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Diamondbacks 4, Marlins 3: Defense! Defense!

Some key defensive plays helped the D-backs win the series opener.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 16-14. Pace: 86-76. Change on 2020: +1.

This wasn’t a game where the starting pitching was dominant. Nor was it a game where the offense out-slugged the opposition: indeed, the Diamondbacks were outhit by the Marlins, 9-7. It was, however, probably the first game I can remember where the Arizona defense proved key. Which is particularly odd, considering the first hitter of the game reached base on a D-backs error.

That was former Diamondback Jazz Chisholm, who got on board courtesy of catcher’s interference. It's the major-league leading third time that has happened against Arizona this year, and already matches their tally for all of 2021. However, there was no damage done here, thanks largely to a sweet around the horn double-play turned by the D-backs. Arizona then jumped out to a quick two-run lead. Daulton Varsho got things started with a double, and after a David Peralta walk, scored on a Christian Walker double. Josh Rojas then dropped down a lovely bunt for an RBI single (below). Truly a thing of beauty, for a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately it didn't last. After getting the first two batters in the second easily enough, Humberto Castellanos then needed five attempts to retire his third batter. The #9 hitter for Miami delivered the big blow, a two-run single with the bases loaded that tied the game at two. The Diamondbacks hit back immediately. Alek Thomas reached after Jazz Chisholm clanked Thomas's high chopper over the mound (#WeWonTheTrade), advanced on a groundout, and made the score 3-2 on a Varsho single. The first two innings had taken 54 minutes to play, with both starters over 40 pitches. I decided I'd better get some more snacks.

I came back, clutching an apple pastry, just in time to see Peralta make a great running catch in left field (above). That helped Castellanos deliver a much-needed shutdown inning. Though the Diamondbacks also failed to score in their half, for the first time tonight, despite Walker's second hit. The same could not then be said of the Marlins who tied things up with a solo homer to lead off the top of the fourth. That ended at nine, the streak of consecutive games by D-backs starters allowing two runs or fewer. Things then went largely quiet for a bit. The most exciting moments were likely Ketel Marte and Pavin Smith almost getting tangled up on a shallow fly-ball, then Peralta and Thomas nearly colliding, as they made another out.

Castellanos retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, while to the same point Marlins' starter Elieser Hernandez had sat down his last nine D-backs. Like I said: quiet. Humberto ended the night with three runs, all earned, over 5.1 innings on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Kyle Nelson tidied up the rest of the sixth, after a single to his first hitter. Arizona then took the lead on Marte's second home-run of the year (below), a bomb well over the pool. Exit velocity: 107.9. Distance: 438 ft. But it wasn't all good news. Seth Beer made his third out of the night, setting a franchise record by a position player for consecutive hitless ABs, at 35. The previous worst of 34, was by Jon Jay and John Ryan Murphy, both in 2018.

Nelson got the first out of the seventh, thanks to Varsho chasing down a wild pitch on strike three (pictured, top), then gave way to Noe Ramirez. He allowed a single, then more good defense from Varsho gunned the runner down as he tried to steal second, and Arizona held on to their 4-3 lead as we stood and stretched. Or, in my case, stood and sauntered to the larder in search of nibbles. For the eighth, Arizona turned to Ian Kennedy, who allowed a lot of hard contact - four balls in play > 95 mph - but stranded two as he put up a zero. Expected batting average on the last two outs, with a man in scoring position, were .650 and .430, so the Diamondbacks dodged a bullet that inning.

Arizona threatened in the last of the eighth, putting runners on the corners after Walker walked and Marte got his second hit of the night. Torey Lovullo pinch-hit for Beer; Cooper Hummel could only ground out. That meant it was Mark Melancon time, seeking to bounce back after a... less than optimal outing on Saturday. A lead-off single had me feeling like a certain bowl of petunias, before some nifty infield defense, finishing with another lovely double-play (below), closed out the game, and improved the D-backs' record in one-run games to 7-3. They won only 10 all of last season.

Some other bits and pieces worth mentioning:

  • Through the end of 2019, two D-backs catchers had stolen a base and thrown out a base-runner in the same game. Since then, Varsho has done it four times, including tonight. [via @dbaxfax]
  • The Diamondbacks are 4-0 against the Marlins this year, with a run differential of +4. Yep, all four games against Miami in 2022 have been decided by one run in Arizona’s favor.
  • The official attendance tonight was 11,571. Outside of (obviously) 2020 and 2021, that’s the smallest crowd in franchise history, beating the 12,215 against the Padres on April 26, 2017.
  • As Smurf1000 mentioned, Arizona has now won more games than they did during the month of May last year. It’s still only the 9th.
  • Here, via Jack, are Torey Lovullo’s post-game comments, as well as those by Ketel Marte and Christian Walker.

Click for details at Fangraphs.com
Snatch: Christian Walker: +16.7%
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Melancon, +16.1%; Marte, +12.6%; Kennedy, +12.0%;
Swept Away: Pavin Smith, -10.6%

Nothing turned Sedona Red, but really, the victory is the thing. That and the friends we made along the way. The win pushes Arizona above last year’s record at the same point, I think probably for the first time since the opening series against San Diego. While this is about the point where the wheels fell off the D-backs last year, right now it doesn’t feel quite the same scenario. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, when Madison Bumgarner takes the mound for the D-backs. That’s another 6:40 pm first pitch.