So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu…
Yesterday’s final Arizona Diamondbacks game was less the sound of music and more the sound of packing tape screeching over a mountain of boxes as players, coaches, and staff members hugged one another goodbye, packed their belongings and departed Chase Field. While spirits were high, there was an undertone of disappointment all around.
After a strong grip on first place in the NL West, the D-backs machine seemed to simply run out of gas, compounded by an unbelievable 42-8 run by the Dodgers after the All-Star break to go from last place to first place in the division. It seems when the team was pitching, they couldn’t hit. When they were hitting, they couldn’t pitch. Injuries plagued the lineup. It’s hard to say if the pre-season changes the team made were effective because we never got to really see all the pieces of the puzzle together. For the second season in a row, Arizona finished at exactly .500, 81-81 in spite of holding the division lead for a total of 67 days. For me, the season was like having a cup of coffee in its individual components. First chewing on the beans, then drinking some hot water, chased with a spoonful of sugar and finishing with a packet of dry non-dairy creamer. Together, a glorious blend, separated, it’s a most unpleasant experience. They had all the parts, they were just constantly out of synch.
"We never really got to see our lineup together all year long with all the guys that missed significant time," General Manager Kevin Towers said.
One positive was that Arizona fans got a lot of free baseball this season, nearly nine full games worth. The D-backs played an extra 80 innings this season, for a total of 1,538, which beat the record set by the 1964 Yankees by a single frame. Arizona played in 25 extra-inning games, which is two shy of the record for a season and helped contribute to the all-time MLB record of 239 in a season.
Those extra innings reflect how close this team was all season from truly making a strong run for the post-season. Or perhaps, how fragile their victories were, depending how you look at it. They won 33 of their games in the last at-bat, which leads the Majors this year. They played in 54 games that were decided by 1 run or less, and won 33 of them. Only 18 more runs this year and Arizona would be playing in October.
“We’ve got a great nucleus of people,” Manager Kirk Gibson said. “I don’t feel like we’re that far away.”
Paul Goldschmidt is making a strong case for NL MVP in November. He ends the season with 36 home runs (tied for first in the NL with Pedro Alvarez) and leads the NL with 125 RBI. He’s first in total bases (332), slugging percentage (.551), extra-base hits (75) and OPS (.952). He leaves the season with a 19 game hitting streak and a respectable .302 batting average. Defensively, he has a .997 fielding percentage, good enough for second among NL first basemen. He even stole 15 bases. He’s a threat in every aspect of the word. All this and he got his bachelor’s degree in August.
So will Goldschmidt be this year’s NL MVP? In a word, no. For all his work on and off the field, his leadership in the clubhouse, and his unsurpassed humility, I don’t think he’s take it this year. Sadly, I think the reason why is because of the team he was surrounded by. Had Arizona as a team hit better, pitched better and won more games, I think Goldschmidt’s candle would have burned a little brighter. There’s no doubt he was the most valuable player for the Diamondbacks, but their lack of game support dragged him down in the jury of public opinion. While perhaps unfair to attach that anchor as part of the process in an award for individual performance, Goldy has consistently shown he doesn’t care about person recognition even a tenth as much as he wants the team as a whole to succeed and be recognized. If I had to call the NL MVP this year, I am going with Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. His stats are phenomenal this season, and he helped give the Pirates the best season I’ve seen from them in two decades. If he can produce some real fireworks this month, he’ll clinch it.
Even with some strong individual performances and a first place lead for a third of the season, there will need to be some changes this winter. The big question to answer this week is this. Does Arizona have the right players but are simply unable to coach them to their full potential? Or are the coaches doing their part but just don’t have enough to work with? Or is it C- All of the above?
First, the club can’t continue to pack the full weight of the season on Goldschmidt’s back. They need another power hitter. One more person for whom 40 home runs is a possibility. They thought focusing on their short game would be the key this year, but that experiment left them with the same results as last season. Fans are tired of seeing stranded base runners. They need a guy who can drive the ball to the green on a par 4. Matt Davidson was a nice last minute addition and could be considered for the role, but I think for they need to go with pedigree over potential. A veteran player who has already proven himself. Then, if Cody Ross, Adam Eaton and Aaron Hill can stay healthy, Miguel Montero can find his groove again, and the rest of the cast can produce solid numbers, their hitting should be covered. Defensively, Arizona is the best in the league so no complaints there.
Next stop is their starting rotation. At the very least, Arizona’s starters need to each be able to go seven innings on a regular basis from day one. Before July, I had dreams of Patrick Corbin with a Cy Young Award. The young pitcher seemed to simply wear out in the second half. A lot was asked of him and he pushed himself hard. As he grows and matures, he’ll last longer in individual games and keep his stats up later in the season. Granted, some of his losses and no-decisions would have been wins if he had better run support, but he clearly lost momentum in dramatic fashion after his all-star call. We need to be convinced that his first half wasn’t a fluke. I think he’ll have a good off-season and we’ll see a 20 win season out of him next year, but he’ll have to be able to pitch more than 200 innings to really be effective for the team.
