The Atlanta Braves just rolled out of town after a three-game series which included an opener filled with tension and anxiety. Monday’s game against the Braves set up an interesting dynamic at Chase Field. After weeks of anticipation, fans finally got to see the MLB version of Freaky Friday only instead of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan, it was Justin Upton and Martin Prado. Ok, so now my mind is conjuring up thoughts of Upton in a Jamie Lee Curtis haircut and Prado in one of those haggard Lohan mugshots. This could be a fun Photoshop project for later. Monday’s game was the first time Upton had played against the Diamondbacks since being traded to Atlanta in January. It was the same trade that brought Martin Prado to Arizona, who was in turn seeing the Braves for the first time since also being relocated.
Upton looked relatively calm and jovial before the game considering the amount of (unwanted) attention he was getting leading up to it. As the Diamondbacks were taking batting practice, Upton was seen shaking hands with old teammates, smiling, laughing and even acknowledging a fan or two. Prado could be seen doing the same. In fact, there was a great sense of fraternity on the field as players from both teams mingled and joked with one another in spite of how heavy the underlying mood was.
If I could make one observation, I would say that Upton looked like he finally found home. Among family, literally and figuratively. While he always seemed positive as I watched him play for Arizona and talked with him in the clubhouse, there was an undeniable sense of contentment about him now. That he finally belonged. That he was in a situation where he could just focus on his game and his career and not worry about all of the controversy that had surrounded him for the previous two seasons.
Upton has enjoyed being in a position to play on the same team with his brother B.J. In fact, you could clearly see the camaraderie the two share as they warmed up together. Both have long been very competitive and during most of their career, have achieved similar success. B.J. was drafted the number two pick overall in the 2002 draft. Three years later, Arizona selected Justin as the number one overall pick in the 2005 draft. Last year, with Justin as a Diamondback, he hit his 100th career homer. Less than an hour later in a different game, brother B.J. hit his 100th. All these years later, Justin and B.J. each have exactly 121 career home runs. Justin, drafted right out of high school and called up to the Majors at the tender age of 19, was early thought to be a phenom and franchise player for Arizona. After struggling periodically over the last few years in some areas, he was often the subject of trade talks. Some were anxious to see him leave while others remained confident that he was just approaching his prime.
Upton and Prado each seem to be fitting into their new surroundings nicely. Their stories are in some ways very similar. Both started playing in the Majors within a year of each other. Both were selected to an All Star team within a year of each other. Prior to the swap, both had been with the same team since their start.
For months, fans and analysts have passionately debated which team got the best end of the deal. How does one truly judge such a thing? One way would be to look at the 2013 season as a whole. As a team, Arizona has thus far exceeded any logical person’s expectations. They completely overhauled the team in an effort to go with a more consistent short game versus relying on power hitters. One could argue that they might be even further ahead than they are with Upton on the roster, but it’s clear that without Upton, the formula is indeed working. And with Paul Goldschmidt, they still have an everyday guy who can take the ball deep.
Upton no doubt has posted impressive numbers this season. Going into Monday night’s game, he was leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs at 12, hovering over a 3-way tie at 11. Upton was hitting .269 with 21 RBIs, 24 walks and 3 stolen bases. He was voted the National League Player of the Month for April thanks to leading all of MLB in homers, tying for first in the NL for runs, and owning a .734 slugging percentage.
Martin Prado on the other hand has produced more modest results. He’s hit 4 home runs this year, was batting .233 with 9 RBIs, 11 walks and 1 stolen base. However, the infielder has said all season that he doesn’t want to be compared to Upton, and shouldn’t be. Both are different players bringing different tools to different teams who are trying to arrive at the same destination by different paths. Prado was brought to strengthen the Diamondbacks’ new commitment to focus on their short game. A hit and run offense that doesn’t rely on power hitters like Upton.
And let’s not forget that in this trade, Atlanta also got Chris Johnson from Arizona, a player who was also in Monday night’s lineup. Johnson played 44 games as a Diamondback last season. The infielder had an unfavorable May, going 0-18 prior to Monday’s game. Even so, his average at the end of April was .369 and he was at one point hitting .403 and leading the Braves.
While we’re on the subject of former D-backs, did you know that Braves 3rd baseman Dan Uggla was also a Diamondback? I didn’t. He was in the Diamondbacks organization for five years after being drafted by them in 2001, only he never made it out of AA. Credit that piece of trivia to Doc Corak with KQNA in Prescott. He’s my favorite walking encyclopedia of sports.
So yes, Arizona got rid of some payroll expense by unloading Upton, and ended up acquiring five players for two. If you look at just the Upton-Prado components, I would say we probably gave away too much. Looking at the whole, if Prado steps it up, and the other players who came over actually live up to their potential within the next two seasons, then in the long term, I say Arizona at best breaks even. If Upton really has a few break out years, hits 40 homers and goes on to be a Braves franchise player, I think we traded a Lexus for an Impala.
