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AZ 8, Braves 7 - Tony the Tiger saves the Day

Record: 57-48. Change on last season: +3. Pace: 88-74
Playoff odds: 24.2%. Playoff Magic Number: 59

Quote of the day: "I'm just simply thankful that I was able to make a contribution tonight... To be that winning run is something that you enjoy." -- Tony Clark

To lose last night's game would have been a disaster. We had it sewn up in the second, with a win-expectancy of almost 94%, and it got as high as 98.2%, after Brian McCann flew out to start the fifth. However, Arizona blew a 7-0 lead, and it seemed like we were doing anything in our power to throw this one away. Load the bases in the seventh with nobody out and fail to score? Check. Let the tying run take second base in the ninth, while Papa Grande adjusts his socks? Check. Floating, bloop single that couldn't have split our fielders better if had been placed by hand? Check. We were clearly fated not to win this one. Drive a stake through the heart of that winning streak, 'cos this one's over.

Not so fast. Not with Tony Clark around. He did what he does best: come off the bench and deliver a clutch hit, in this case a walk-off, game winning homer with no outs in the bottom of the eleventh to extend that streak to seven victories in a row. I've been tough on Clark this year, but have to say, that one hit makes up for a lot of strikeouts with runners in scoring position. It was a stunning turnaround, as Arizona for the second day in a row, won a game they really didn't deserve to win. Well, after the second inning, anyway.

We scored six times there, with Drew and Byrnes each smacking two-run homers, and Hudson adding a two-run double. And things looked even better by the end of the fourth, as Young hit his seventeenth homer of the year, to once again pass Byrnes for the team lead. With Petit pitching a no-hitter at this point, I felt this one was safe and turned my presence back to Mrs. SnakePit's party. Even after Atlanta scored two runs in the fifth, we still had a comfortable lead. What could possibly go wrong?

However, the game once again had my full attention in the seventh. Beaver Las Vagas [sic - he's a heel manager in IZW] tapped me on the shoulder with a grim expression: "It's 7-6." The Thing That Wouldn't Die, a.k.a. Julio 'Methuselah' Franco, hit the killer blow, a two-run double off Jose Cruz, which tagged Famine for the first run he'd allowed since July 2nd. Still, we retained the lead, and loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh: surely we must score at least one insurance run? Not according to Reynolds, Snyder and Drew, who grounded out, K'd and grounded out to keep it a one-run game.

Lyon made sure it stayed like that with two shutout innings, and then we turned it over to Valverde. Game over, surely, and he got the first two hitters to ground out to our middle-infield. But then, with the Braves down to their final out, he walked Escobar who took second on what can only be described as defensive incompetence. Valverde was pottering around the mound, when Escobar took off, and Hudson must have been polishing his Gold Glove or something, because he simply watched the runner advance. A bloop single then followed, landing like a dying quail just beyond the despairing dive of Drew, and Valverde has his fourth blown save of the year.

When DaVanon was caught stealing in the bottom of the ninth, to end the inning, it seemed only a matter of time before Atlanta completed their comeback. However, they were forgetting Clark, and a huge amount of credit must also go to Edgar Gonzalez. He got a rare chance to pitch in a high-leverage situation, and responded brilliantly retiring all six hitters he faced in the ten and eleventh. Another lengthy outing for the bullpen: 5.1 innings this time, to tack on to the six from last night. This one wasn't as brilliant - two earned runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batter - but the end result was still the same. Good job this finished, as only Slaten was still left to pitch.

Beaver and I exchanged high-fives, after a brutal final six innings of intense watching of the game. That was mostly out of the side of our eyes, to give the illusion of paying attention to the comedic part of Chris's party, or by time-sharing the at-bats, alternating pitches and providing a running commentary ["Ball two, outside"] to the non-watcher. Kinda weird, and I feel somewhat guilty about it - but have you ever tried not watching a baseball game when it's on? Nearly did have a heart-attack in the top of the tenth, as I saw a runner round third and head for home, before realising that was the Giants/Marlins game, and I was sneaking a peek at the wrong TV set...

Top of the order did well for Arizona, the first third of Young, Hudson and Brynes [sic] were 6-for-12 with three walks and five RBI. A bit quiet elsewhere: Carlos Quentin, back in the fold after hitting .415 during his Tucson stint, didn't exactly set the world on fire in his first game back, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a caught stealing. Petit was fine through the front four innings, but wobbled in the fifth, and should probably have been removed from the game at that point, rather than wheeled out there for the sixth.

Good to see the return in the GameDay thread of some fans who'd recently been among the missing - wondered where you'd gone! That's hotclaws, npineda, azdb7 and VIII in particular, who were joined by (more or less) regulars, AZDarkKnight, seton hall snake pit, LucaMaz3, singaporedbacksfan, Ridster, suitsmetoATnT, Muu, MFAN and kylerkenney. It's an afternoon game today, so I should be able to see most of it - that's a nice surprise, as I was expecting to miss it tonight.

Gameday Graph

[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Tony Clark, +35.0%
God-emperor of suck: Jose Valverde, -18.8%
Honorary "Well done!": Edgar Gonzalez, +28.6%

"Free Scott Hairston" has taken on an entirely new meaning today since, as noted, Scott Hairston was traded to the Padres for a minor-league reliever with a busted hand. Which pretty much sums up how highly the organization thought of him. He had continued to underwhelm, even when getting regular playing time in April, and with the imminent arrival of Upton, he basically had no future in the organization. A little weird to trade him to a divisional rival for nothing much; we could have traded him outside the division and lessened the chance of blowback. Again, that we didn't care enough to do so, says a lot about how low his stock had sunk.

No Johnson for Arizona the rest of the year, as he's having surgery next Friday, to re-repair the herniated disc in his back. The hope is, this early operation means he'll be able to come back in time for a full session of Spring Training in 2008, and be ready to pitch again on Opening Day. Get well soon, Randy. Still, that sound you hear is loud sniggering coming from the Eastern sea-board. However, it does seem that earlier talk of his retirement was vastly exaggerated, since he says:

"I'll cross the bridge of surgery right now and be willing to go through the process of rehabbing again because I know I can still pitch and I love pitching. It's been what I've been doing since I've been 7 years old and I still believe I can do it. I want to come back and pitch and pitch in front of the fans here and show that I can go out on a good note. I certainly don't want to end my career because I had surgery and I had to call it a career because of surgery. I'd much rather call it a career being healthy and being ineffective and saying, 'You know what? I can't do it anymore.' But that hasn't been the case."

Looks like we won't be seeing the names in the Grimsley case any time soon, the judge saying, "Disclosure at this time may compromise the government's ongoing investigative efforts in several ways... The ongoing nature of the investigation is what drives this court's decision." That's a bit disappointing, as I guess we will simply have to continue relying on innuendo and uninformed speculation, in the main. However, no such issue with regard to Donnie Sadler. Our career minor-leaguer, who had one at-bat with the team earlier in the season, has been suspended for 50 games "for testing positive for a drug of abuse in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program." Enjoy your new career in Wal-Mart, Donnie. Though looking at his stats, .214 in 52 games for Tucson, with 2 HR, I'd be contacting my supplier about a refund for those 'performance-enhancing' pharmaceuticals.

GameDay Thread to follow immediately, since it's a 12:55 start.