Just as Corbin’s performance tapered off, Brandon McCarthy’s started picking up again. If he can start next season where he left off in September, and avoid injuries which have been an issue for him for some time now, he’s a keeper. I like what I’ve seen from Randall Delgado, and I think Trevor Cahill has a good future if he just works through some mechanics. Wade Miley ended the season with a 10-10 record, he is realistically going to need 15 wins next year to make an impact. Arizona really doesn’t have a starter to truly bank on. Too many variables remain. Right now there are only potential and optimism to take to the bank. Don’t be surprised to see a trade happen to bring in a veteran with a solid resume. Arizona gave up too many home runs this year and pitched too wildly. Arizona led the league in wild pitches this season. While the club does have some good prospects in their minor league system to boost their starting rotation, I would still feel more comfortable with someone who has been proven at this level over someone with great potential. Even so, expect Arizona’s front office to focus their efforts within the organization this winter.
Lastly, the bullpen needs an overhaul. Josh Collmenter has really been the stud of the stable. No matter what they’ve asked him to do, and they’ve asked a lot, he’s stepped up and made a difference when he needed to. I like what I saw from Brad Ziegler this year. He will push J.J. Putz to get back to his old self come Spring. Putz needs to stay healthy and learn to dominate again, but age is against him. While we’ve seen some nice outings from various players from time to time, I don’t think we’ve the much needed consistency from this group. Arizona had 29 blown saves this season, more than any other team in baseball except Houston, who also had 29.
Speaking of consistency, I’d sure love to see Kirk Gibson use fewer lineups each season. It reminds me of playing Pop Warner where every kid on the team had mandatory playing time even if the kid was a butter fingered snail (I was usually that kid).
“I think we have the talent in this clubhouse to do some special things,” said Willie Bloomquist. “I don’t think a major overhaul is necessary, but (the Diamondback front office) are smarter than I am, they’ll figure something out.”
I don’t think you’ll see wholesale changes this winter. I think the ingredients are there, they just need to learn to make a good cup of coffee. With contracts in place, not much significant movement can happen in the first place. This is more of a strategy change than a personnel change. That being said, clearly, there are still a few voids that need to be filled.
“I think there is probably a need for a little bit more power in the lineup,” Towers said. “Probably going to be a corner infield position. Third base. Or a corner outfield position.” He didn’t allude to whether it would come from inside the organization or via trade, but said a trade was more likely than signing a free agent at this point. When they can, they will focus on promotion from within first.
Towers is wasting no time evaluating this season with his staff. Meetings begin today with a debriefing of the season, a look at the coaching staff, and a review of the 25 and 40 man rosters. Seven coaches have contracts that expire this month and I feel confident we’ll see some changes here. Gibson has a good relationship and playing history with Steve Sax so I expect that familiarity to help him. Matt Williams has been often talked about in a managerial role and there are a number of vacancies already open this week across the country. Expect some fallout with this group for sure. Gibson goes into the final year of his contract on thin ice, and not much support from the fan base. If 2014 doesn’t produce a pennant, I don’t think he’ll be in Sedona red after that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Towers doesn’t find himself following Gibson out if the organization is saddled with another .500 season next year.
The Dodgers are going to come back as strong or stronger next year, especially with a good post-season run this month. Sadly, we will need support from the rest of the division to beat up on them and help erode their record in order for us to maintain top billing for any significant amount of time.
Just a little over an hour after the final out, the stadium was dark and motionless. The clubhouse was eerily quiet, the stalls emptied of everything but some wire hangers and empty water bottles. A once glowing season came to a somber end, all too early. Players will spend time with their families, take trips, go hunting. The rest of us will find other distractions to hold us over until Spring Training. While we won’t be watching Arizona in October, for true fans of the game, we still enjoyed the ride even if we had to get off the train a few stops early. Thanks for all your support and feedback this season. I look forward to bringing you all back together in 2014!
That's all for now from the press box…
Call me a purist, but I still hate the color change of 2006. Some say it was to give the team a fresh look, some say it was to wash the scent of Jerry Colangelo from the organization. Either way, I always preferred the original colors and logos. A while back, I went to one of the local home improvement stores that provides color matched paint for your favorite pro teams. After a couple of years I finally decided to commit to a new paint job of the man cave. Three months after finishing a set of purple walls with turquoise and black trim, the team announced their new look. In silent protest, I never changed it. Maybe I am just lazy.