A second means of assessment could be to look at Monday night’s game exclusive of everything else. Let’s face it, no matter how much both sides downplayed the emotional significance of that game, there was a point to be made about the trade. All the pre-game media interviews offered the same party line sound bites you would expect. It’s just a game like any other. You guys are making this out to be more than it is. Upton’s official twitter account, which still shows him in a Diamondbacks uniform on the background, didn’t even acknowledge the event.
Even with the constant dismissals, you could sense early on that something significant was brewing. The Braves had just come off a painful four-game series against the Giants, the last three games of which they lost. During those games they accumulated a meager four runs to the Giants’ 23. Between that motivation, and the fact that any sentient being with even an ounce of pride would be gunning for their former boss with an “I told ya so” attitude, something big was going to happen. One third of the Braves lineup Monday night was given up on by the Diamondbacks at some point.
The game was, to my surprise, poorly attended. At first pitch, it looked like only half the seats were filled. Officially, there were 25,052 fans there, but those numbers are always a bit generous in my opinion. I expected a lot more butts in seats. A random sampling of the crowd revealed that probably a solid third consisted of Braves fans. At the very least, they were definitely the most vocal of the bunch.
In the spirit of full disclosure I too was, briefly, a Braves fan. Growing up, I was a Mets guy. I emigrated from Connecticut in 1992 to find refuge in the Tucson desert. I was an impoverished (soon to be debt-laden) college student at U of A. As such, I couldn’t afford cable and my TV was a used console set that I had rescued from a curbside trash collection. With a complex array of coat hangers that even E.T. would have been proud of attached to the back of the set, if I stood in just the right pose with my tin foil hat, I could get one signal, and it was TBS. Thus, to get my fix of baseball, I became a Braves fan. And remained one for five years until Jerry Colangelo brought forth on this continent a new baseball team, conceived in purple, and dedicated to the proposition that Arizona deserved more than just Spring Training.
Upton’s much anticipated first appearance was met by an equal chorus of cheers and jeers. What I couldn’t determine was whether any significant portion of the cheers where coming from supportive Arizona fans. It’s no secret that many of Upton’s fans had abandoned him long ago. There are those among us who felt that Upton was never a good fit with the team. That he had a poor attitude. That he was injured more than was acceptable or perhaps didn’t push himself through recovery hard enough. That he amassed way too many errors on defense. No matter what your opinion of him was as a player, the reality of it is that he was a major component of the D-backs’ success during the years that he played for them, and they would have likely ended up with even less in his absence. More than that, he was not the one who asked to be traded. If you so hated someone for being a lousy player, would you not be happy that he was now playing for the competition? If you thought he was a great player, would you boo the person you didn’t want to leave when it wasn’t by his choice? I must admit, I was a little confused by the degree of animosity out there. But it was not a shock to anyone, even Upton.
“It was mixed,” Upton said of the fan reaction. “It’s what I expected. It is what it is. I had fun with it.”
Fun with it he did. Upton went four for five on the night including a monster blast to center field. In fact, the three Diamondbacks alumni combined for some pretty substantial numbers. Upton and Johnson each hit two-run home runs and were each a triple short of hitting for the cycle. Both, with Uggla, were responsible for six of the ten total runs that the Braves scored on the D-backs. In reply, Arizona was only able to squeeze in a single run in the first. While starter Wade Miley threw four strong innings, he was completely solved by the 5th and it was all downhill for the D-backs after that.
“It was a fun game. We were fighting for wins the whole road trip,” Upton said. “To come out here and put together some hits, and get a win is a nice feeling.” No matter how much the media baited him, the soft-spoken outfielder refused to make it personal.
Johnson followed suit but was willing to acknowledge that it was an important day for Upton. “I think everyone in here is pretty happy for Justin to have the game that he had,” he said, implying that his part in the trade received little attention. In fact, the fans barely reacted when he was announced at the plate. “I wasn’t here too long, tonight was the Justin Show.”
Prado, who denied it, but who I am sure wanted a stellar night as well, did not find as much success. The third baseman went two for two before being replaced. He offered up an error on a throw to first right before the Braves punched in seven runs over two innings. He was also called out at home in an attempt to beat a throw from shallow center field after a Wil Nieves fly ball.
So if Monday’s game is your litmus test for a trade victory, then I do believe the decision goes to Atlanta.
