When the series preview was posted early this afternoon, the smart money seemed to be on Taylor Widener missing his start due to “cold-like symptoms” over the last several days, which seemed like it was maybe code for covid, especially given the mini-outbreak that has eaten into the roster time of Noe Ramirez, Joe Mantiply, Stuart Fairchild, and now Merrill Kelly over the last week or so. Happily, however, that turned out not to be the case, and Widener took the mound against the still-in-contention Phillies, who are locked in a three-way dogfight with Atlanta and the New York Mets for the NL East’s one likely playoff berth.
Widener got off to a strong start, at least relatively speaking, striking out the first two batters he faced before surrendering a five-pitch walk to Bryce Harper. Former Diamondback Didi Gregorius then hit a towering fly ball to Pavin Smith in right that sounded bad off the bat but wound up being an easy play for Smith that didn’t even make it to the warning track. That got Widener through his first inning of work with only 17 pitches thrown, which is high to be sure, but given what we’ve seen from Widener in his first inning in recent starts, it was a very welcome improvement.
Josh Rojas led off the bottom of the frame against Phillies starter Kyle Gibson, and singled to shallow center on the second pitch he saw. Dude just keeps hitting....he’s on fire right now, and it was nice to see it continue. Gibson only needed eight more pitches, though, to sit Ketel Marte, Smith, and Asdrubel Cabrera down, with Rojas still standing on first at inning’s end.
Widener walked two in the second. The first was a leadoff walk to Andrew McCutchen, who advanced to second on a deep fly ball to Peralta in left for the first out of the inning. Widener notched his third K of the game for the second out, and then issued an intentional pass to Phillies center fielder Travis Jankowski so that he could record the last out against the pitcher. It worked, so all good. Another 18 pitches thrown, though, putting Widener’s count at 35.
Peralta and Christian Walker sat down on a grounder and a flyout to right in the bottom half, again not good or patient at bats, before Josh VanMeter came up and shot a ball back up the middle that rebounded off Gibson’s glove and dribbled out into shallow right center. If it had gone through cleanly, it was only going to be a single at best, but VanMeter rounded first and just kept motoring, and wound up at second with an unexpected standup double. Daulton Varsho then drew a walk, bringing up Widener, who grounded out to Gibson on the mound. So a second inning with runners on, and no dice, but hey, at least we’d cleared the pitcher’s spot.
Widener recorded two quick outs against the top of the order to begin what looked like it might be a nice, efficient third. Then Bryce Harper came up again, and Widener went to a 3-1 count against him, just like in the first, before leaving a four-seam meatball toward the top of the zone that Harper turned on and sent over the fence and into the pool area. Gregorius then singled to right center, but Widener induced McCutchen to pop out to VanMeter at second to avoid further damage. Despite the run and the single, Widener only took 12 pitches to get through this inning, bringing his pitch count to 48. 1-0 Philadelphia
Rojas led off the bottom of the third for us, and once more singled to center to give us a leadoff baserunner. Once more, sadly, Marte, Smith, and Cabrera sat down in order, though grounders to first by Marte and Smith at least allowed Rojas to advance to third before he was stranded by Cabrera’s second strikeout looking in three innings. But every journey begins with a single, halting step, right?
Widener, meanwhile, retired the Phillies in order in both the fourth and the fifth, only needing ten pitches in each inning to do so, which put him at a perfectly respectable 68 pitches through five. He seemed to have settled into a groove, and was looking good. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, went down in order in the bottom of the fourth, before beginning to make some trouble in the bottom of the fifth.