One of the biggest treats was seeing Mark Grace in Chase Field again. It’s no secret Grace has had a tough few years, and there are plenty of critics out there wondering how he could make such poor choices when he had so much to lose. Many fans felt abandoned. To Gracie’s credit, he owned his mistakes and speaks openly about them. He discusses his embarrassment and disappointment with the same candor and upbeat outlook that he broadcasts with. Before the game, I happened to end up in the same elevator as him and his family. We stopped at the press level and the elevator attendant waited for him to get off. He humbly commented that this wasn’t his floor anymore.
During the evening, many of us wondered what kind of reception Grace would get at his introduction. We didn’t expect boos, but wondered how warm it would be. When Grace was announced, he received an ovation that was second only to the one I remember him getting when he was called in from first base for the last time in 2003. During the game, Grace struck out but had an opportunity to address the crowd during a break between innings. With watery eyes and a lump in this throat, he said, “For a while now, you guys have had my back and I tip my cap to you.” That was a reference to not just the fans, but his fellow broadcasters and the Diamondbacks leadership.
After the game, he expanded on the sentiment. “It was certainly unexpected and it was certainly humbling,” Grace said of the response. “Words can’t describe how appreciative I am. Without a lot of people, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Sitting next to Grace in the auxiliary locker room was former teammate Steve Finley. Before the game as they were warming up, a brief recap of the 2001 World Series played on the big screen, and immediately Grace and Finley stopped what they were doing and became fixated on the images in front of them. “You take for granted when you’re playing that it’s just something you’re going to always do,” Finley said. “When you’re not doing it anymore, you really treasure the moments that you get to come back out here and get in front of the fans. Not too many ex-baseball players get to come back and have this many fans out there cheering them on.”
Luis Gonzalez said one of the most emotional moments for him was when they played the old U2 version of the game opening sequence before the players took the field for the alumni game. I know I had chills as soon as I heard the opening riff of the song.
One of the more enjoyable things to see was how much everyone’s children had grown and how they all embraced the many challenges of parenthood. I talked with Brandon Webb about what he was doing with himself these days and his first response was full-time dad, as his young son wearing a #17 Webb jersey crawled all over him. The Kentucky native, who is in the process of moving to Arizona permanently, said his biggest struggles now are more about getting everyone into bed than locating his sinkers. Mark Grace’s son Jackson, who I used to watch get rides in the uniform laundry carts of the clubhouse as a toddler, is now 12 and a baseball player himself. Luis Gonzalez’s son, one of his triplets, now stands only an inch shorter than his father.
Alex Cintron, who I remember mostly as a young rookie fresh to the game, now speaks about his work coaching and training young players with the same enthusiasm that he had when he was playing himself. He even has his own team that competes out of the Houston area. He speaks of them as if they were of his own children, eager to see them be happy and successful.
Kelly Stinnett, who caught for the Red Team looked particularly worn out after his three innings, whereas Junior Spivey looked to be in as good as or better shape than when I used to interview him a decade ago. I have fond memories of watching him play early in his career wearing a Sidewinders uniform in Tucson. It feels like a hundred years ago. Spivey said he wished the game was five innings but confessed he hurt and had some Advil in his future.
“I wish I was out there playing again,” Spivey said. “I miss it so much. As the years go by you miss it even more. It’s the greatest game in the world.” Much of Spivey’s time now involves coaching his kids in various sports near their Chandler home and making sure they keep up their straight A’s in school.
My last interview of the evening was with Reggie Sanders. Sanders played the year before I started covering the Diamondbacks full time so I only spoke to him a few times many years ago. I had forgotten what an intelligent, engaging man he is. He has a personality that is kind and disarming, and is the model of class as he discusses life now and his perspective of it.
Sanders was deeply entrenched in the nostalgia of the evening. He seemed saddened at the idea of having to change back into his street clothes to leave. For him, the biggest thrill was acknowledgement that he was a part of history. “I think out of everything that’s what I enjoy the most, how the fans really appreciate what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. After playing for eight teams, he felt that even with the short history of the Diamondbacks organization, Arizona fans had the love and intensity of fans of teams with a much longer tradition. Sanders, now 45, is in better shape than most 25 year olds that I know. He credits his great health and good spirits to a strictly regimented diet of vegetables and fish, as well as being very active in sports with his daughters and working out with his wife. He anxiously awaits his invitation for the third annual Alumni Game.
It was a fun game to watch. Everyone was a little heavier and had lost most of their hustle, but the love of the game, the love of the fans, the fraternity of the legacy they shared were all undeniable. Many of the players who had played for other teams in their careers, often for a longer period of time, said that Arizona was their emotional favorite. Sanders said that he only played for the Diamondbacks for one year but it felt like it was the whole of his career.