A final option to assess the trade would be to simply listen to me and accept my opinion as gospel, which really is what everyone should do on a regular basis anyway. The debate is not simple. It’s not a simple matter of numbers. It involves things like a player being in the right venue, one that is conducive to their success. Being compatible with the team you’re on and its management and their goals and vision. Having a skill set that matches the team’s offensive philosophy. Putting a value on the potential of unproven players involved in the trade. As an employer, I’ve hired people who were incredibly smart, who were driven and ambitious and had a solid resume of proven results. Even so, I found that some of those ringers would go on to fail and fail miserably because it was simply a bad fit. No matter how much I tried to push that round peg into a square hole, I was never going to be able get that person to achieve their highest potential in that environment. The true value then is not actually tied to the person, it’s tied to the situation. I think the true value of Justin Upton is in Atlanta. Everything else being equal, I think the Braves can get more out of him than Arizona would be able to. Personally, I really liked Upton as a player and as a person, and wish we could have kept him in Sedona Red.
Most major stars peak in their late 20’s. Upton got drafted out of high school and is only 25. His best years are yet to come. He might have been a franchise guy for Arizona, but his continued presence was becoming toxic for everyone, including himself. Whether you blame him or the Diamondbacks leadership for that toxicity is up to you and your conscience. Either way, I don’t think you would have gotten the same results if he remained in Arizona this year. If I went to work every day knowing that my boss was going to send me to a competitor, I am not sure what kind of results I’d produce.
My conclusion is that the beneficiary of this trade will not be realized for two seasons. If I was to call it, I think it’s Atlanta who will end up seeing the long term benefits.
Resident press box trouble maker Mike Austin left one final thought with Upton in the Braves clubhouse. “Overall it seemed like a pretty gritty performance…” he said, referencing a term that has been used to define, debatably, Arizona’s character this season. Upton smiled and simply replied that he wasn’t getting into it.
That’s all for now from the press box…
As we close out the month of April, let’s take a look back at the first full month of regular season play. At the conclusion of the month, the Diamondbacks had won five of their last eight games, taking three of four from a surprisingly tough Colorado Rockies team. In fact, Arizona won 15 of 27 games in April, a record that kept them on top, or close to the top, in their division all month. Often struggling in early games of a series, the team would return to the clubhouse to thoroughly analyze what worked and what didn’t, and would return the next day with a better solution. In fact, the D-backs are 8-0 in series finales, which includes four that were sent into extra innings.
Arizona’s lumber has been hot in April, and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is head lumberjack. Goldschmidt is the only player to play in all 27 games in April and has amassed 18 RBIs in the process. He leads the club with five home runs, and has taken a team leading 16 walks from fearful opposing pitchers. Unfortunately, he also leads the team in strikeouts, more than 34% higher than anyone else. In fact, he ended the month 4-for-25.
Outfielder Gerardo Parra has repeatedly made contributions in many areas. He’s found a home at the leadoff spot of the lineup, and kept his average just over .300 as he left the month of April. In that time he’s had 18 runs, 33 hits, 9 doubles, 2 triples, and a home run. Parra had a career-high hitting streak of 13 games in April. If he’s at bat, something’s bound to happen.
Eric Chavez also stepped up consistently, hitting four home runs in only 19 games. The veteran hit 16 home runs with the Yankees last year in 113 games. If he can get some more time in the infield this year, it could be a 20 homer season for him. To do that, he’ll need to wrestle some playing time away from top prospect Martin Prado, who slid a bit as April came to an end. He watched his average slip from .304 on April 12 to .208 on April 27, going 10-for-62 during that time.
And how about second year player A.J. Pollock? He hit three home runs in April and is tied for second among fellow D-backs in RBI at ten. Pollock and Parra are in a 5-way tie for second in the National League for doubles with nine.
The shining star among Arizona starters has been Patrick Corbin. Unsure of his fate towards the end of Spring Training, Corbin ended up getting the fifth spot in the rotation and has not let anyone down since. He leads the D-backs in wins with three after starting in five games in April. He is also the only starter with an ERA less than 2.00 (1.91) and leads the group with a WHIP of 1.06. This could be a 20 win season for the second year player.Wade Miley, coming off a phenomenal All-Star season in 2012, has also met with success, remaining lossless in April with a 2.37 ERA. He’s only allowed eight runs in five games. Miley held lefties to three hits in 17 at-bats and limited batters to a .222 average with runners in scoring position. With nine career April games, he is 5-0 and remains one of 10 pitchers in the Majors to be undefeated in April between 2012 and 2013.
Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill have both come up a bit short in April. Both had six starts yet Kennedy is 1-2 on the month with an unpleasant 4.78 ERA and Cahill is 1-3. The pair combine for seven hit batters, while the other three starters have only one each. If they can both regain their command in May, it could keep the D-backs on top of the West.
