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Diamondbacks 4, Tigers 3: Byrnes' Night

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Record: 27-15. Pace: 104-58. Change on last season: +5

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
   -- Robert Burns

Okay, Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, was writing about a mouse rather than the formerly-slumping outfielder who (almost) shares his name, but it seems a somewhat appropriate way to start off the recap. It is, at least, slightly more intellectual and cerebral than the alternate title I briefly considered: "Byrnes, Motherf_____ - Byrnes!" For our much-maligned Face of the Franchise [I listened to Doug + Wolf on KTAR the past couple of mornings: brutal, simply brutal] finally had a good night. His first home-run since April 21; his first multi-hit game since April 26; the first time in sixteen consecutive games his batting average went up.

Will this turnaround Eric's season, which had plummeted in the throes of that 15-game streak where he went 6-for-62 with no walks? We can but hope. However, it was clear, from the first at-bat where he lined out, hard, to the outfield, that this was different. According to Grace on the broadcast, Byrnes was keeping his head still - whether that was the case, or if hitting coach Rick Schu had helped Eric correct something else, his next at-bat saw the ball rifled into the left-field bleachers. By the end of the night, he's scored twice, including the tying run, and driven in two as well - in one evening, doubling his RBI total for the preceding seventeen games combined. Welcome back, Eric. We missed you. Please stick around.

I trust we won't be hearing that crap Outfield song ever again; he went back to Van Halen's Jump as his entrance music last night, and the results were immediate. Amusingly, however, it was Chris Snyder who made the change - and Byrnes was none too happy about it. In fact, to be perfectly honest, the phrase "whiny" leaps to mind on reading the following comments by Eric regarding the matter:

I was upset. I figured they changed it up top (in the press box), and I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' Whether or not I'm getting hits has nothing to do with my music. And I like hearing the Outfield, and even though I wasn't getting hits, it was nice hearing the Outfield. Now Snyder's not gonna let me change it back. . . . No one was complaining about the Outfield when I was having a 14-game hitting streak, so I think it's more of a joke.

Last night was a fine comeback for the Diamondbacks, with our Win Probability reaching a low of 15% just before Byrnes' homer with two outs in the fifth - it was only our second hit of the night to that point. Arizona took advantage of some sloppy defense in the seventh by the Tigers, which basically gave us five outs in the inning. Snyder, who walked, should have been retired on a pop-foul which two Detroit players left to each other; the go-ahead run then scored on a bad throw by Guillen, allowing Drew to reach first. As long as we kept the Tigers to three runs, we should have known we'd be okay: Detroit are now 0-21 when scoring three or less. [Surprisingly, it's something Arizona has done only seven times so far; we're 1-6, the sole win coming in the Webb-Peavy game from April 27]

After a couple of occasions where the bullpen has cost Dan Haren victory, it was a refreshing change to see him get the W after he left. It looked dicey early on, especially following the fourth-inning home-run to Cabrera that made the score 3-0 to Detroit. But on a night when the available bullpen would have been hard-pushed to complete a hand of bridge, he held on, throwing 104 pitches and keeping us in the game for seven innings. He allowed three runs on six hits, didn't walk anyone and struck out four. Much credit is also due to Cruz and Peña, who locked down the lead for the final six outs.

Cruz simply struck out the side in the eighth, with a couple of those strike threes reaching 98 mph. In just 17 innings, Ghost Rider has now fanned 24 hitters, a rate of 12.7/nine IP. That trails only Octavio Dotel (13.50) among pitchers with a meaningful number of innings, i.e. more than two. Of course, he has also walked fifteen batters, a rate which puts him towards the top there as well - to be specific, at #9 of the 362 pitchers in the majors with ten innings or more. But when Cruz is on - and if you saw the game last night, you'll know he was very, very on - he might just be the most unhittable pitcher in baseball.

Peña got his first save since last September, facing some dangerous hitters including Ordonez and Cabrera - the former gave the ball a long ride to deep-center, but Young had room to make the play, and a ground-out from Cabrera ended the game. Lyon was not available, having pitched every game in the Rockies series [his use in the opening one, in a non-save situation, blew back on Melvin there]. But it's comforting to realize that we have alternatives: indeed, between Lyon, Peña, Qualls and Cruz, there are probably no less than four pitchers whom I'd be more or less comfortable to see in the ninth inning of a close game. That's a very nice situation to be in: most teams would be happy with two relievers like that. [And as if on cue, my computer, on random, starts playing Rob Zombie's Dragula, which is Lyon's entrance music!]

