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Diamondbacks 4, Cardinals 2: A game of inches, and AZ inches closer

Record: 79-77. Pace: 82-80. Change on last season: -9
Elimination number: 5. Playoff odds: 10.4%

With his 121st and final delivery of the evening, the tying run in scoring position, and a full count on the best hitter in the National League, Webb threw what might just be the most important pitch of his life. For Albert Pujols swung over the top of the change-up, striking out to end the threat. It was hardly the end of the drama - more on that shortly - but the Diamondbacks bullpen held on from there to close out a crucial victory that moves them within two games of the Dodgers at the head of the NL West.

That's closer than the sides have been at any point in the past couple of weeks. While the Dodgers are still prohibitive favorites for the division, the Diamondbacks have now won seven of their last eight and, there's no doubt, the pressure is shifting onto Los Angeles. They're a streaky team, as capable of losing eight in a row as winning eight - having done both, back-to-back, in the past month - and mentally, they're going to need to stand tough and get a couple of wins between now and Thursday. Facing what looks like Peavy, Hennessey, Cain and Lincecum in their last four games... Not the pitchers I want to see if I'm needing victories.

Back at Busch Stadium, there were any number of turning points. What if the Cardinals' third-base coach had sent Izturis home on a single to Chris Young, rather than holding - and ultimately, stranding - him at third? What if, with men on second and third and no outs in the eighth, Troy Glaus had not broken forward on a liner to Eckstein, being easily doubled-off second as a result? What if Brandon Webb had not been called safe at first, ending the fourth inning before Drew's RBI double gave the Diamondbacks the lead for good? The outcome could have been very different.

This was one of the nights where Bob 'The Mad Scientist' Melvin's every move turned to gold, though I'd rather be wrong for the right reasons than the other way round. Our ace had already thrown a season-high number of pitches before he faced Pujols: Melvin left him out there. Webb ended up with his longest outing in over four years, since tossing 124 on July 26, 2004, but allowed two runs over seven innings, to pick up his 22nd win and shave his ERA down to 3.24. He balked a run home in the opening frame, attempting to repeat the 'fake to third, throw to first' move which, astonishingly, actually worked to catch Lopez off first, moments before, The barking of the Cards' first-base coach after may have influenced the umpire, because the two moves looked pretty identical to me.

That evened things up, Arizona having taken the lead on an RBI double by Jackson in the top of the first, that scored Stephen Drew. Our shortstop then, as noted above, drove in the second run in the fourth and combined those two acts, driving in and scoring our third run, with his 20th homer of the season in the sixth. That adds Drew to the elite, if somewhat contrived, club of shortstops with 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers in the same season: it now consists of Robin Yount, who did it twice, Nomar Garciaparra and Drew.

Is it better than, say, Ernie Banks, who had 47 homes and 11 triples but "only" 23 doubles in 1958? Of course not. But there's no denying that Drew has offensively blossomed this season, into the player we thought we were getting with our first-round pick in 2004. He's been incandescent in September: three more hits tonight gives him a line of .338/.366/.688 for the month, and fifteen of his 26 knocks have gone for extra bases. This is similar, but on a much larger scale, to what he did last year, when September was also his best month, and he then hit .387 in the playoffs. Here's to more of that from Drew. He ended up a triple shy of hitting for the cycle twice in the same month against the same team. [Only two players have cycled twice in one year, most recently Babe Herman in 1931 for Brooklyn.]

Conor Jackson also had a couple of hits, while Dunn walked twice; Reynolds and Eckstein each had a hit and a walk, though Special K fanned twice, to bring him one short of tying Ryan Howard's single-season K record. The only non-Drew related run we scored, came courtesy of more Melvin magic. He was going to pinch-hit for Webb with Tony Clark in the top of the eighth, but went with Chad Tracy instead, who promptly laced an RBI double into the gap in right-center. On the other hand, among the moves that didn't work was Chip Hale's ludicrous decision to send Webb home, trying to score our pitcher all the way from first-base. The Cards' catcher had enough time to catch the ball, turn towards the runner, compose several chapters of his autobiography and watch the entire first season of Lost before Webb chugged into frame.

Sending Brandon Lyon in for the eighth with a two-run lead was another decision that worked out a great deal better than it should have. He allowed a single and a double to lead off the inning, but then Troy Glaus reverted to Little League level, failing to freeze on a line-drive, which Eckstein grabbed and flipped to Drew on second for an extremely unexpected but entirely welcome double-play. +33.5% on Win Probability, right there. A fly-out ended the inning with Lyon having posted the most stress-inducing zero I've seen in a very long time. After surviving that, Qualls "only" bringing the tying run to the plate with one out, hardly counted as nerve-wracking, though I was mighty glad to see Pujols stranded in the on-deck circle, rather than representing the winning run.

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Master of his domain: Brandon Webb, +24.4%
Highly-honorable mention: Drew, +20.2%. Honorable mention: Tracy, +12.0%
God-emperor of suck: Chris Snyder, -10.4%

A busy Gameday Thread, crammed to capacity. Present were: DbacksSkins, kishi, hotclaws, AJforAZ, foulpole, luckycc, Diamondhacks, LucaMaz3, Scrbl, TwinnerA, Frank Squishy, unnamedDBacksfan, Gravity, emilylovesthedbacks, 4 Corners Fan, snakecharmer, acidtongue, Snakebitten, shoewizard, singaporedbacksfan, njjohn, damdrs1717, soco, Quin, mrssoco and pepperdinedevil, so thanks to all of them for their contributions. It was certainly a tense affair, with that Webb-Pujols at-bat one that will last in our memories for some time. Of course, it may be entirely meaningless in the larger scheme of things, but the victory keeps Arizona alive.

Six games left: the Dodgers go 3-3 and the Diamondbacks go 5-1. Then it's Kershaw vs. Scherzer next Monday. That's how I'm calling it down the final stretch. Hey, it's good enough for dream purposes, and the Diamondbacks have done their bit to keep the hope flickering for another day. Webb now turns the ball over to Johnson, in a game that's probably the one in this series I'm least confident of winning. However, if we can find some way to put this one into the W column before the Dodgers start against the Padres, it'll be another huge boost. We'll see what tomorrow may bring,