Dan Haren opted to follow in the footsteps of Brandon Webb's last start: have a disastrous first inning, then be steady as a rock thereafter. While, unlike Webb, Haren didn't quite manage to pick up the victory, he did give his team-mates a chance to climb back into things, with crucial two-run hits coming from, first, Justin Upton, and then a pinch-hit eighth-inning double by Chad Tracy that broke a 4-4 tie.
A win looked extremely unlikely in the first inning, where Haren couldn't get anyone out, and was not aided by the latest in a line of defensive blunders. He'd already allowed a walk and two doubles, retiring just one of four hitters faced, when he got Atkins to ground out weakly in front of home-plate. Montero moved forward to grab the ball and threw to Dunn at first. But Hawpe, who had been on second, noticed that no-one was now covering home, and motored all the way round, past third, to make the score 3-0 to Colorado. Why does it seem that we never get to benefit from that kind of astute base-running?
The offense got off to a shaky start too. We got men on - seven of our first nine outs were with runners aboard - but moving them over proved problematic, and as for any hits with someone in scoring position? Well, the story in the first half proved the same as we've seen, in all too great abundance, of late. However, Justin Upton clubbed his 15th homer of the year and Stephen Drew followed with a shot described by one of the commentators as "unbelievable." Er, it was his 21st of the year, meaning only Reynolds has more: that seems pretty believable to me, but whatever. It narrowed the gap to 3-2.
Meanwhile, Haren found the 'on' switch for his talent, to mow down the Rockies like summer hay. He struck out the side in the second, giving him 200 K's for the season. He took the ball in question from the umpire, but it looks like he made the fatal mistake of flipping it to Dunn - who, not realizing the significance of the souvenir, promptly lobbed it into the stands, If you have that baseball, please return it to D. Haren, c/o Chase Field. I'm sure he'd be very grateful. Dan allowed only three singles and no runs from the 2nd-6th, getting the last of his nine K's to open the seventh. He was tiring, however, and back-to-back doubles drove in a run for the Rockies. Still, he finished the night memorably, snagging a searing line drive off the bat of Smith, then calmly flipping to Drew covering second for the double-play.
A few thoughts on Haren, while I'm here. I can't agree with the Purple Row assertion that, "clearly Arizona had more in mind when it traded for him last winter." I beg to differ. Even though Haren was very unlucky - he had a 2.79 ERA in his nine no-decisions - his presence means that only one other NL team bar Arizona has two pitchers with 16+ wins [the Cubs, thanks to Dempster and Lilly]. His ERA+ of 137 is exactly the same as it was last season, and he set a career-high in strikeouts while posting a K:BB ratio of better than 5:1, the highest by any NL pitcher since 2004. No, I think that Haren has been everything that we wanted when Josh Byrnes pulled the trigger on him.
Mind you, the same PR piece says, "The Diamondbacks lacked the depth to deal with...the tired arm of Brandon Webb." Webb? Tired? He has won three consecutive starts, allowed four runs in 22 innings and threw 121 pitches last time out. The very least of our issues, this season in general and down the stretch in particular. Rox Girl also reckons we only have two years left, "before the effects of age start ravaging the current team and a weak farm system will cause it to collapse inward." Of course, if you read the off-season piece with her 2008 expectations, you'll know she's not exactly Nostradamus. I particularly liked this: "The Rockies, meanwhile, will have another decent middle of the rotation arm ready with Greg Reynolds should Ubaldo Jimenez succumb." Yeah, that Greg Reynolds: 2-8 with an 8.26 ERA in 13 starts, and ignominiously yanked from the start today.
The fourth Colorado run off Haren tied the game, as Arizona had finally got a couple a couple of hits with runners in scoring position. The team hit for the cycle in the fifth. After Drew's homer made it a one-run game, Eckstein doubled down the left-field line and Jackson singled him to third with a bullet. Justin Upton then drove a ball all the way to the wall in left-center, allowing both men to score. Drew and Eckstein each had two hits and a walk, while Upton and Miguel Montero delivered two hits. However, the biggest blow likely came in the eighth, after Montero doubled and Salazar walked. Chad Tracy came off the bench, hooked the ball down the right-field line into the corner, and two runs scored, giving Arizona a 6-4 lead.
