I guess that, technically, I still maintain my proud record of not having seen the Diamondbacks lose this year. That's because we left in the middle of the tenth inning after Arizona had failed to break through, and the game was still tied at four. Under Cactus League rules, that meant we could no longer win - the best we could hope for was a tie, as the game ended automatically after ten innings, regardless of the score. "It can only really go downhill," commented Mrs. SnakePit - who had an comedy show at The Sets for which she had to prepare, and so was somewhat keen to get away. I could hardly argue with that, and so we slipped out; this turned out to be a wise decision, and Connor Robertson failed to retire a batter in the bottom of the tenth, and the game was over before we'd even reached our car.
We did manage to get there just in time to see the first out; Mrs. SnakePit picked me up after attending the funeral service, and dropped me off as she went to find somewhere to park. I should mention that the "martyr points" required for me to be at the game were likely earned afterwards, when I set up 250 chairs for her event at The Sets. As I casually pointed out, it's the second Saturday in a row where I've have exhausted myself moving someone else's furniture around for her. :-) I managed somehow to blow out a muscle in the arch of my left foot there, leaving me basically unable to put any weight on it. I will be rehabbing tomorrow - and tonight as well, just as soon as I've posted this on the site. We have Night of the Lepus on the DVR, in which giant killer bunnies menace Arizona, to the concern of Dr. McCoy and Marion Crane - well, DeForest Kelley and Janet Leigh.
The big question about today's game is, naturally, how did the Big Unit look, making his second rehab start? And the answer is, pretty well. There were some rumblings of discontent from the faithful in the bottom of the first, when he gave up a homer to Gary Matthews, the second batter he faced. And he seemed a bit fly-ball prone early on, with five of the first six outs being that way - as well as the homer, of course. Hitters getting under the ball, expecting it to break more? I'd probably be happier if they were under-estimating the bite, and getting on top of his pitches. Nick Piecoro said only one of the outs was hard-hit, but it seemed a couple more than that to me were not exactly pop-ups, and seemed about a quarter-inch on the bat from following Matthews' pitch out of the yard.
However, Johnson said, "My slider will get better as my arm strength builds...and the stronger your arm is the more effective all these other pitches are as well." And the homer turned out to be the only hit Johnson would give up in three innings of work. No idea about the velocity of his pitches, but even from where we were sitting, down the third-base line, it was apparent that the Angels hitters were, on occasion, getting pretty badly fooled. That was most apparent in the third inning, where he got two K's and a pop-up to second-base, seeming like the Johnson we know and love of old. I do concur with Nick that Johnson got stronger as he went on. He threw 43 pitches, ten more than in his previous outing, and is scheduled for 65 in his next outing, currently penciled in for Friday.
All of Arizona's scoring came on a pair of homers. With two out in the second, Justin Upton singled, Chris Burke legged out an infield hit and Salazar smacked one over the fence to right field. Eric Byrnes completed our total for the say when he uncorked a monster blast to left-field, to open the sixth, which restored Arizona's lead for a bit. That redeemed him in our eyes, as he'd tried to nail a runner at the plate in the Angels two-run fourth with a somersault flip - it was obviously a futile endeavor, and his throw missed the cutoff man, allowing the hitter to move into scoring position. On the other hand, Salazar's homer was countered by his dreadful misplay of a ball to center in the same inning, which ended up another double.
Upton and Burke both got two hits; the latter has now improved his spring average to .417. On the other hand, Stephen Drew looked particularly lost at the plate, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, and his spring average is down to .185. Yes, I know it's all meaningless, but if Drew and Burke start the season the way they're playing, it's going to be increasingly difficult for Melvin not to have Burke in the lineup somewhere - he's got enough flexibility to be able to play anywhere in the infield. Trot Nixon might not even make it that far: 0-for-4 today as a DH, leaving him just .156 (5-for-32) in spring overall. If Nixon is the answer, I'm not sure what the question is.
Less of a bullpen than a bulllump
After Johnson left the game, the Big Unit was replaced by the Petit Unit. His first inning was shaky - though as noted above, with better work from his outfielders, two of the three doubles he allowed should have been singles at most. He settled down thereafter, with just one more hit in his three innings, and added three more K's to bring his spring K:BB ratio to a tasty 14:3. Billy Buckner scattered four hits and two walks over his three frames, but the only damage was a homer to Matt Brown which tied the game in the eighth inning. He also struck out three Angels.
First time at Tempe Diablo. It's right in the middle of...well, a light industrial park would seem to be about it. Parking is pretty tough there; we ended up having to find a spot at the back of a nearby Motorola facility. There isn't much close to the stadium unless you get there very early. Otherwise, be prepared for a long walk.
Alternatively, if you don't want to pay, you can go stay at the Buttes resort next door to the, from where you've got a nice overlooking view for free. You can even lurk on the access road like these guys - the view is probably not much worse than from the outer corners of the upper deck at Chase.
The game was totally sold out. I don't think I've seen so many scalpers at a Spring Training game before. That was probably no surprise; we bought our tickets a couple of months back, and even at that point, the best seats remaining were in the last section bleachers, out by the AZ bullpen.
Backup catcher Wilkin Castillo warms up
And guess who forgot a) his cap, and b) that our seats were all the way out in the sun? Fortunately, we did remember to bring the sunblock, but I sense the top of my head - where the hair was light and blond to begin with, even before it started thinning! - may feel it a bit tomorrow.
The game tempo was brisk, helped by neither team giving up a walk until Buckner in the bottom of the seventh. Bonifacio helped out with a fine grab of a liner, throwing quickly to first to start a double-play. He also stole a base, though Upton was caught for the first time this spring. Ojeda also made a great stab of an in-between hop at shortstop.
Finally, if you go to the stadium, I'd recommend sitting on the first-base side if you get a chance. The view looking in that direction (above) is much better, as from the third-base side it's mostly the cars rushing past on the I-10 freeway. It feels like they are only a Mark Reynolds blast away...
Today's comment starter Minor-league and/or spring-training parks. Which ones are your favorites, and why?