Brandon McCarthy had a tough month and remained winless in April, but has shown marked improvement. He continues to aggressively throw strikes. In fact, he’s ranked third in the NL with a 68.63 strike percentage, but too often he gets solved early. He’s offered up eight hits or more in all five of his starts. Going into May, he has not issued a walk to the last 64 batters he faced, and has walked three batters or less in 64 straight starts. If he can work on placement and mixing up his arsenal, he’ll pull out of this.
Due to the number of close games, the tension in the bullpen has been intense. Even so, D-backs relievers rose to the challenge. Brad Ziegler has been the workhorse of the bullpen in April, pitching in 17 games with a modest 2.81 ERA. He keeps his pitches low, which has resulted in 29 ground balls hit against him which, as a percentage, is the highest of anyone from the bullpen. That translates into more double play balls and quicker ends to innings.
JJ Putz continues to dominate even in spite of four blown saves on the month. He exits April with two wins, a loss and five saves in 13 games. If he can work on his location, we should see him end the year with over 30 saves, just as he did in each of the last two seasons. By the end of June, he should surpass Jose Valverde for all-time saves as a D-back.
Matt Reynolds and Tony Sipp have both stepped up and kept games from getting away from Arizona. Reynolds is just behind Ziegler in innings pitched at 13.0, but has only allowed six hits in that time. He remains the only D-backs pitcher not to give up a run in April. He has a team leading WHIP of a minuscule 0.54 and has been victorious in both save opportunities. Sipp allowed only a single run in his last six outings.
The D-backs have only committed six errors in the entire month of April, which is the least number of errors in the NL. In fact, they played 23 games without an error, leading to a .994 fielding percentage which is tied for the Major League lead. In 27 games, a whopping 20 of them were decided by two runs or less. If you do hit a ball on these guys, you won’t get much out of it.
I can say with great humility that I did not expect an April as exciting as this one has been. My hope is that May continues to build on lessons learned and will yield even more thrills and chills. I have no reason not to believe that. Oh, and has anyone checked Justin Upton’s stats in Atlanta lately? 12 homeruns leads the National League in April, with 19 RBIs. Sigh.
That’s all for now from the Press Box…
When I hear the word Pirates today, the first image that my mind summons is that of a comical Disney franchise that has permeated our lives for nearly a decade now. Unfortunately, the Pirates franchise that rolled into Chase Field did not provide a whimsical journey for the Diamondbacks.
When the Pirates arrived in Phoenix last week, it appeared to be easy work. The D-backs entered the week after sweeping the Brewers on the road and forging a 5-1 record. They were set to play a Pittsburgh team with a paltry 1-5 record who didn’t appear to be much of a threat. Arizona had been dominating the diamond on both sides of the plate. They set a club record with 71 hits in their first six games, were ranked third in the Major Leagues in team batting average at .293, and were in the top five of numerous other offensive categories. The pitching corps had been strong from start to finish. Arizona had struck out at least ten batters in all but one of its first six games and was tied with Cincinnati for the most strikeouts in the National League. Defensively, everyone on the field was contributing to the highlight reel. But then the train got derailed.
Whether it was a surplus of confidence or a deficit of discipline, Arizona dropped the first two games of the series to the Pirates. Pitchers Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy both struggled with locating their pitches early in the game and while they were both able to salvage later innings, it would prove too late. Cahill continues to struggle in the first inning of his starts, while McCarthy allowed five runs in the 4th inning of his outing.
“We can’t score five runs every night,” Manager Kirk Gibson said in reference to falling behind in the first game of the series. “You can’t put it on Trevor. We had opportunities. They outplayed us. They beat us.” Gibson cited missed opportunities as the basis of their demise in the following game.
“The way I throw strikes, there are so many guys running 0-2, 1-2 counts and if those turn into hits and they’re not guaranteed outs or at least a high percentage of strikeouts, it invalidates any pitches I’ve thrown before,” McCarthy said. “They just become wasted time.”
After being dealt a pair of humbling losses, Arizona returned to win big on their final meeting thanks in large part to a break-out day for outfielder A.J. Pollack who broke his 0-14 hitless streak by hitting two homers and getting a double.
Pollack commented on his season by saying, “You do everything right and you don’t get any hits. And then next, you’re changing something and you’re doing everything wrong and not getting any hits.” His goal was to not change anything and just wait for his time to come. He knew the fundamentals where there.
Whatever lessons the D-backs learned from the Pittsburgh series, they took to heart. A completely different team showed up to play three games against the Dodgers. Arizona took two games and denied the Dodgers any runs in both of them.