The offense struggled more than I expected against Bonderman. We did show decent patience, taking five walks with only six strikeouts. Byrnes had two of our five hits, and Justin Upton reached safely three times, on a hit and two walks. However, he was to be found somewhere equidistant between first- and second-base on Snyder's failed bunt attempt, and was thrown out by almost the same distance. Mind you, that was countered by an amazing piece of defense on a drive down the right-field line from Ordonez: Upton swooped, spun and fired a missile to second, gunning the runner down cold. Like most 20-year olds, he's capable of amazing and infuriating almost simultaneously.

Melvin's liking for the sacrifice also almost cost us big in the seventh, when Ojeda's bunt attempt with men on first and second gave the Tigers a huge out. Let's just take a look at the win expectancy in this bottom of the 7th situation, using a convenient calculator:

  • Before: no outs, down by two, men on 1st+2nd = 37.0%
  • Bunt Success: one out, down by two, men on 2nd + 3rd = 40.2%
  • Fail: one out, down by two, men on 1st+2nd = 29.6%
  • Hit: Bottom seventh, no outs, down by two, bases loaded = 56.0%

Even if the bunt had worked, it would have added a trivial amount, little more than three percent, to our win probability. Instead, the failure reduced our chances by 7.4%. If he'd allowed Ojeda to swing, and Augie had got a hit - he came in batting .370 on the season, don't forget - it would have resulted in a massive 19% difference, and made us the favorites to win. There are very, very few circumstances where giving up outs to advance base-runners is a good idea, unless the guy at the plate is a particularly-poor hitter. Play for one run, lose by one run, as they say: in this aspect at least, it was a game won in spite of Melvin, not because of him.

20080516_tigers_diamondbacks_0_score_medium
[Click to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Eric Byrnes, +21.7%
Honorary mentions; Drew (+17.7%) and Pena (+16.7%)
God-emperor of suck: Conor Jackson, -11.6%

A good Friday night. Wasn't about in the Gameday Thread much, spent the game with Mrs. SnakePit instead, but kept an eye, just in case an overflow thread was needed. Not quite, but thanks for the contributions to friendly visiting fans busta and Redhawk, plus DbacksSkins, njjohn, foulpole, kishi, Muu, hotclaws, 4 Corners Fan, dahlian, UofAZGrad, IndyDBack, Azreous, unnamedDBacksfan, likeavirgin, TwinnerA, oklahomasooners and Wimb. The win, and a Dodgers loss, puts our divisional lead back up to 5.5 games. That's the best it's been this month, and is just a game off the largest of the season, last achieved on April 28.

Doug Davis's return to the rotation is looking likely to be May 23rd against Atlanta. He has what will hopefully be his last rehab start in Tucson tomorrow, so we'll keep an eye open and see how that goes. The aim is to get him stretched out to about 100 pitches - effectively, a full major-league outing - and then slot him in, replacing Max Scherzer. Of course, the word is that Mad Max will be taking his differently-colored eyes to the bullpen, which poses a tricky question - who there do we get rid of? I don't see many with minor-league options left down there.

That road-trip will likely also see Chad Tracy re-activated: he's continuing his rehab down in Tucson. Tracy has played in six games thus far, but is batting just .130 there, having gone 3-for-23 with no extra-base hits or walks to date. He has played mostly first-base and as designated hitter, with Jamie D'Antona tearing it up at third. D'Antona is batting a monstrous .425, though his plate-discipline could do with some work, since he has walked just twice in the first 38 games. Trot Nixon, the regular left-fielder for the Sidewinders, is also doing well after a slow start, and has a line of .321/.461/.571. We'll draw a veil over the pitching, however, since the ERAs there resemble ice-skating scores more than anything - there's an awful lot of fives and sixes...

We're off to Gilbert this afternoon to see a play a friend of ours is appearing in, so I'm going to post the Gameday Thread good and early. I know there's an auto-schedule feature in SB Nation 2.0, but I just don't trust this new-fangled technology as yet. ;-)