For many of us, it wasn’t simply an opportunity to see some old friends and familiar faces, but a chance to watch and reflect on how people grow as individuals. To see how priorities change. To see how athletes once dominant in their sport now struggle with the same small challenges we all do. To see how the camaraderie of teammates turns into the much stronger bond of friendship. To see how icons among us are still prone to the same faults and misfortune as the rest of us. We were reminded of the human side of the game.
That’s all for now from the press box…
-Pistol @ http://azpressbox.com/
If two trains leave their stations at the exact same time, one from Los Angeles traveling 140mph, the other from Phoenix traveling 35mph with parts falling off, which one will arrive at the NL West Championship first? It was a tough weekend to be a Diamondbacks fan. The Los Angeles Dodgers are on a terror streak right now, finishing the weekend with 29 wins since July 1st, suffering only seven losses during that same period. Compare that to Arizona who had 18 losses in 35 games. I’ll be the first to say Arizona has had some really strong performances this year, you can’t stay in first place without a significant number of them. That said, the team is perhaps more fragile than one might think. 67 of Arizona’s 116 games have been decided by two runs or less, and their 24 1-run wins lead the Major Leagues. That’s more luck than dominance.
The club has worked diligently from the off-season right up to the trade deadline to rebuild its pitching corps, and it shows, but I still cling to my armchair manager mantra, you can lose a game with bad pitching but you can’t win a game with good pitching. This season has been ripe with guys not hitting in clutch moments, stranded base runners and slumps. And let’s not forget the injuries. Between optioning players down, calling players up, and sending players to the DL, what little coherence the team started the season with has eroded even more. It’s been a revolving door of players the past 30 days. Add to that Kirk Gibson’s penchant for playing different lineups even with a stable roster.
Falling 7.5 games behind the Dodgers, it looks unlikely that Arizona, facing more set-backs every day, will be able to close the gap. Even with the new Wild Card format that started last year, it may be a quiet October for D-back fans. I dare say this weekend was a sign of what’s to come.
Paul Goldschmidt’s walk-off home run Friday to open the series with the New York Mets seemed like a sign that things might get better, but that was a fleeting high. Saturday and Sunday were unsettling from so many perspectives. Brandon McCarthy started Saturday and had a good outing, but had no run support at all. The D-backs scored only one run from 11 hits, a too familiar story for D-backs fans. Sadly, it was in front of a nearly sold out stadium.
Saturday was Paul Goldschmidt bobblehead night. People were lining up as early as noon for the 5:10pm Saturday game (doors opened at 3pm). If you’ve never seen grown men get whipped into a frenzy over an 8” plastic doll, you should check it out sometime. It’s like Walmart on Black Friday but with less violence. Lines from each gate stretched beyond the courtyard, across the street and down the block as fans tried to be among the first 25,000 people in the stadium that day. Thought you were smart enough to buy two tickets to get an extra one? You’ll have to exit the stadium and get back in line. They’ve started randomly inserting 1,000 gold versions which have been going on eBay for as much as $150. I took a pic of mine, framed so that it looked like a giant Paul Goldschmidt was at bat. A Goldzilla, wreaking havoc on the poor citizens of Chase Field. I’m so clever.
Saturday was also Mystery Ball day. And no, it’s not a celebration of people with a strange medical disorder. Every year, usually twice a year, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation sets up a booth in Chase Field. They have a pile of white boxes on a table, each containing an autographed ball by someone in the Diamondbacks organization. For $40, you get to pick a random box and later discover the secret it contains within. I love charity as much as the next guy, but I also love a little bonus with my charitable donations. I’ve participated in this fun program every year that they’ve done it. This year my prize was…
Wait for it… Wait for it…
So with bobblehead, mystery ball and heavy heart (wow those all sound like health issues) I left Chase Field Saturday night hoping for a series win the following day. Sunday proved to be as painful as Saturday. An uncharacteristic error by Goldschmidt helped seal a four-run first inning for the Mets (all unearned). Shortly thereafter, Martin Prado missed a very playable ball at third which got deflected into an awkward area of left field. Then in the bottom of the inning, Cody Ross stumbled on his approach to first base and ended up being carted out on a stretcher after dislocating his right hip. He’ll likely be out for the season. This coming just a day after Eric Chavez headed to the DL for a strained right oblique. Ross was hitting .405 over the last two weeks and was a major force in an otherwise anemic offense.
With the injury to Ross, Gibson sent Martin Prado to the outfield which opened up an opportunity for fans to see highly touted prospect Matt Davidson get some reps at third. Davidson was activated from Triple-A Reno just the night before. In fact, he arrived at Chase field only 40 minutes before the game started. He had no expectation to play that day, except maybe to pinch hit later in the game. Instead, he was added to the game at the top of the second, about an hour after getting to the stadium. Four innings later he would go on to have his first major league hit.