Gibson summed up the series in a comment after their first win, speaking about going head-to-head with a dominating pitcher like Clayton Kershaw. “If you’re going to beat a guy like that and a team like this, you’re gonna have to play a perfect game. As we did.” And perfect was not far from the truth. The team played like a well-oiled machine from start to finish, up and down the order, and in every position.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good ballclub here,” said pitcher Patrick Corbin. “We may not have the big-time names like the Dodgers do, or the Giants, but we’ve got a great group of guys here that are going to go out there and fight every day.” That perseverance will make all the difference in an incredibly tough NL West division.
I may have to eat some crow if Arizona can continue to fire on all cylinders as they’ve done so far. How long they can sustain this is anyone’s guess, but I do have to give them credit for finding ways around the injury issue, pushing young players to play at their maximum capacity, coordinating the efforts of a highly fragmented team with many guys playing together for the first time and in various positions, and implementing their hit and run offense to dole out death by a thousand cuts to some very tough clubs. If they can keep this up, this is the kind of effort that wins 100 games in a season. As it stand now, only San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland have a better record than Arizona.
The D-backs have been plagued with injuries all season. While they’ve been able to mitigate those losses through solid performances by every single player on the roster, the other edge of that sword is eventually having to sit players who are producing in favor of ones you expect to produce. One question that’s been lingering on all of our minds is where to put everyone as players return from the DL. Who plays and where? Who sits? Who gets sent down? One intrepid reporter chose to ask what all of us where thinking and was promptly shut down by Gibson after his win against Pittsburgh. “Why are we talking about that?” he said. “ We’re talking about winning a game. Can we just cherish this for a second?”
Arizona fans got a chance to say goodbye to an old friend yesterday. Joe Garagiola, Sr. has been a staple of Diamondbacks baseball from the beginning. The 87-year old St. Louis native began his Major League career in 1946 as a catcher for the Cardinals. Childhood friends with Yogi Berra, Garagiola was signed at the tender age of 16 and would go on to play in his only World Series as a rookie.
After nine years as a player, Garagiola moved on to explore opportunities in broadcasting. He started with sports but shortly thereafter his amiable personality opened doors to a variety of other jobs. He found himself on the Today Show, hosting various game shows, and even guest hosting for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show from time to time. He also went on to pen a few books. Be it print, radio or TV, he found his way into America’s homes and America’s hearts week after week in a broadcasting career that spanned nearly six decades.
In a pre-game ceremony, Garagiola became overcome with emotion as he watched a montage of his life flash across the big screen before being treated to a rousing standing ovation. He made his last broadcast from the booth at the bottom of the fourth inning. Garagiola’s legacy is so much more than a plaque in Cooperstown. His work has, and continues to, touch the lives of so many people. I don’t even think Forrest Gump wove himself into as much American history as Garagiola has. And in spite of it all, he remains one of the most humble, kind, self-deprecating people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. To say that baseball needs more people like Joe Garagiola, Sr. is an understatement. The world needs more people like Joe Garagiola, Sr.
This past week is why I love baseball. Even as a fan, you couldn’t help but become incredibly engaged in each game and find yourself emotionally invested in the outcome. There was a little something for everyone. The stalemate pitching felt as intense as the walk-off hits. Mix in a pinch of nostalgia and history and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect pastime.
Arizona has a day off today, while the rest of the league celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in the traditional manner. The D-backs will honor the event the following day as they start a three game series against the Yankees in New York. The club then plays three games in Colorado before heading to the west coast to finish their road trip in San Francisco. Fans waiting for Jackie Robinson Day at home will get their chance on Thursday the 25th when the team returns to Chase Field to meet the Rockies again.
That’s all for now from the press box…
Well sports fans, as promised here is the second installment of my story covering the 16-inning duel in the desert this week. After more than five and a half hours, the Diamondbacks won the marathon game at Chase Field and snatched the series out from under the St. Louis Cardinals. The D-backs amassed 17 hits and won with a score of ten to nine.
It was an emotional series to say the least, starting with a rock solid performance in the season opener that led to a 6-2 victory. But the next day, the thrill was gone and the D-backs were dealt a 1-6 loss on the heels of a mediocre performance. More than 26,000 fans wondered which of the two D-backs teams would show up for the rubber game. It turned out to be the former, not the latter.
Brandon McCarthy took the mound in his first regular season start as a Diamondback. McCarthy had five starts in Spring Training, throwing a total of 18 innings with a 5.00 ERA and 19 strike outs. The rightie felt good going into the game, but by the third inning appeared to be solved by St. Louis batters.
McCarthy got pulled after five innings, giving up six runs on nine hits, and was succeeded by five members of the Arizona bullpen to push the game into extra innings. David Hernandez, J.J. Putz and Matt Reynolds combined to pitch for four innings without letting a single hit squeeze by. Sadly, for all their efforts, the Cardinals bullpen was equally formidable.