Qualls nailed it down with a stress-free 1-2-3 ninth, on two strikeouts [yay - Thirsbusters all round!] and a weak groundout. He has another decent scoreless streak going, currently at 13.2 innings. In that time he has allowed six hits and one walk, while fanning eleven. Also worth noting, only one of the seven runners which he has inherited, have come around to score. Given that man was on third with nobody out when Qualls entered the game, we can hardly blame him for that. I feel that I am recovering from my mid-season attack of Q-fever [the symptom of which was nausea whenever he appeared out of the bullpen] and am now feeling okay with the prospect of him closing for us next year.
Quickly: among D-backs with 150+ AB this year, who has the highest OPS? Congratulations if you answered Stephen Drew, whose .838 passed Conor Jackson (.829) and Justin Upton (.833) last night. To continue this quiz-themed paragraph, it's time for a spot of Baseball Jeopardy. What are Stephen Drew and Hanley Ramirez? No, not "Your mother," Mr. Connery. The correct answer is, "The only major-league shortstops with an OPS better than .835 and 200+ PAs this season." Drew's figure is more than 50 points above reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins (.787), Derek Jeter (.771) or Miguel Tejada (.732). He really deserves to get some MVP love of his own this winter.
- Tonight's giveaway on entering the park was a pamphlet entitled Guide to Post-Season Viewing. Now not included: your Arizona Diamondbacks. Way to rub it in, at the very first game since we were eliminated.
- The roof was open, which surprised me a bit, but I had no complaints - always prefer baseball under a natural sky, especially for our last game of the year. It was perfectly comfortable in our seats: better than the previous one, where the roof was closed, but the humidity still sucked.
- It was disturbing to look at the scoreboard and see that our pitcher had a higher batting average for AZ than two of our position players, Salazar and Eckstein. It was even more disturbing to realize it was not Micah pitching.
- Thanks to the kind ladies of Section 120-121, who let us perch atop there to eat our garlic fries, even though we technically didn't have tickets.
- Since there's a $200m jackpot or thereabouts tonight, we stopped off and played the Powerball at the stand just inside and to the left of the rotunda, using the number of our favorite D-backs as a guide. If Augie Ojeda is the Powerball, we might end up buying the entire team.
- I snagged a D-votion T-shirt in the Aquafina T-shirt toss, though ended up bleeding like a stuck pig, thanks to gouges inflicted by the nails of the harpies behind me, as they tried to wrench it from me. Hah! Never try to come between a Scotsman and something free. :-)
- I believe Mrs. SnakePit and I also made it onto TV, doing the dance just before Tracy's eighth-inning go-ahead hit. We did notice the cameras pointed at us and got a phonecall immediately afterwards from shoe, letting us know his wife had seen us. No mention of it in the Gameday Thread though: was everyone else asleep?
[Click to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Chad Tracy, +34.4%
Extremely-honorable mention: Justin Upton, +30.4%
Honorable mention: Cruz, +10.9%; Drew, +10.4%
God-emperor of suck: Adam Dunn, -18.4%
Dishonorable mention: Dan Haren, -11.6%
Looked like a fun and active Gameday Thread [final tally: Snakepit 415 comments, Purple Row, 27]: despite the political undertones, everything remained civil, so kudos to all concerned for that. There are many sites that won't even permit mention of political topics, for the ferocious nature of the results; I'm glad to see we don't have to be one of them Present were Azreous, DbacksSkins, kishi, snakecharmer, emilylovesthedbacks, soco, Zephon, TwinnerA, Scrbl, nargel, foulpole, AZWILDCATS, unnamedDBacksfan, 4 Corners Fan and damdrs1717.
interesting piece suggesting that Montero could see some playing time at third-base next year. He'll be working on that - probably in the Venezuelan winter league, but possibly also in the Arizona Fall League - during the off-season, and the aim is clearly to try and get his left-handed bat into the line-up more often, an area which the Diamondbacks have been perilously thin this year. Might make things even tougher for Chad Tracy - one wonders if this is the precursor to an off-season trade of him? I have a feeling we could be selling low on a player once again, and that he is still not quite 100% back from his knee surgery. But there's something of a domino theory in effect: Tracy's future could, quite possibly, depend on whether ownership manages to shift Eric Byrnes this off-season.