Sandwiched around two division winners, the 2003 and 2000 Diamondbacks ended up with very similar season numbers and results.
The 2000 team, coming off a 102-win season in 1999, lead the NL West by narrow margins all the way up through July 30th. But they were caught and passed by eventual division winner San Francisco Giants on August 1st. On August 20th the team came back from a 4 run deficit to beat the Chicago Cubs behind Cy Young Winner Randy Johnson to get back to within half a game with a 70-53 record.
From there they slumped badly though, going 15-24 the rest of the way to end up in 3rd place, 12 games behind the Giants. The frustrations for the 2000 team centered mostly on reduced offense from the previous season. Big drop-offs from 34-year olds Jay Bell and Matt Williams being the most conspicuous. The mid-season acquisition of Phillies ace Curt Schilling failed to spark the team back into the playoffs.
In contrast the 2003 team started off very slowly, and were already 10.5 games out as early as April 25th. Beset by injury, the team was still 5 games under .500 at 28-33 on June 6th. Randy Johnson suffered a knee injury, and Curt Schilling missed time with appendicitis. Schilling pitched well when he came back though and his season ERA, ERA+, FIP, and SO/BB numbers mirrored his previous two seasons. Junior Spivey, an all-star in 2002, missed time with injury and didn’t hit very much when available.
This was the year of the “Baby ‘Backs”, and for a time they created excitement and a mid-season run. Brandon Webb emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Alex Cintron had a career year, batting .317 and manning shortstop. Matt Kata and Robby Hammock became fan favorites. A thrilling 23-6 run from June 7th to July 9th got them within 4 games of the Giants at 51-39. But it wasn’t sustainable, and from there the team went 33-39 the rest of the way, again finishing 3rd, 16.5 games back
The starting pitchers for this game are Ace 1a vs Ace 1b. 2003 manager Bob Brenly could have gone with Webb over Schilling, but simply could not pass up the chance for the marquee match-up.
2000 Manager Buck Showalter went with his mostly standard line-up, while Brenly tried to generate some offense by inserting right- handed veterans Shea Hillenbrand, Raul Mondesi, and Carlos Baerga into the lineup.
This game is set up for a classic pitching duel. In the unlikely event that it comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the 2003 team probably has the advantage. Closer Matt Mantei had a bad, injury marred season in 2000, while in 2003 he was pretty good while in there. Overall the 2003 team might have had the best bullpen in franchise history, posting the highest fWAR in franchise history.
#8 2003 Arizona Diamondbacks 3, #9 2000 Arizona Diamondbacks 5
Erubiel Durazo came off the bench and delivered in the clutchiest way imaginable, hitting a go-ahead grand-slam of Curt Schilling as the 2000 D-backs came from behind to beat the 2003 edition of the team. The slam made a winner of Randy Johnson, even though he was not at his sharpest, allowing three runs on six hits over six innings, though did strike out seven. It tagged Schilling with the L, giving up all five runs over 5.2 innings. His control cost him: two of the three runners who scored ahead of Durazo reached base via the walk.
After a quiet first on both sides, the bottom half of 2003’s order got it done in the second. Alex Cintron and Junior Spivey hit singles and, with two out, Danny Bautista (2003) skied one to center that fell in for a double. With two men out, both runners were going on contact and were able to score, giving 2003 a 2-0 lead. 2000 clawed one back in the bottom of the inning. Greg Colbrunn drew the first of Schilling’s five walks, advanced to second on a groundout, and then came home on a Bautista (2000) single to right-center.
The third and fourth innings were generally quiet, though 2000 left the bases loaded in the bottom of the third. 2003 restored their two-run advantage in the fifth. Bautista singled with one out, and was bunted over to second by Schilling. Craig Counsell (2003) then came through with a two-out hit, dropping a bloop single in that allowed Bautista to score, putting 2003 up by a 3-1 margin. That remained the score as we entered the bottom of the sixth inning.
Schilling walked Colbrunn to lead off the inning, and a wild pitch advanced the runner. However, Steve Finley fouled out, and Bautista (2000) went down swinging, so it looked like Schilling might escape. But Counsell (2000) walked and Damian Miller singled, loading the bases, albeit with the pitcher’s spot up. Even though Johnson was only at 76 pitches, manager Biuck Showalter needed the offense, so yanked his ace, and sent up Erubiel Durazo to pinch-hit for the Big Unit. He promptly lined a pitch into the left-field bleachers for a grand-slam and a 5-3 lead to 2000.
That marked the end of Schilling’s night, as he sadly trudged off the mound. Three of the five walks allowed came around to score: that’s actually more free passes than Curt ever allowed in a game for the Diamondbacks. He gave up just the four hits and struck out five. Johnson was also done, and both bullpens did their job, preventing further scoring. For 2003, Jose Valverde got four outs and Oscar Villarreal the last three. But 2000 got three scoreless innings from Byung-Hyun Kim, Greg Swindell and Matt Mantei to close out their victory. 2003 did put the first two men on in the eighth, but both men were stranded.
Counsell and Bautista each had a pair of hits for 2003, while Jay Bell reached base three times for 2000 on a hit and two walks. But good contact was hard to come by, with Bautista’s two-RBI double the only extra base hit for either side, outside of Durazo’s slice of salami. 2000 prevail, and now move on to face their immediate predecessors and top seeds, 1999 in the quarter-finals. However, both those teams started Randy Johnson in their first-round match-up, so will have to delve further into their rotation for that match-up.
The next Sweet Sixteen match-up sees the most recent D-backs playoff team, the fourth-seeded 2017 squad have home advantage. They’ll be taking on the #12 seeds, the 2012 roster, who made their way past 1998 in a preliminary round match-up. That will take place on the next off-day, which is this Friday - when the Diamondbacks should have been traveling to Mexico City for their series against the Padres.
Who will win?
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