At the top of the 12th, Manager Kirk Gibson called for Josh Collmenter. Even though the Tomahawk had pitched the night before, Gibson was quickly running out of eligible players to finish the game. The only other option would have been Heath Bell, who has an 81.00 ERA. And yes, the decimal point is in the correct place. Ok, so that stat is only from a third of an inning pitched thus far, but he still gave up three runs in his only appearance. Bell struggled in Spring Training and has watched his ERA climb every year from 1.93 to 2.44 to 5.09 last year.
I don’t think anyone expected Collmenter to pitch more than a couple of innings before one side or the other would finally close the deal. To everyone’s surprise, he pitched five Herculean innings and in fact, threw four more pitches than McCarthy did as a starter. He limited the opposition to only one run and walked away with the win for his efforts.
Gibson was reluctant to use Collmenter until absolutely necessary and even then, only sparingly. He said, “I kept saying, ‘Charlie (Nagy), I don’t want to hurt the kid.’ But he said that we had built him up in spring, he’s fine.” In talking with the pitcher, Collmenter also agreed he was up for the task.
“In reality he was throwing the ball better as he went on,” Gibson said. “He started to get lose and you could see the ball coming out of his hand better. He just didn’t get rattled, the kid never gets rattled. He certainly didn’t tonight. He was in some tense, high pressure situations.”
“This was a first for me,” Collmenter said of going so deep in relief. “I’ve gone back to back I think one other time. I felt good. They kept asking me after the second, third, fourth inning, and I felt good. Part adrenaline, part wanting to keep in the game for the team.”
“In that situation you just don’t want to let your guys down, you want to battle for them,” the pitcher said. He noted that he didn’t much pay attention to what inning it was, and was only focused on his strategy for each individual inning.
Miguel Montero also applauded the outing by Collmenter, calling it impressive. “Whenever you give him the ball, he’s ready to pitch,” the catcher said. When asked about running up the pitch count, he joked that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Collmenter only pitched five innings and threw the ball 77 times. Montero squatted for 18 innings and threw the ball back to the mound a total of 228 times.
The night wasn’t all about pitching however. The Diamondbacks made some great defensive plays, including two by shortstop Cliff Pennington. The shortstop made one incredible out in the top of the 16th that was poetry in motion, keeping a hard hit grounder from going into the outfield and then spinning backwards and throwing off balance right on target to rob Allen Craig of a single.
Pennington struggled at the plate this year, going through ten at-bats without a hit before closing out the series with three singles in a row, including a walk-off single to finally end the game. “Penny has struggled offensively and here he had three hits tonight,” Gibson said. “Awesome, just awesome.”
The shortstop joked that he was starting to think he was going to go all season without a hit. After recognizing the tenacity of the team in an emotionally draining game, he noted its importance beyond this series. “This is the kind of win that you remember as the season goes,” he said. “Two weeks from now if we find ourselves down four in the sixth, it’s going to be like hey, we’ve done this before.” Pennington added that so much of the game is psychological and wins like this can be the difference between falling short and pushing for that extra hit.
Not struggling at the plate was Geraldo Parra who has been nothing short of amazing this series. After only three games, the outfielder has accumulated eight hits, including three doubles, a triple and a homerun. The math works out to a .500 batting average so far. He’s owned that leadoff role and has excellent support from Martin Prado behind him who is batting .313 this year.
“The guys were all there, they didn’t panic when we got behind,” Gibson said. “Just outstanding, just a great win.”
It was a fun game to be a part of and a huge source of optimism for friends and fans who might have questioned the team’s true grit. It was my first ever 14th inning stretch. Now that I can cross it off my list, I don’t look forward to many more of them. As the game neared midnight, it became a hot topic on news feeds and social media. At one point, it was trending in the top ten nationally on Twitter. We even beat North Korea! It will be a fond memory to share from time to time.
The D-backs are back in town on Monday for a three game series against the Pirates. And don’t forget to get to the game early on Saturday the 13th to get your free “Beat L.A.” t-shirts.
That’s all for now from the press box…
on Twitter @PistolPeteAZ
Every sportswriter dreams of the day when he will show up for work (and I use the term work loosely) and be a witness to history. A gripping tale that they can narrate to their grandchildren over hot chocolate on cold winter nights. For some, it came in the form of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. For others, it was Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun. Still others had the honor of watching Cal Ripken Jr. play in his 2,632nd consecutive game. For me, it was the longest game in Chase Field’s 15-year history. Let me rephrase that, the LOOOONGEST game in Chase Field’s 15-year history. Could you see my eyes roll? I don’t think I’m going to get any #1 Grandpa shirts with my story about that one fateful night in April. Tonight‘s marathon game between the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals lasted an incredible five hours and thirty-two minutes and was the third time a Diamondbacks game went 16 innings at home. All theatrics aside, it was actually a riveting game right until the end, with great performances from multiple players.