“I was thrown in there, I didn’t have time to think about anything,” the infielder said. “Of course I was nervous, but I would have been a lot more nervous waiting all day to start.”
Davidson was picked up in the 2009 draft, 35th overall and entered this season as the D-backs’ number four prospect. He won the MVP award for the All-Star Futures game this year in New York, then two days later, won the Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby in Reno.
After the game we caught up with Davidson in the clubhouse. His still-packed suitcases were sitting beside his stall where he dropped them upon arrival. His stall was filled with numerous congratulatory notes, the official lineup card from the game with his name penciled in, and the ball from his first hit in the Majors. The ball, he said, was going to his parents. I like this kid. If he can remain humble and swing a solid bad, he might just have a long term job in the valley.
“It’s a dream, I still haven’t taken it in,” Davidson said as he tried to wrap his head around the last 24 hours.
The pair of losses this weekend weren’t without their moments of comic relief. On Friday night J.J. Putz entered the game at the top of the 9th to contain the hemorrhaging inflicted by the Mets. Just as he enters the windup on his 5thpitch, the opening note of Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” came blaring through the P.A. system, so loudly that a startled Putz spiked the ball into the turf a few feet away. Granted, those first few notes sound like a heavy metal cow with indigestion, and getting a 300 decibel dose of that at a person’s most intense moment of concentration is enough to shake anyone.
The second chuckle came on Sunday. Before Sunday games, the club hosts a meeting of the No Chew Crew in the Sandlot area of Chase Field. It helps remind kids why tobacco in all of its forms is so completely absurd. After a brief lesson, Baxtor comes out to give everyone a laugh, followed by one of the players, usually someone not in the lineup that day. Pitcher Josh Collmenter, fun guy and good role model that he is, volunteered for the gig. Upon his introduction, the 6’2” 235 pound pitcher emerged riding a Razor scooter which looked ridiculously small under his big frame. After a brief tussle with the black draping that acts as both the door and back drop, he lost balance and had to have an emergency dismount, but not before catching some cords and bringing down a 10’ tall PA speaker, stand and other hardware. Thankfully no kids were on the stage. And thankfully it didn’t send yet another D-back to the DL. The conclusion of the session involved a brief discussion of his trip to Michigan in October to do some bow hunting. There were some blank stares from some of the younger fans.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played before the end of the season, but a seven game road trip on the horizon against two tough NL Central teams, and seven games against the Dodgers in September could prove too much. If Arizona can’t learn to get runs on the board early, this season could slip away from them.
That’s all for now from the press box…
The voting is nearly done but one thing is for sure, two players will be representing the Arizona Diamondbacks at this year’s All-Star game in New York City. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and pitcher Patrick Corbin both enter the game as reserves for the National League in their first All-Star game.
The humble infielder appeared honored by his selection, but wasn’t particular moved by the news. “It’s a good honor, I’ll enjoy the experience, and then when it’s over, I’ll go back to playing like I have been,” Goldschmidt said. After being poked and prodded by the press to get him to say it was a dream of his since childhood, he replied, “To be honest, I hadn’t really considered it. I enjoy playing baseball at whatever level. I enjoyed playing when I was in the minors, now the big leagues, high school, college, whatever.”
My favorite response was when he was asked if there was a player he hasn’t met yet that he really looked forward to meeting. “Not really,” he replied. For all the steering the reporters did, Goldschmidt’s mind and heart remained steadfastly in Arizona. He’ll enjoy the game for what it is, and then it’s back to work. Without discounting the support of his fans or the acknowledgement of his fellow players, it seemed his biggest concern was returning to Chase Field and keeping the D-backs on top of the division for the rest of the season.
Patrick Corbin was equally earnest in his discussion of making the roster. “I never thought in a million years that I’d ever be an All-Star, or even play professional baseball,” he said. The dominating pitcher didn’t start playing the game until high school. “I’m just really excited and glad I got the call.”
Having less time in the Majors than Goldschmidt, Corbin was more anxious to meet the other players from around the league and explore the entire production that surrounds the game itself. The pitcher returns to his native New York for the All-Star game.
Corbin, who turns 24 only three days after the All-Star game, is still a bit uneasy with the amount of attention that his success has garnered him at such a young age. He finally secured his 10th win of the season this weekend after six winless starts in a row. He is first in win percentage among all National League pitchers (.909) and is tied for fourth in total wins. He is the second D-backs pitcher to open a season 9-0 and his 9-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest streak in the Majors this season. Arizona set a franchise record by going 13-0 in Corbin’s first 13 starts, passing Brandon Webb for the most consecutive team wins by a starter in club history. Webb had nine in 2008.
