A four game losing streak this week, a sweep at the hands of the New York Mets, and a series of painful and problematic swings from Corbin Carroll had this Pitter worried about what would come of the second half of the season after the Midsummer Classic for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Indeed, the last week of baseball saw the D’backs National League West lead evaporate like snow cone in the Arizona sun from three games down to a half game. However, just like a team that deserves to be in first place they have righted their wrongs and taken the first two games of the series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Arizona and Pittsburgh took two different approaches to this game with their pitching strategies. The Pirates sent starting pitcher Mitch Keller to the mound who has been very impressive this season while Arizona opted to go with a bullpen game while they wait for Merrill Kelly to return to the rotation. If you were hoping this would be a game you could point to and make an argument in either direction regarding the strategy of using a conventional starting pitcher or opting for a bullpen game, this would not be a good data point. Through eight innings of baseball Pittsburgh used two pitchers with Mitch Keller going seven scoreless allowing only one hit while Arizona used a total of six pitchers who gave up two hits combined and yet the score was still tied at one.
For the Diamondbacks, some stellar defense aided in that effort in keeping the game close enough until Keller was pulled from the game and they could make their attack. Take for example this stellar relay from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Geraldo Perdomo into Gabriel Moreno at home plate to save a run and keep the game scoreless at the time:
Today’s game also saw both a return to the Major Leagues for Tyler Gilbert as well as a debut for Dominic Canzone. Gilbert pitched a “bulk” of the innings for Arizona today taking the Pirates head on for three frames giving up the aforementioned one run through the first eight. That run came in the sixth inning, his final inning of work. He walked Jason Delay to start the sixth but quickly dispatched the next two batters before Jack Suwinksi hit a ground rule double to give the Pirates a one run lead.
Mitch Keller was relieved in the eighth inning for the Pirates by Collin Holderman which turned out to be all Arizona needed to score a run. Alek Thomas delivered Holderman’s second pitch of the game into the right field bleachers to tie the game at one apiece.
ALEK THOMAS TIES IT UP! pic.twitter.com/vKrfYjsGgh— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) July 8, 2023
A scoreless ninth meant free baseball in the sweltering Phoenix heat. Even with extra innings this game still only lasted two hours and thirty four minutes which speaks to both the lack of offense for both sides and the the effectiveness of the rule changes. Of course, with the foray into extra innings also came the automatic runner at second base to begin the frame. In the tenth inning, this game came down to who had the better defensive first baseman in my opinion.
Scott McGough, who pitched a scoreless ninth, came back out for the tenth with Andrew Chafin and Miguel Castro having already been used. Ji Man Choi began the tenth with a single which advanced the automatic runner, Carlos Santana, to third base. Jared Triolo singled with one out giving Pittsburgh the 2-1 lead. With two outs in the inning, Christian Walker made this incredible diving stop and toss to save two runs:
Christian Walker saves two runs pic.twitter.com/7l58VwH3nz— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) July 8, 2023
Arizona began their half of the tenth inning with rookie Dominic Canzone as the automatic runner at second base. This is where the defensive prowess at Christian Walker versus other first baseman really stood out for me. Jake McCarthy laid down a bunt that Pirates closer David Bednar fielded. It can certainly be argued that his throw to the bag at first was low and in the dirt, but regardless Carlos Santana could not field it cleanly which allowed McCarthy to reach base with Canzone at third and not outs.
After coming through and tying the game in the eighth, Alek Thomas did so again with an infield singled in between first and second base. Santana fielded it cleanly, but it pulled him too far off the first base bag with nobody covering which resulted in all D’backs runners being safe. After a sac bunt from Perdomo, the Pirates opted to intentionally walk Ketel Marte to load the bases for Corbin Carroll. Corbin said in his post game interview that the other night when he was walking off the field with another painful swing that he thought his season was done, so it is truly stunning to see him back out there in the biggest moment of the game. As a rookie of the year and MVP candidate should, he came through with a single down the right field line to win the game for Arizona.
This was the key difference in this game for me. Without Christian Walker’s tremendous diving stop in the tenth, in contrast to Carlos Santana for Pittsburgh, this is probably a game the Arizona Diamondbacks would have lost.