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Diamondbacks 3, Reds 2: Webb has 20/20 vision

Record: 72-74. Pace: 80-82. Change on last season: -10
Elimination number: 13. Playoff odds: 8.2%

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Oh, so that is what victory tastes like? Sour, somewhat gamey and not entirely satisfying? It's been so long, I had almost forgotten. Brandon Webb re-established himself as a pitcher, with eight innings of shut-out ball and, while the offense and Brandon Lyon both struggled mightily, Arizona ended the six-game losing streak. This was not a victory suitable for framing; it's the kind of win we probably would prefer to drop 'accidentally' down behind the fridge and forget ever existed. However, in comparison to results of the past week, we'll take it. Given the team are 2-0 my last two trips to the park and 3-13 in between them, I will be accepting donations to ensure our success going forward...

Webb finally won his twentieth game, becoming the first NL pitcher to get out of the 'teens since Dontrelle Wills in 2005. He's also the third Diamondback in franchise history to do so: the previous ones, of course, being Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who each did it in both 2001 and 2002. Along with Webb, our holy trinity of starters now own the top eight spots in the Arizona single-season wins list - the next best is Omar Daal, all the way down on sixteen in 1999. I was surprised to see him pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, since he was only at 95 pitches with a 1-0 lead - like most fans, I have a lot more faith in a tired Webb than a rested Lyon, though Webb admitted afterwards he was gassed. Still, even if the Reds line-up is not the strongest in the league, it was a great relief to see our ace is getting back on track.

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At long last... #20 arrives.

However, the key word there would be 'getting', as his sinker still didn't quite seem to be as dominating as we'd like. There were an awful lot of fly-balls: I'm not sure when was the last time Webb got nine outs in the air, but I don't think it has been any outing this year. That's a sign batters are getting under pitches, because they are expecting it to sink more - rather than them getting on top of it, and grounding weakly out to the infield, as they do when he's truly at his best. He had particular issues with his change-up: "They weren't swinging too much at it... I got a big strikeout there in the eighth inning with it, but overall it was mainly fastballs."

The offense struggled again, with just five hits. It was particularly apparent when we got aboard, since thereafter we basically couldn't move runners up by putting the ball in play at all. The only time we succeeded in doing so, was when Young singled home Eckstein from third in the sixth - and Mr. Scrappy only reached there, thanks to a two-base throwing error by the opposing pitcher [though I prefer to think of it as an infield triple...]. We didn't even advance anyone on a ground-out. If you wanted to move up a base, you had wait for a walk, advance on a wild pitch - or steal it yourself, like Reynolds and Drew.

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Dunn tries to get Salazar home from third.

Another them of our offense continued last night, as we struggled again, facing a starter whom the rest of the league has handled without issue. We didn't face Cueto as expected [Scherzer will get him on Sunday], instead it was Aaron Harang, who came into the game with a 4-15 record, the worst winning percentage in the majors of any pitcher with 15+ decisions. But he still managed to avoid allowing an earned run in seven innings of work. The only thing separating the two teams was Eckstein's high chopper off the plate, which Harang - rather than pocketing as he should [the way he'd been dealing with us, a runner on first was no big deal] , he fired wildly over to first, and the ball took a very kind ricochet down the line, letting Eckstein get to third.

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Mark. Mark, Mark, Mark... :-(

We were also helped out in the eighth, to add two extremely important insurance runs. Firstly, their RF misplayed Salazar's double down the line, allowing him to reach third-base. We still couldn't get any kind of clutch hit - both Drew and Reynolds striking out - but three walks, including a bases-loaded one to Dunn, and a wild pitch to Tracy (which he swung at, anyway) resulted in the lead being kindly padded to 3-0 before we got out of the eighth inning. Given we only had a miserly five hits - Eckstein and Young both reached twice, with a hit and a walk - that was more good fortune than anything else.

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The last of Lyon as our closer?

Okay, so does anyone want to keep Lyon as closer after another wretched outing tonight? He got the first two outs around a single, but that was it: three further singles then followed, to the growing discomfort of the crowd. The second brought the tying run to the plate and a stirring of discontent; the third loaded the bases, and the rumblings became palpable, like approaching thunder. And when a two-run single put the tying run on third-base, it became imperative to remove Lyon from the mound, for his own safely. Not so much from the crowd, perhaps, as from Brandon Webb, who could be forgiven for taking some practice swings in the dugout, even though he'd been pulled from the game. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

That brings his ERA since the break, in seventeen games, to 11.57, over which time opposing hitters are now batting .435 against him. It seems that even Melvin may have had enough, hinting darkly, "Tomorrow, we’ll deal with some of the issues that we need to take care of." I trust that will mean relegating Lyon to low-leverage situations from now until he becomes a free-agent at the end of the year. It's amazing how things change: back before (it appears) Melvin blew out our closer's arm, he was set fair to be a Type-A FA and we'd get two nice draft picks as a result. Now, I wouldn't even offer Lyon and his 5.23 ERA arbitration, for fear he would accept it.

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Still, the result is what matters, I guess...

Chad Qualls came in to bail out Lyon with the tying run on third, in a way reminiscent of the way Peña did at Chase on August 19. It's little wonder that the reaction from the crowd was less than enthusiastic for our soon-to-be-former closer, as he has converted only one save at Chase since July 19. Here's his line at home since the All-Star break:
    Lyon: 9.2 IP, 31 H, 20 R, 19 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 17.69 ERA
Yes, you read that correctly - 31 hits allowed in less than ten innings. As the relatively-low numbers of walks show, it's not particularly a control issue: he just isn't fooling anyone, though a monstrous BABIP of .470 in the second-half [not including last night] certainly is part of the problem. Anyway, Qualls struck out Jerry Hairston, Jr - I had momentary nightmares about the Reds sending up Micah Owings to pinch-hit! - and Webb got his twentieth, in rather more dramatic fashion than seemed likely after eight shutout innings.

Game notes

  • Crowd was just shy of 30,000, but there were a lot of late arrivals it seemed to me. They were also very, very passive, and I can't blame them: having watched the road-trip, it was up to the Diamondbacks to prove themselves to us. And after having got up with two outs in the ninth, only for Lyon to let us down three consecutive hitters, I deliberately stayed sitting for Qualls' final batter.
  • At least early on, it was a remarkably quick game: we were basically through six innings before 8 o'clock. However, the last two half-innings [five pitchers, three in-inning changes, fourteen hitters and 65 pitches] brought the game to a grinding halt. It ended up at 2:39, which seems long for a shutout. Heck, when we beat the Padres 9-0, it only took 2:17.
  • We didn't hang around for the fireworks: as soon as we heard it was going to be "country-themed", we headed for the exits like greased otters. I presume this was in 'honor' of Jessica Simpson's appearance there tonight  - what one workmate described as, and I quote without further comment, "Putting the ____ back into country."

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[Click to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Brandon Webb, +58.4%
Honorable mention: Chad Qualls, +16.6%
God-emperor of suck: Brandon Lyon, -13.1%
Dishonorable mention: Chris Snyder, -12.1%

Thanks to those who attended the Gameday Thread: from what I've seen, most of the comments there were a direct clone of what we were saying at the game! Present were unnamedDBacksfan, kishi, AZWILDCATS, AF DBacks Fanatic, foulpole, snakecharmer, Zephon, mrssoco, Muu, Scrbl, Quin, Diamondhacks, Azreous, damdrs1717 and utahdbacksfan.