While fans weigh in for the starting position players, they don’t dictate all the roster spots. As reservists, both Goldschmidt and Corbin were selected by the players, coaches and managers from around the league. This is an important and meaningful distinction for them because it shows both young players the amount of respect they have from their peers.
I remember one year not too long ago, a young female fan was given the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of a game because of how many times she voted in the final vote. It was some absurd number in the tens of thousands that had us all scrambling to break down the number of votes per day. It almost didn’t seem humanly possible. It was akin to our Wilt Chamberlain calculations from his 1991 book.
I’d like to take a minute to see if I am the only one that feels weird about the way in which All-Star voting works. Now, perhaps I’ve been a bit spoiled living nearly four decades in our great republic and have come to expect a well regulated voting process. I just don’t understand the whole “vote as often as you possibly can” mantra that is crammed down our throats at every opportunity. I’d like to know that those of us that work and have families and a social life have the same power with our vote as any other fan. Instead, I get images of some guy in boxers and a ratty tank top, living in his parents’ basement, sitting in front of his computer monitor with bloodshot eyes at 2a.m., fueled by Red Bull and Funyuns, trying to get another hundred votes in before the sun comes up. I think overzealous fans are an important part of the game, but really?
Granted, most voting happens online, and online traffic means ad revenue. And data mining. And opt-ins. Point taken. I also get that it’s a self-indulgent process. If you want people to watch your movie, rather than guess who will bring in the biggest audience, just let them pick the actors. Who cares if Justin Bieber gets cast as Jean Valjean? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind taking a less active role in player selection. My privacy is violated enough on a regular basis. I am more concerned with assembling a team of players who will actually produce an engaging game than I am about turning the whole All-Star break into something resembling a reality show with surplus testosterone. I don’t need to vote to enjoy the Oscars. After all that effort, the player I helped make the team might get one or two at-bats. For most of these players, the game seems more like a distraction than an honor. I’d rather the players selected from my team take a spa day and come back refreshed and ready to play in games that matter.
What about the rule that each team shall have at least one representative? If the goal is to highlight the best players in the game, isn’t this undermined by the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality? There are valid arguments both ways, but maybe we can find a compromise. If not, then why have something so important at stake, home field advantage for the World Series, when you dilute the rosters that way. And does voting have to start so early? So much happens between April and July. Every year, fans all over the country are left scratching their heads trying to find a method to the madness that is All-Star voting.
Anyway, food for thought.
The Diamondbacks swept the Rockies this weekend to pull four and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL West. They’ll play seven more games in a row at home before the four day All-Star break. Final voting ends on Thursday so grab your Funyons and get to work.
That’s all for now from the press box…
The last series with Cincinnati gave us all a reminder why we love the game. There was something for everyone. Monster home runs, dueling pitchers, the seduction of a perfect game in progress, nail-biting 9th innings, even an alien invasion. Arizona took two well-earned victories, giving up the finale to the Reds.
The series opener was all offense. Paul Goldschmidt, who is currently in second place on the NL All-Star ballot for first base (get voting D-backs fans!), hit two home runs in the game, helping secure an 11-5 win for Arizona. Sadly, Goldschmidt was on my opponent’s roster this past week in my fantasy league. And who is ahead of Goldschmidt on the ballot? Oddly enough, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, who went 4 for 10 over the series, with a homer on Friday too. I can’t remember the last time I heard a name that sounds as Italian as that. Actually, he’s Canadian.
Commenting on Goldscmidt, manager Kirk Gibson said, “He’s huge for our team. He’s our nucleus.”
Goldschmidt leads the league in RBI and is flirting with first place for home runs.
Outfielder Jason Kubel, who struggled in May, has been moving slowly improving and tied a career high four hits on Friday, which is no small feat considering Johnny Cueto is one of the best pitchers around. In fact, Arizona’s 11 runs that night was nearly as much as their combined runs over their previous six games (14).
Saturdays’ game for me was the highlight of the series. Usually I prefer an offensive fireworks show to a stalemate pitching duel, but the contest between Patrick Corbin and Mike Leake was priceless. Corbin was on a frantic pace when he earned his 9th win on June 2nd, the first pitcher to do so. While he remained undefeated after that, he had yet to chalk up his double digit win. Saturday was supposed to be that win. The leftie pitched eight remarkable innings allowing only 3 hits and 1 run. That 1 run was a monster home run by Jay Bruce, which traveled 472 feet and is the 4thlongest home run hit at Chase Field by an opponent. I haven’t seen a ball hit the big screen in a long time. He hit that ball like it owed him money. With 104 pitches behind him and a 2-1 lead, Gibson opted to pull Corbin and have Heath Bell quickly close the game and wrap things up.
