In what was to be his moment, Jarrod Parker had to give way to Ryan Roberts.
In easily the most improbable finish in this improbable season, Roberts’ grand slam in the bottom of the 10th gave the Diamondbacks a 7-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers Sept. 27. The D-backs’ six run rally in the bottom of the 10th stands as a microcosm to a season dominated by come-from-behind wins and filled with fantastic finishes.
Roberts’ blast was the first walk-off home run and first grand slam of his career, and as he rounded first, he broke into a Kirk Gibson’s fist pump that his manager highlighted in his dramatic walk-off homer run in the 1988 World Series.
“I always said to myself if I ever had a walk-off homer, I’d do the fist pump,” said Roberts, who now has 19 home runs and 65 RBIs, both career highs. “I guess this is another thing among crazy things all year.”
Roberts stepped up with the D-backs down 6-3 and faced Dodgers’ closer Javy Guerra, who was 21-for-22 in save opportunities to that point. On the first pitch, Roberts lifted the ball half-way up in the left field bleachers and the sparse crowd left of the original 25,669 danced in the aisles.
“I was just looking for something to drive,” Roberts added. “The momentum was on our side and wanted to get something in play.”
Roberts’ game winner took luster from the brilliant effort of Parker, the Diamondbacks number one, and ninth over pick, in the 2007 draft. Injured for the most of the previous three years, including Tommy John surgery in 2010, Parker spend long hours rehabbing and put in the kind of effort needed to get back on the mound competitively.
When Parker was handed the ball by manager Kirk Gibson, the Diamondbacks took another step to solidify the future. Though Parker was drafted in 2007, three years before present general manager Kevin Towers arrived in the desert, the native of Fort Wayne, Ind. suffered through extensive arm problems, including the surgery and an uncertain future. Through sheer diligence and will power, Parker survived to make his major league debut.
In his initial start against the Dodgers, Parker did not disappoint. In a pitch count limited to 73, the 22 year-old lasted 5.2 innings, allowed four hits, no runs, walked one, struck out one and left to a standing ovation from those assembled in Chase Field. Parker exited with the score tied at 0-0, and cheers ringing in his ears.
“Sure, the emotions were flowing,” Parker said. “I tried to stay as calm as I could. It’s just a baseball game, and I was trying to relax.”
Parker showed no sign of nervousness or even the hint of butterflies. Instead, he executed command of the strike zone worthy of any veteran, and produced tangible results.
“I wanted to keep pitches low in the strike zone, and we talked about when I was in the minors,” he added. “That’s something I was doing at Mobile and I was able to carry that over from double A.”
Parker’s only mistake was not on the mound but on the bases.
With one out in the fifth, he laced a double into the right field corner. Willie Bloomquist then sent a fly to right and Parker thought it was a two out situation. Taking off with the crack of the bat, Parker was then easily doubled off second and the threat ended at that point.
Still, that did not deter from his productivity.
“(Parker) showed a great deal of composure,” said Gibson. “He kept the ball down, and pounded the strike zone. Good start to we hope is a bright future.”
Then, the comeback.
Down 1-0 in the seventh, the D-backs tied this one on a walk to Chris Young and Lyle Overbay’s run-scoring double over Matt Kemp’s head to the fence in center field to tie the game.
At that point, the D-backs seem to fall apart.
Going into extra innings, the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon left off the 10th with a double and scored when pitcher Micah Owings fielded Jerry Sands’ sacrifice bunt and, in an attempt to get Gordon at third. threw the ball into left field. Gordon scored and Sands moved to second. Sands then came around on Kemp’s single, and took second when Young failed to cleanly pick up his hit to center.
As if Justin Upton has not had enough misfortune this season, he was hit in the head in the 10th inning while playing the ball off the right field fence. L. A. catcher A. J. Ellis rocked a Owings delivery off the fence for a triple, and the rebound nailed Upton in the head. He appeared dazed, and at first, could not locate the ball. That scored two more, and forced Upton to leave the game.
“That hurt, and when I couldn’t find the ball, it just rolled away,” Upton said afterward. “When I came out, that was the smart thing to do. Gibby made the right call, and we got the win. That’s all that matters. Any time you win, it’s fun.”
Then, the most improbable comeback of the Diamondbacks’ 48 come-from-behind wins. Seems all that’s needed is a just a crack in the door, and with their collective bodies, it’s a ram-rod which follows.
Gibson pointed to the hustle by Cole Gillespie, who replaced Upton, with two outs and no one on base in the 10th inning. He reached first when his ground ball resulted in a wide throw from James Loney, the Dodgers first baseman. That opened the door, and from there, the D-backs used their battering ram.
Two walks, a single, and an error by Dodgers’ third baseman Aaron Miles followed, and help set the dramatic stage for Roberts. Like an actor on cue, Roberts delivered with the most remarkable hit of this still unwritten season.
WHAT IT WILL TAKE
Don’t look at the numbers, look at the character.
Entering post-season play, that’s the essential approach the Diamondbacks entertain. Still, scoreboard-watching remains in full force.
With the Brewers defeating Pittsburgh Sept. 27, and the D-backs win, Arizona can still finish with the second best record in the National League.
“There’s talk all around of beating out Milwaukee and that stuff,” said Roberts. “The media makes a big deal of this, but, in the clubhouse, we don’t talk about it.”
Still, the discussion follows.
For the D-backs to finish with the second best NL record, they would have to beat the Dodgers Sept. 28 and the Brewers lose to Pittsburgh. Then, their opponent would be decided through a plethora of scenarios, but the D-backs would host the first two games of the Division Series.
If the Brewers beat the Pirates, the D-backs would open the playoff against the Phillies in Philadelphia.
In any event, the venue remains of little concern.
“At the start of the season, no one gave us a chance, so what,” said bench coach Alan Trammell. “Look, the game is the same and about the only difference might be the crowd, the noise and the media coverage. As coaches, we’ll tell the players to continue to do what they have been doing.”
Gibson was more direct.
“Ultimately, we’ll have to execute,” he told reporters in his daily pre-game media briefing Sept. 27. “Look, no one knows what will happen. Trust me, no one knows.”