On the final game of the regular season, perhaps the Diamondbacks took a page from Alfred E. Newman’s book.
“What, me worry?”
So the D-backs dropped the last game, but head into the post-season as a confident group. By losing 7-5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 41,791, the D-backs tied for the third best record in franchise history with 94 wins (94-68), and earned their sixth trip to the post-season in their 14 year history.
With the Milwaukee Brewers beating Pittsburgh and clinching home field in the opening round, the D-backs now open the post season on the road. Not that one move complemented the other, manager Kirk Gibson took out his starters after six innings, and the Arizona scorecard looked like a spring training game.
Still, the D-backs did not go quietly. Down 7-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Cole Gillespie smashed a grand slam and Henry Blanco followed with his eighth round-tripper of the season to cut the final margin to two.
“In that situation, I’m looking to get something up,” said Gillespie. “Yeah, we came up a little short, but it was fun. We came close and either way, it was fun.”
Starter Joe Saunders was roughed up, surrendered nine hits, five runs, and allowed the most runs in a game since he surrendered five in a 9-2 loss at Philadelphia Aug. 17. Saunders has been effective since late May, and coming into the season finale, he was 12-7 with a 3.04 ERA. With the defeat, he finished with a mark of 12-13 and an ERA of 3.69.
If the Dodgers scored the most against Arizona pitching since 7-6 to San Diego Sept. 11 at home, the D-backs could not solve L. A. starter Ted Lilly. In winning his 12th of the season (12-14), Lilly pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed only five base runners.
Still, the Diamondbacks seem at ease. With confidence strong and will resolved, they open the post-season with high spirits. With the regular season now in the rear view mirror, post-game discussion centered around the Brewers and how the Diamondbacks approach this now best three-of-five series.
“We both have similar teams and strong line-ups,” said centerfielder Chris Young. “We’re going into the series confident and ready to focus on the task at hand.”
NEXT, THE BREWERS
The Diamondbacks and Brewers meet for the first time in post-season play, and Milwaukee finished with two more wins. With a record of 96-66, that’s slightly better than the D-backs’ mark of 94-68.
If the D-backs are to survive, the road to the NL Championship Series will likely go through Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Both are strong MVP candidates, but Gibson cautions against concentrating too much on this power duo.
“Braun was hurt the last time we played them, but he’s healthy,” said Gibson. “We know what Fielder can do, and Njyer Morgan is dangerous at the top of the lineup. The game is different in the post-season, but it comes down to execution.”
Gibson named right-hander Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA) to open the series for Arizona, and he’ll be opposed by right-hander Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52 ERA). The Brewers will come back with right-hander Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.54 ERA) in Game Two, and Gibson, as of the night of the season’s final game, said he was uncertain on the D-backs starter. In all probability, right-hander Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49 ERA) will get the ball from Gibson in Game Two.
REMAKE OF “THE NATURAL”
Move over Roy Hobbs and make room for Ryan Roberts.
In a script better then Hobbs’ home run to win the pennant for The New York Knights in the novel, “The Natural,” Roberts’ grand slam Sept. 27 to give the Diamondbacks another come-from-behind victory, which likely will be talked for a long time, and clearly better than any Hollywood script.
After Dodgers’ reliever Blake Hawskworth’s failure to cover first with two outs in the 10th inning and up 6-1, the D-backs crushed a battering ram through the Dodgers, exploded for six runs, and the win. Roberts’ blast was systematic of the season, and reinforced manager Kirk Gibson’s requirement to play hard until the final out.
Even the most creative writers would have had a difficult assignment matching the D-backs’ scenario of Sept. 27, and for for that matter, how the season transpired.
“We play hard to the last out,” said pitcher Micah Owings. “What we do just happens the right way. We grind it out, night after night.”
For his part, Gibson said Roberts’ game-winner was “uplifting,” but indicated he is too wrapped up in playoff preparation to get totally involved in the significant of Roberts’ achievement.
Only, Gibson pointed out, the win reinforces the way the Diamondbacks approach the game.
“We’re not passive, and go out with everything we know and everything we do,” Gibson said. “What Roberts did merely validates what this team has been doing all season.”
FROM THE OUTSIDE
At the start of the season, most pundits expected the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies to battle for the NL West Division crown.
Then, the Diamondbacks moved ahead when Colorado slipped and the Giants could not hit.
From the perspective of a major participant, the D-backs rise was not a surprise and should have not caught the opposition off guard.
“(Arizona) always had talent, and have the gritty players which wins championships,” said Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly prior to the final game of the regular season. “Gibson brings a toughness to their club, and the players responded.”
As the D-backs head into the post-season, Mattingly indicated the game changes.
There’s no question Gibson is aware of the dynamics, but, at this point, he’s playing his cards close to the cuff. Gibson continually tells the media he had not thought about roster construction, his starters for post-season play, line-ups, use of relievers or a myriad of issues relative to the playoffs.
With the Dodgers packing for the golf course and winter homes, Mattingly is quick to point out what Gibson will likely divulge in the near future.
“Teams which get hot at the right time win in the post-season,” the Dodgers skipper added. “Plus, the roster dynamics change. You go with five pitchers throughout the season, and now you go with two, perhaps three. But, it’s the guys who get hot that will carry a team, and win.”
Prior to the season finale, the Arizona chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America handed their annual awards. They cited pitcher Josh Collmenter as the Rookie of the year, catcher Miguel Montero as The Good Guy Award, Kennedy as the Most Valuable Pitcher, and Justin Upton as the Most Valuable Player.