Just as we were expecting this would finally be Corbin’s 10th win, everyone gasped as Bell gave up a 2-run home run to (sigh) Jay Bruce, which put the Reds ahead. In Bell’s last five outings, he’s pitched 4.0 innings, gave up 8 hits, 7 earned runs, and issued 4 walks. This would be the fifth time in a row that Bell gave up a homer during his appearance, leaving fans to collectively groan and wonder if there is a better option until J.J. Putz returns.
It does, however, force us to acknowledge the humanity of the game. I concede that professional athletes get paid handsomely, and Heath Bell is getting paid a disproportionate amount considering what he’s done for us. I’ve had some bad jobs over the years, but I’ve never had one where tens of thousands of people booed me when I clocked out after a bad day at the office, and then wrote about my failure in all the newspapers and internet for the next 24 hours.
Brad Ziegler came in to contain the damage and, after a tense walk off single by Kubel, ended up with Corbin’s win after only 15 pitches. In fact, it’s the 16th game in a row where the Arizona starter didn’t get a win.
Corbin continues to remain humble, with a level of calm professionalism in front of the media usually seen in veterans many years older than he. “Obviously I’d love to win and get my tenth win out of the way, but fortunately we came back, and ended up getting the win,” he said. The young pitcher insists that his quest for #10 won’t be a distraction. “Honestly, I don’t really look at it too much. Everybody keeps saying get the tenth win, but I’m trying to get every win no matter what game it is.”
And fortunate they were for the win. “Not many guys were trusting Kubel, but I did, and he got it done,” Gibson said. “I put him up there, we had the bases loaded, the guys did a great job to get it to that, and we got the win. It’s just a shame that Patrick didn’t get the win. He did his job, that’s for sure, but a great team win today.”
Gibson confirmed that Bell would remain the team’s closer until the return of J.J. Putz.
On the other side of the game that night, even more incredible pitching from a starter and another blown save in the ninth. Cincinnati’s Mike Leake had pitched 5.2 innings worth of a perfect game. Corbin came to bat at the bottom of the sixth and most expected a quick end to the inning as is with many pitchers at bat. Instead, Corbin foiled Leake’s perfect game with a double, followed shortly thereafter by a Gerardo Parra home run.
To close the game for the Reds, Aroldis Chapman came in. The 6’4” leftie consistently throws 98 to 101 mph fastballs. I can’t even imagine how I’d maintain my composure at the plate as that thing comes whizzing by within a foot of me. As he warmed up, I even saw him knock his catcher off balance with the sheer force of his throw. Parra took one to the shoulder on Sunday at 100mph. He dropped like a sack of potatoes. Fortunately for Arizona, Chapman has speed but not placement and was unable to do anything of consequence all weekend.
On Sunday, the D-backs hoped to get their fifth straight win after four straight losses. However, the force was not with them on Star Wars Day at Chase Field. When it comes to perfect pairings, I usually think of peanut butter and jelly, Merlot and steak, and Tabasco sauce and anything. Rarely do I think of jocks and geeks, however, credit MLB with some clever cross-over marketing to keep attendance up on a Sunday. There were all sorts of colorful characters at Chase Field, of all ages and sizes. Even John McCain was present, but sadly, wasn’t wearing his storm trooper uniform (but I am convinced he does in private as he chases his wife Cindy around who’s wearing Princess Leia hair buns). I always look forward to the Gerardo Parra/Yoda morph on the big screen in the first inning on Star Wars Day.
I’ve always had a fondness for nerdom. I’ve never owned Spock ears and I can’t speak Klingon, but as the smallest, slowest and least athletic kid on every team I played on from little league to college, I needed something to fall back on. I take great pride in my inner nerd. By the way, if anyone wants to share gas for ComicCon in San Diego next month, let me know.
The series finale on Sunday was a bit anticlimactic, but a good watch none-the-less. Cincinnati’s pitching proved too much to handle as Mat Latos tied his career high of 13 strikeouts. Newcomer Randall Delgado quickly gave up 3 runs in the first inning which ended up being the difference in the game. Another late rally proved ineffective as the D-backs took the loss.
“It was a big mistake in the first inning,” Delgado said, noting that you can’t let those early setbacks derail your performance as you continue in the game. “You can’t be thinking about that, you keep going the most you can.”
With their one run on the board, Arizona remains the only team in the Majors that has not been shutout at least once this year.
The Diamondbacks had Monday off to travel and then begin a 10-game road trip that keeps them tethered to the east coast. In the month of June, 18 of Arizona’s 27 games will be on the road. Arizona remains in front of the NL West by three games, but let’s not forget, it’s only June.
That’s all for now from the press box…
As Ernie Banks would say, “It’s a great day for a ball game. Let’s play two!” And two they did. Yesterday’s matchup between the Diamondbacks and the Rangers was the only scheduled doubleheader in the Majors this year. For those of us that chose to spend Memorial Day with our “other” family, we were treated to a feast of patriotism and pitching.
