Record: 79-78. Pace: 82-80. Change on last season: -9
Elimination number: 3. Playoff odds: wafer-thin
Both sides put men on the corners with no outs in the opening inning. However, that's where any similarities ended. Arizona failed to capitalize: Jackson flew out and, after an intentional walk to Dunn, Upton struck out and Young grounded out. The Diamondbacks were 0-for-3 with men in scoring position that frame, and left the bases loaded. In the same situation, however, St. Louis poured on the clutch blows, with the key hit a three-run homer to Ryan Ludwig with one out, which made the score 4-0. It is never a *good* sign when any chance of a quality start from your starting pitcher has departed before he has retired two batters, and the Diamondbacks never came within two runs the rest of the way.
It was, therefore, probably understandable that my enthusiasm for the game was struggling, even before I got to The Sets and discovered that some technical issue stopped me from being able to follow the game in progress. I was thus limited to the odd trip through to the bar, where things were unfolding pretty much as expected. Arizona kept trying to claw their way back into proceedings - a two-run homer by Young here, a solo shot from Montero there. For a little while, it seemed like there was still hope the Diamondbacks could climb out of the hole and turn this into a contest, if only we could stop the Cardinals from scoring more.
But Johnson gave up an infield hit to his opposing number (his effort to field it was somewhat feeble. it must be said) who then scored on a double. The Big Unit ended up allowing five runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings, and the loss means his record is now 10-10, with just Sunday's start to go. He needs to win that one, or he'll have his first non-winning season [min. 20 starts] since 1989. Win 295 remained elusive for Johnson, and I sense he is flagging - he has struck out only eight batters over his last nineteen innings, just one this evening. Rather than ramping up his effort for a playoff-caliber start, this was very disappointing. “I haven’t been this frustrated since 2004,” Johnson said. “Without a doubt it’s been frustrating since the All-Star break for me.” Us too, Randy: us, too...
Any faint chance of Arizona coming back into this, came to an abrupt end, thanks to Melvin's choice of seventh-inning relievers: The Biggest Loser, Jon '6-11 and 0-6' Rauch. It took a brilliant catch by Jackson [which I did see on one of my trips through] to get the first out, and four blistered hits followed, scoring two runs and putting the game once again beyond the Diamondbacks' reach, before Snyder gunned down Pujols as he tried to steal second, mercifully ending the inning. Quite what Melvin's thought-process was, in his decision... Well, I don't know. In 26 games with Arizona, Rauch's ERA is now 6.17: using him when we're only two runs down, in a crucial game, seems hard to explain. Juan Cruz hasn't pitched since last Thursday. For what, exactly, is Melvin saving him? A Zambranoesque post-season?
On offense, Jackson continued to produce, getting three hits and raising his average back above .300. Upton had a hit and a walk and, as noted above, there were homers for Young (his 21st) and Montero (6th). Reynolds wasn't in the lineup tonight, so remained on 198 strikeouts, one short of the all-time mark. However, Ryan Howard did play, and went 2-for-2, meaning he is three behind Special K on 195. With five games left, it looks likely Reynolds will end up short of the thirty homers and 100+ RBI he looked likely to get earlier in the season. One homer and two RBI in 60 at-bats [with 27 K's] since September 2nd have seen to that.
Going 4-0 down in the first inning is never a good thing for Gameday Thread participation, and the tone was understandably downbeat from then on. Present were LucaMaz3, Azreous, Zephon, mrssoco, kishi, DbacksSkins, luckycc, ASUJon, Diamondhacks, TwinnerA, Frank Squishy, hotclaws, snakecharmer, Wimb, Shums, damdrs1717, shoewizard, 4 Corners Fan, Lisalisa8 [welcome!], Scrbl and njjohn. Things were little better elsewhere, the Padres' starter living up to expectations by allowing six runs to the Dodgers in the first inning. They're still playing, but as our rivals are 10-1 up, it almost certainly reduces our elimination number to three, sending us three games behind LA with five to play.
There was some good news, Tim Lincecum took a pounding in San Francisco - four runs in just 4.1 innings, raising his ERA to 2.58. That game is still going on too, but with the Rockies ahead 8-3 in the seventh, it looks likely that Lincecum's record will fall to 17-5, moving Webb another step closer to his second Cy Young. The pendulum has swung back there, it seeming that the award is now Webb's to lose once more. A win in his final outing of the season on Saturday - and against the Rockies' utterly-inept Reynolds, that seems extremely likely - should seal it.
However, the focus between now and then has to be entirely on the team winning their own games. Tonight's loss, while a setback, was not entirely unexpected: I had basically penciled this contest in as our margin for error. It's gone now.
But the best news of the night was likely that that the Yankees were officially eliminated from the post-season. Yes, for the first time since well before I moved out to America, these playoffs will be entirely NYY-free. The sun is shining a little brighter this morning as a result.