It’s 1:45am and I just got back home from Chase field. I feel like I’ve just returned from an epic journey, perhaps to Middle Earth. I am too wired to sleep and when I can’t sleep, I write. I’d like to note that this is my favorite time of day to drive down I-10, not having to worry about gridlock or tractor trailers toppling over on me.
The game started like any other. Brandon McCarthy had his first regular season start as a Diamondback. Am I the only one that hopes the media will finally stop showing footage of him getting drilled by a line drive now that he is back on the saddle? If I ever get into a life threatening accident, I do hope my friends and family don’t have to suffer through months of countless slow-motion replays.
It was a game of dueling banjos as the D-backs and Cardinals swapped the lead 10 times throughout the evening. They were two well matched clubs tonight. Ten runs to nine runs, 17 hits to 16 hits, 15 men left on base to 12 men left on base, 13 strike outs to 12 strike outs.
And here I thought the highlight of the evening came in the bottom of the 6th inning when a Martin Prado homerun secured free tacos for everyone tomorrow. I actually adjusted my grocery purchases for most of last year based on the performance of the Diamondbacks and my expectations of cleaning out Taco Bell periodically. And so the teams marched on and tensions mounted.
As the bottom of the ninth was playing out, my peers in the press box started moaning and groaning. Our greatest fear at that point was going just one more inning and getting home a half hour later than usual. Then the tenth inning rolled into the eleventh, which rolled into the twelfth, which rolled into the thirteenth. After a while, the free popcorn, nachos and Diet Coke in the press box began to wear off and my associates became restless. Some were missing their deadlines, others were missing their families. But mostly the deadlines. Some became grouchy, some turned to humor. I think the quote of the night belonged to Dave Zorn who was a few seats to my left. He sent out a tweet that said Mark Grace would be out of jail before the game ended.
I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in a confined space with a bunch of middle aged, stressed out, out of shape sports junkies for six hours, but it’s not a pretty sight. Imagine a red-eye flight from Phoenix to Miami for an AARP convention. Actually, if you ever have an opportunity to sit in the press box at midnight on a weekday, I recommend taking it. You’ll cherish your youth and vivacity with a whole new appreciation.
The Diamondbacks staff chimed in on the PA throughout the night alerting us to records as we approached them. Third longest game, second longest game… each announcement with significantly less and less fervor. The guys from Fox TV threw a New Year’s Eve countdown clock on their broadcast and ran some stock footage of fireworks when the timer expired. The announcement of the longest game record on the loudspeaker had a certain enthusiasm that I would rate somewhere between zombie and Ben Stein. At one point, the standard re-broadcast of the game that they do for those who missed it actually began while the game was still being played. I think that somehow creates a rift in the space-time continuum, but the universe didn’t explode so the boys in the control room must have known what they were doing.
By midnight, I’d say there were less than two thousand people left in the stadium, but it was a lively bunch none the less. In the bottom of the 16th, shortstop Cliff Pennington drove a ball into centerfield which prompted an infield celebration that was reminiscent of the moment Luis Gonzalez dropped a bloop single into shallow left field to win the World Series in 2001.
After the final run scored, we all slithered down to the interview room to discover an uncharacteristically giddy Kirk Gibson. We all just kind of stared at each other wondering where to begin. Gibson asked us how we were holding up. I am proud to announce that I wasn’t the reporter who responded that he was exhausted. I don’t think the man who just coached an emotionally intense 16-inning game had much sympathy for a roomful of reporters who courageously and triumphantly hovered over their laptops for five and a half hours, checking their fantasy baseball results and Ebay watchlists.
We then walked down the tunnel to the clubhouse where we were greeted by Tupac Shakur being played at about 140 decibels. I expected a team that would be tired and somber, but instead found an animated group laughing and joking and acting a bit punch drunk from exhaustion. Finally, at about 1am, I broke the surly bonds of Chase Field and headed for my car.
The one nice thing about getting out of games like this is that I don’t have to worry about finding my car. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been going to Diamondbacks games for over ten years and I still have to do a couple of laps around the garage to find my car. It’s like some kind of horrible mall parking lot nightmare. I wander up and down ramps and in between columns like Lewis and Clark searching for the Pacific.
For those of you that are jealous of my car, it’s a 2001 Ford Escort with 212,000 miles. The first $12,000 takes it, and I’ll autograph the front fender. I’ll take off $50 for the broken AC. You’ll hardly notice come July, I promise.
So we’ve arrived at the end of my post, it’s 3am and I’ve offered you nothing of consequence relating to the game. I’ll post a follow-up tomorrow with some stats, quotes and other choice material. Sound fair?