It was two games for the price of, err… two. I’m sorry but if you have the endurance to sit through 18 innings with nearly 3 hours to kill in between, you should only have to pay once. Like those steakhouses where if you can finish the 64 ounce slab of meat, it’s free. Either way, it was a great way cap off a holiday weekend. Apparently not all of us had permission to be there as one fan’s sign read, “Wife sent me out for more hot dog buns five hours ago… Shhh!” Not accounting for double purchases, more than 54,000 fans watched two well played games yesterday.
The most notable performance of the day was turned in by pitcher Tyler Skaggs. The leftie from Woodland Hills, CA played six games with the Diamondbacks in the last two months of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, after a strong August he saw each start in September drag his ERA higher and higher. Skaggs entered 2013 as one of Arizona’s top prospects but after struggling in Spring Training, he was unable to secure the fifth spot in the rotation and was optioned to Triple-A Reno at the beginning of the regular season.
One unique rule with doubleheaders is that the club is allowed to add a 26th man to their standard roster so long as the player is returned to the minors the next day. With a cut on his finger, Ian Kennedy took a seat which allowed an opportunity for Skaggs yesterday.
Since Spring, Skaggs has shown marked improvement in Reno, but with a four wins, five losses and a 5.23 ERA, he still has a lot more work to do before getting called back up for good. However, his outing yesterday left some critics with a lot to think about.
“It feels good,” the pitcher said, trying to fully absorb his recent success.
Skaggs pitched six shutout innings, allowing only three hits and fanning nine batters. He ended up with the win for his efforts. Heck, he even got a hit. Fans might remember him doing this once before. Last season, on his Major League debut, he started in the first game of a doubleheader, and also won.
It didn’t feel much like déjà vu though. “It was a lot tougher lineup than I faced in my last doubleheader,” he said. “I felt a lot more comfortable. I felt very comfortable with the team. Everybody embraced me. It made it really easy for me to pitch.”
Manager Kirk Gibson was thrilled with the young prospect’s performance. “C’mon, it’s lights out!” he said. “He executed a great game plan. Had all of his pitches going.”
Skaggs acknowledged that it was a tough Spring and that yesterday’s game was a rare opportunity to show everyone what he is capable of at this level. “It feels good to come back to show that,” he said. “I was working out some mechanical problems, and now I feel like I’m on top of my game. Every start gives me more confidence.”
The young pitcher has been his own worst critic, often digging a ditch for himself when frustrated. Yesterday, Gibson caught him down on himself in the second inning and quickly redirected him. “Hey, no negativity,” Gibson said. “You’re gonna make mistakes, they’re gonna score runs. We’re trying to win a game.” It’s all about the big picture.
“You go as far as you can go and when I take you out you’ve left it all out there,” Gibson continued. “That’s all you can do. You just can’t be a perfectionist out there. It works on your mind in a bad way.”
Sometimes it’s hard for younger players to learn the pace and patience of the game, even with minor league time on their resume. “I think he’s learned his lesson, he’s maturing,” Gibson said. “He did a great job today.”
Gibson anticipates that Skaggs will in turn build on his win and leverage the added confidence into even better numbers in Reno. There was no heartbreak with the trip back to Reno. “I knew what this was going to be,” Skaggs said, accepting that it was only a temporary assignment. In his eyes, he had only one game to accomplish two goals; a win and some recognition. “I’m happy that they called me up and had the confidence in me to actually start the ball game. Hopefully I opened up a few eyes.”
Barring any significant injuries in Phoenix, Skaggs will likely spend the rest of the year in Reno, and with some luck, will have a strong second half. With his age and ambition, I’m confident we’ll see him again next Spring making a strong case for a spot in the regular rotation.
The second game of the day saw more great pitching from both teams. Trevor Cahill pitched eight innings with only three earned runs. The Rangers’ Yu Darvish amassed a shocking 14 strikeouts in 7.2 innings, but was unable to get the W as Arizona won 5-4 with a walk off hit by Cliff Pennington.
Perhaps the most astonishing feat of the day occurred not on the field, but on the upper concourse above right field. Ron White, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, is traveling the country on what he is calling “Operation Enduring Memory”. White, a memory challenge champion, took ten months to memorize the rank and full name of the nearly 2,200 people who were killed during the Afghanistan war. He tours the country with a fifty foot black wall on which he writes the names of each person with a white sharpie. After 11 hours or work, the result looked not unlike the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. Written in chronological order, local hero Pat Tillman is #127.
The D-backs lead the Giants by a game and a half in the West as they take the day off to travel. They’ll battle Texas again, then off to Chicago to see the Cubs, then they play four games against the Cards before returning home on June 7th.
That’s all for now from the press box…