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Diamondbacks 7, Nationals 5: Of St. Penelope and The E-Qualls-izer

Record: 46-46. Pace: 81-81. Change on last season: -3

There are those out there who may mock our beatification [look it up...] of Penelope Cruz, canonizing her as St. Penelope of the Cross. But even the nay-sayers would be hard pushed to discount the miracles that followed immediately the invocation of her name, on not one but two occasions tonight. The first time was to break up the perfect game being thrown by Bergmann in the fourth - he'd retired the first ten Diamondbacks batters in a row. Immediately, the very next hitter, Drew, singled - as did the one after him, Hudson. Still, St. Penelope was only warming up: breaking up no-hitters is what drew her to our cause to begin with.

Even more impressive was her performance in the bottom of the 10th, after Peña had blown our second save opportunity of the night, coughing up three runs, while retiring one batter. The winning run was at third with one out, and the plaintive cry, "Help us, St. Penelope, you're our only hope" rang through the Gameday Thread. And lo, our prayers were heard: Flores grounded out, and Montero survived being plowed into by Kearns at home-plate. Another ground-out followed, and the hopeless cause which is the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks lived to fight another inning - where Qualls finally managed to hold the third multi-run lead of the night.

Speaking of whom: all previous bad things said about Qualls are officially stricken from the record after his past trio of performances. In two of them, he came in with an inherited runner at third and one out, and that runner did not score [and the third was a 1-2-3 inning]. Mark Grace had an interesting observation, saying that he thinks Qualls is more effective when he takes a bit off his pitches, the increased movement making up for the lower velocity. I can see how that's the case, and Qualls has now retired the last ten batters he has faced, and pitched out of a couple of very sticky situations, not of his making. As an illustration, let's take a look at the Fangraph for this game. And remember, the louder you scream, the faster we go...

[Click to enlarge, in new window...IF YOUR HEART CAN STAND IT!!!]
Master of his domain: Chad Tracy, +44.7%
Honorable mentions: Qualls +42.7%; Haren +31.6%; Drew 26.6%;
Hudson +13.6%; Romero +11.8%
God-emperor of suck: Tony Peña, -78.6%
Dishonorable mention: Lyon -16.5%; Young -16.4%

A picture is worth a thousand words, though most of the words caused by the above were unrepeatable in polite society. I think this fangraph sets new records in a number of areas. Most AZ players at +10% or above: seven [Special K was at 10.1%, but for reasons I'm sure we'll mention shortly, he deserves no "honorable mention"]. Worst performance in a winning cause: Peña, -78.6%. And best performance in a losing cause goes to Austin Kearns of the Nationals, who ended the day at a staggering +77.5%, even as his team was defeated.

How, exactly, did this happen? How did Arizona turn an excellent first eight innings by Dan Haren into...that? Well let's start by asking Bob Melvin, who opted to send Haren out there for the ninth, though he was at 104 pitches, in pursuit of a meaningless complete-game shutout. Even after Haren walked the lead-off man, getting his pitch-count up to 110, his manager opted to leave him out there, and a single promptly followed, putting the tying run on base. Finally, at least one and perhaps two batters too late, Melvin went to Lyon for a save that had, quite unnecessarily, become a great deal more difficult than it would have been.

Exhibit B: Mark Reynolds. Lyon allowed a single to load the bases, still with no-one out, but then got Kearns to hit a grounder to third. Special K, however, backed up and let the ball play him; instead of a nice double-play, it went right past him into left-field, and two runs scored to tie the game. Worse was to follow, as two outs later, he clanked yet another ground-ball, loading the bases and forcing Lyon to get a fifth out in the inning. While fortunately, our closer was up to the task, added to another error in the game, it left Reynolds with three on the day, and a major-league leading eighteen on the season. Do have to wonder whether a Ryan Braun-like move to left-field might be best for all concerned? Oh, hang on... :-( [Stats LLC said that, had Washington not scored, we'd have become the first teams to play each other in five straight shutout games for 28 years]

Reynolds did redeem himself somewhat in the tenth, as our offense girded its loins [Chris Snyder was excused loin-girding, for obvious reasons] and posted a three-spot on four straight hits with two outs. It started in fortunate fashion, Rauch - at 6'11" the tallest pitcher ever in the majors - unable to field a half-swing from Jackson. Tracy and Reynolds followed with RBI doubles, and Montero added a third run to the cushion. That hit rejuvenated our Win Probability to 96%, after it had dropped as low as 18.1% during that troublesome ninth. Surely, Tony Peña would come in and lock down the save in the bottom of the tenth - especially as Reynolds had been removed for the defensive wizardry which is Augie Ojeda.

Er, no. Pestileñce allowed hits to four of the first five hitters he faced, and the lead evaporated entirely - that Win Probability collapsed entirely, going all the way back down to 17%. As noted above, Qualls - with a little help from St. Penelope - turned back the tide, and handed things over to the offense. Ojeda got plunked to lead off the eleventh, was bunted to second, and came home on a double by Drew. After Hudson was walked, Jackson delivered another hit, but Drew was thrown out at home - with only one out, seemed a bit questionable to send the runner from third, rather than keep the bases loaded. However, Tracy added an insurance run to make it 7-5, and Qualls pitched a remarkably stress-free 1-2-3 inning to give us what we should have had all along - a two-run margin of victory.

We might want to play extra innings more often, based on this performance, as our offense clearly loved it - they got seven hits in the tenth and eleventh, which is exactly the same number as the first nine innings combined. Drew, Jackson and Tracy all had three-hit days, while Hudson had two hits and a walk. Particularly pleased to see Tracy getting hot - they're picking the match-ups for him, but in eight July games, he is batting .407 [11-for-27] with six RBI. Chris Young went 0-for-5 and continues to struggle a bit: since June 20 he is now hitting .203 with only five walks, for an OBP of just .257. Yet Melvin continues to bat him lead-off.

Lost in this was another brilliant outing by Haren, who pitched eight innings, allowing three hits, two walks and two runs (one earned) while striking out a season-high nine Nationals. That's his eighth quality start in a row, even if Haren only has been credited with the win in three of those. His ERA over that time is 1.45, with a K:BB ratio of 52:11. If there is a hotter pitcher in the National League over the past month and a half, I'd be surprised, and it would be no shock if his next appearance is starting the All-Star Game for the National League on Tuesday. It'd certainly be well-deserved.

A "somewhat tense" Gameday Thread today, and we surged past 800 as a result - pleased to see some new (or newish!) faces, so a formal welcome to NewJackCity, AF DBacks Fanatic and MamaLing. There was also a good turnout of regulars: Zephon, srdmad, kishi, nihil67, 4 Corners Fan, Muu, Scrbl, TwinnerA, Azreous, Counsellmember, soco, Wimb, mrssoco, Geno Ardi, golfmanthee, ChandlerDad, hotclaws, SongBird, garyho, dstorm and Diamondhacks. The net result is that we did indeed take two out of three in Washington, ugly and lumpy though this last victory was. The Dodgers are still playing - tied 4-4 with Florida in the eighth as I write - but at the very least, we will be tied for first as we head off to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks and the Phanatic, quite possibly the finest mascot in all baseball. If the games are less pulse-pounding than this one, I wouldn't mind too much!