That’s all for now from the press box (err… my bed)…
-Pistolon Twitter @PistolPeteAZ
On February 10th, 1.35 billion people celebrated the year of the snake in China. Tonight, 48,033 fans packed into Chase Field in hopes that this will be the year of the snake in the United States as well. The Arizona Diamondbacks were all business on an April Fools’ Opening Day in what many hope is a sign of good fortune to come. The D-backs secured a 6-2 win in front of a sellout crowd.
The Diamondbacks opened their regular season tonight at Chase Field with a fastball by Ian Kennedy. They played their first game against the St. Louis Cardinals before a sold out crowd. It was an evening of great energy and enthusiasm that included fireworks, a giant flag in the outfield, John Fogerty (put me in coach, I’m ready to play), and the infamous dancing cameraman. There were also the more solemn moments.
Major League teams across the country honored those fallen at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Every player on every team wore a special patch on their uniform and each stadium held a special moment of silence before the game. I grew up about 45 minutes from Newtown. I fact, I have a number of first responders in my family that I am very proud of, one of whom was there that day in December. It was a tribute that really had an impact on me tonight. I still grind my teeth when I think about the depths of human depravity.
After a ceremonial first pitch by a fondly remembered Brandon Webb, Ian Kennedy threw seven strong innings, limiting a tough Cardinals lineup to only two runs with eight strikeouts. This is a Cardinals team that made a strong postseason run last year and doesn’t fold easily. For Kennedy, it was his third straight Opening Day start, one short of Webb’s total in a Diamondbacks uniform.
Kennedy struck out 15 batters in his final two Spring Training starts. “It felt like my last start from Spring Training,” he said. “My timing felt good, my arm feels good. It helps when the game’s going along, and you and your catcher are going pitch for pitch. You know what each other’s going to throw.” Kennedy commented that catcher Miguel Montero called a good game, and that throwing first pitch strikes and getting ahead in the count helped him to relax and focus.
Arizona also got the job done with the lumber, even against a tough Adam Wainwright who won 53 games for St. Louis over the past three years. The D-backs burned through four pitchers and amassed a whopping 15 hits, including four by outfielder Gerardo Parra, three of which were doubles. In fact, the team connected for seven doubles tonight which is something they couldn’t do in any game during the last two years. Parra was hitting in the leadoff spot, a role usually filled by an injured Willie Bloomquist.
Between trades and injuries, there was some doubt if a fragmented Arizona outfield could do much of anything on Opening Day. Parra, Jason Kubel and rookie A.J. Pollock combined went 9-for-13 with three RBI tonight, silencing critics even if only temporarily.
Parra noted that the team is shifting from a power lineup to one that focuses on hits and smart, aggressive base running. “I’m happy because it’s a good team,” Parra said. “Maybe not for power, but there’s a lot of fast guys, a lot of contact guys. A very athletic team. There was no surprise win today.”
Not to date myself, but it reminds me of the radio I had as a kid, before everything was digital. All spring, the D-backs leadership was turning the dial, and all they were getting was an earful of static and hissing and squealing. Then tonight, with a tin foil hat and arms stretched out, they found that sweet spot where music, sweet music, came through loud and clear. No one move! Don’t touch the dial!
Manager Kirk Gibson also commented on the change in strategy. “We talked about it. We told you guys it was one of the things we were going to work on, one of the things that we wanted to change a little bit,” Gibson said. “We’ll hit some balls out of the ballpark, but sustained innings put more pressure on guys.” And pressure they did. Wainwright seemed absolutely spent after only 6 innings.
Another concern has been whether a newly remodeled team would have the cohesion to really be competitive. Many of these players had little more than a few months to get to know each other on and off the field. “The team was in synch tonight,” Gibson noted. “Everybody picked everybody up in all situations. It worked out good for us.”
This is the third time the D-backs opened their season on April 1st and the third time they’ve won on April 1st. In fact, they now have a 7-game Opening Day winning streak which ties Seattle for the longest active streak in Major League Baseball.
Gibson was in great spirits. “It was a good game, well played, a lot of things were working,” he said. “The pitching game by Ian was… awesome. I don’t know how else to explain it.” Gibson said it reminded him of the Ian Kennedy from a couple of years ago. If that’s the case, we should expect a 20-win season out of him.
The question of the night is, can they sustain this? If the club can contain significant injuries to April, I’d predict them to win 83 games this year.Los Angeles and San Francisco are going to be incredibly hard to beat. Fanatic optimism aside, I don’t see them in contention for a pennant, nor a late run at the Wild Card race come September. But for the sake of Arizona fans, I could be wrong. And according to my ex-wife, I usually am.
That’s all for now from the press box…
on Twitter @PistolPeteAZ