed grab and end the game. Valverde was warming up rapidly in the bullpen: so much for giving the relief corps a day off.

Every starter bar Hernandez had a hit - and even Livan could be forgiven for calling the official scorer on his pop-fly to center, which was ruled an error. Indeed, three-quarters of the line-up managed two hits: Young, Callaspo, Byrnes, Reynolds, Jackson and Quentin. Callaspo, Reynolds, Jackson and Quentin each added a walk, to reach safely three times. As noted above, Reynolds is being treated with a lot of respect, with six walks in 12 games. His average of .442 is the highest in the majors of any batter with 50+ plate-appearances: the next best is sixty-one points lower.

That can't possibly last: but as long as it does until Chad Tracy returns, we'll take it. Speaking of whom, Chad is making slow progress back to full health: He hit off a tee on Saturday, and took some swings in the cage Sunday. He might get to take batting practice on Tuesday in Philadelphia, and if that goes well, we'll have a better idea of when he'll be back, and what rehab will be needed. At the moment, no hurry - the decision of what to do is something I imagine most fans will be happy to put off!

Sunday was an excellent performance against a pitcher who'd given us a lot of trouble before - Oswalt was 6-0 with an ERA below two facing the Diamondbacks, prior to yesterday's game. So getting to watch the team smack him around was definitely a pleasure. A lightly-trafficked GameDay Thread, with flyingdutchman, unnamedDBacksfan (who runs his record to 8-1 in games he's attended), Goose, AZDarkKnight, Muu, Wimb, VIII popping in. Dodgers and Padres both won too, so we remain a game behind those two teams, as we hit the road again.

Gameday Graph

[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Carlos Quentin: +22.7%
God-emperor of suck: Miguel Montero: -7.1%

Game Notes

  • McDonalds were selling their McFlurry's off in the late innings for $2 each, probably because it was the last game of the homestand. A bit McBland, but no cheap food at the ballpark should be sniffed at, even a McBargain.

  • Getaway tip. If you're on the lower level, after the game is over, rather than going up and around the concourse like everyone else, go down and around the walkway that divided the back rows from the ones nearest the field. Much less people there.

  • Can someone explain to me how Oswalt's bunt was scored a hit? He was trying to make an out, and only the fact that neither Jackson nor Callaspo covered first stopped him. That's got to be an error on Jackson, since Callaspo actually did field the ball.

  • Chalupas ahoy! For the third time in four games, we scored eight runs, meaning free chalupas for all in attendance. Taco Bell must be kicking themselves this offensive surge came at home: that's more than 72,500 coupons handed out since Thursday.

  • Almost dead-silence from the crowd when Alberto Callaspo's name was mentioned in the starting lineup, and the same each time he came to the plate. I think he will continue to get the cold-shoulder from home fans for quite some time.

  • Think that's the first time I've seen a woman play the Outfield Fly Ball game. And she went 3-for-3, showing up some of the male contestants.

  • A lack of any skits involving the Astros' mascot being pushed into a pool or chased-down and lassoed by Baxter. It was only when Mrs. SnakePit asked me, that I realised I didn't know what the Houston Mascot was. Anyone? Turns out it's Junction Jack. I guess perhaps they thought having a bobcat maul a rabbit was more like a Discovery channel special than family entertainment.

I think it's safe to say, that series went about as well as expected. It's nice to realise that I don't have to be in Phoenix, keeping an eye on things, in order for the Diamondbacks to do well. :-) A four-game sweep of the Astros is good, even if they may not be the toughest opposition in the National League (their record is now just half a game better than Washington). But really, beating up on bad teams is one way to give you breathing room.

And the schedule now gets tough. We played our last 16 games against sub-.500 opponents (going 10-6), but ten of the next 13 are against teams currently with winning records. Included in that, we face the Red Sox and Mets, the two best teams in their leagues, with a combined record of 66-32. If we get through that streak with a winning record, I'll be very, very happy. Oh, and beyond them, we've got the Yankees in New York. June'll be tough, no doubt, but no real change there. Joseph Reaves points out that over the past three seasons, we're 27-56 for the month. It surely can't be as bad as last year, when Grimsleygate helped send us to an 8-20 record - and that after we swept a four-game series in Atlanta to open June...

Some other injury updates. Randy Johnson played long toss before Sunday's game, and is still scheduled to start Wednesday against the Phillies. Brandon Webb, hit by a comebacker on his forearm in his last start, isn't expected to miss any time as a result of it - he gets a natural day extra of rest, because Thursday is an off-day. And Tony Clark should be available today, having received two stitches in his chin and suffered a mild concussion after his face-planting dive during Saturday's game.

Okay, onwards and upwards. More - much more - to be done, so there's no rest for me this Memorial Day. But will be around for all of today's late afternoon (4:05 pm first pitch) game against the Phillies.