Daulton Varsho led off the bottom of the fifth and rocketed a line drive double down the line to right that went all the way to the corner. Apparently Widener had a short leash tonight, though, despite how well he’d pitched so far, because Drew Ellis came on to pinch hit for him, and struck out looking. That turned the lineup over for Rojas, though, who drove a ball into the left center field gap that also rolled to the wall for a double, plating Varsho:
3-3 and Josh Rojas ties the game @Dbacks | #RattleOn pic.twitter.com/Dcx9JLAbOa— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) August 18, 2021
That got Widener off the hook for a possible L, but I for one was hopeful that we might do a bit more and get Widener in line for an actual W. Ketel Marte hit a single to third that wound up going for an infield hit after Phillies third baseman Ronald Torreyes wasn’t able to make an on-target throw to first. Rojas alertly advanced to third, putting runners on the corners with only one out. Sadly, however, Pavin Smith grounded into a 3-6-3 double play, keeping Widener stuck with the no-decision. 1-1 TIE
Miguel Aguilar, a relatively new addition to our bullpen, took the mound for the top of the sixth, and despite sporting a 13.50 ERA thus far, managed to retire Harper, Gregorius and McCutchen on all of nine pitches, so that was cool. Asdrubel Cabrera and David Peralta then continued their undistinguished nights at the plate by grounding out to second on one and four pitches respectively. Christian Walker drew a five-pitch walk from Gibson, which was nice, but not nearly as nice as VanMeter’s follow-up, which he sent just barely far enough over the fence in right:
A wall-scraper from Josh VanMeter gives the D-backs a lead!@Dbacks | #RattleOn pic.twitter.com/bNaIy83oZW— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) August 18, 2021
Varsho struck out looking to end the frame, but we were finally out front! 3-1 D-BACKS
And not to kill the suspense or anything, but the lead wound up holding up. Our bullpen was a little bit sloppy in the seventh, thanks to Aguilar giving way after recording the first out to JB Wendelken (
who is sorta like JB Bukausas except oh, never mind, our bullpen is just our bullpen at this point, we all have come to terms with that), who recorded the final two outs but also gave up two walks. Taylor Clarke pitched a one-two-three eighth, but did so mildly uncomfortably thanks to all three outs being recorded on more or less deep fly balls to center, to left, and finally to right. Clarke is playing with fire a bit, it feels like. The Diamondbacks did nothing more on offense in their half of either inning, so it was up to Tyler Clippard to close it out for us in the top of the ninth.
To be fair, he managed to do so, but not at all cleanly. He honestly didn’t seem to know where any pitch he threw was going to wind up once it left his hand. He struck McCutchen out looking on a full count to start the inning, then surrendered a deep double to the wall just right of straightaway center to Phillies first baseman Brad Miller, then a sacrifice fly to deep right that advanced Miller to third. He walked Travis Jankowski on five pitches to bring the winning run at the plate in the guise of pinch hitter Eric Bohm, to whom he uncorked a wild pitch that got past Varsho and rolled to the backstop. Clippard, for the record, didn’t even bother covering home while Varsho chased the ball down, and Miller scored to bring the margin to within one. Thankfully, however, Clippard finally ended things by getting Bohm to fly out to left. 3-2 D-BACKS
Win Probability Added, courtesy of FanGraphs
Ninja Turtles: Josh VanMeter (3 AB, 2 H, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, +29.4% WPA). Josh Rojas (4 AB, 3 H, 1 2B, 1 RBI, +21.8 WPA)
Civilian Turtles, but Turtles Nevertheless: Taylor Widener (5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 K, 3 BB, 68 pitches, +14.4% WPA), Miguel Aguilar (11⁄3 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 K, +11.1 WPA)
Oppressed and Clearly Allegorical CGI Aliens: Pavin Smith (4 AB, 0 H, 4 LOB, 1 GIDP, -18.6% WPA)
We had a fun and reasonably lively Gameday Thread tonight, with 17 participants contributing 268 comments. DC led the way, per usual, with 68, followed by yours truly with 41, and a newly resurgent Nik with 29. All present and accounted for were: AzDbackfanInDc, Dano_in_Tucson, GuruB, Jack Sommers, Jim McLennan, Makakilo, Michael McDermott, NikT77, Oldenschoole, Preston Salisbury, Snake_Bitten, VW Beetle, edbigghead, gzimmerm, kilnborn, since_98, therealramona
Several comments were turned Sedona Red, including a nicely wry and well-timed remark from Nik about the qualifications needed to be a MLB umpire, and a very nice and baseball-related deployment of the word “rapscallion” by kilnborn. But I’ve got to give this one to gzimmerm, who posted his prophetically early and who wound up providing me with the title for this recap. Plus, the comment really committed to a longish walk to get us to a Josh VanMeter-focused Hall & Oates song lyric reference. I despise Hall & Oates, but you’ve gotta admire the determination. Here it is:
Drop in tomorrow for game two of this series, as we try to clinch our second series win in a row (!!!). Phillies lefthander Ranger Suarez faces off against righty Humberto Castellanos, who is making his second start for us this season after throwing four scoreless innings versus Colorado back on July 7. Same as tonight, first pitch is 6:40pm AZ time. Hope you can join us.
As always, thanks for reading, and as always, go D-Backs!