Dodgers Snared by Webb, then Pummeled by D’Backs 9 – 1
(photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
"He had that shot-put sinker going. It’s
heavy, very heavy. You feel like you’re hitting a bowling ball when
– Manager Bob Melvin, on ace Brandon Webb.
It all came together last night. The Arizona Diamondbacks won their sixth game in a row, thoroughly stomping on the Dodgers 9-1 and taking over first place in the NL West in the process.
Now someone who often sees the Diamondbacks beer cup as half empty might be quick to point out that the Dodgers had gone into this game losing six of eight and winning the night before in 17 arduous innings. Indeed, given that scenario, it would have been a huge shame if the Diamondbacks didn’t win last night. But last night, the team was functioning with a level of completeness it hadn’t shown earlier this month. And that, more than the score, is the really big news.
First and foremost, was the pitching performance of ace Brandon Webb, who finally pitched like the Cy Young Award winner he is. Even a rested Dodgers team was not going to get much off him last night. There was also good defense, as Webb got 14 ground ball outs to five fly outs (and two strikeouts) in his seven innings of work.
But what was really exciting was the top to bottom offense. The Diamondbacks primary offensive strategy was to go deep in the count to get starter Randy Wolf out of the game as soon as possible. Leadoff hitter Chris Young did not do that. But who’s going to complain, since he bashed the second pitch of the game into the left-field seats? But the rest of the Snakes bided their time. Wolf was gone after 5 2/3 innings, the first time this season he failed to go six. The Dodgers even called on starter Brett Tomko, who pitched two thirds of an inning when he would have been normally scheduled to throw on the side.
Everyone in the starting lineup, including Brandon Webb himself, got a hit. Webb, in fact, got an RBI single and also sacrificed twice. Stephen Drew struck out his first three times but then he got a single, so no one was left out. In fact this landslide of a victory could have been even more lopsided than it was; the Diamondbacks left 16 runners on base. So we know that there’s still room for improvement. But it was great to see some things we had been waiting for: Chris Young had the first multiple homer game of his career; he hit home run No. 2 in the seventh. Carlos Quentin, who lately had been looking like he has never heard the words "plate discipline," in his life, baffled the Dodgers by taking pitches. He not only got two hits but he got three of the seven walks the Diamondbacks took last night. Orlando Hudson got three hits to continue his season-long streak of getting on base by hit or by a walk. Catcher Chris Snyder, batting eighth, went 2-3 with two walks and an RBI.
The Diamondbacks also got run production from the heart of their batting order: an RBI apiece from number six hitter Tony Clark, number five hitter Chad Tracy, and (TA-DAH!) cleanup hitter Eric Byrnes.
Byrnesie had a good night: 2-5 and a walk, including an RBI-double and a run scored. He also hit a deep fly ball to left in the third which advanced Orlando Hudson from first to second and Hudson later scored.
But Byrnesie also gave us the fly in the ointment in his last turn at bat. With two out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, he struck out. The Diamondbacks did not need the runs; the score was already 9-1. But Byrnesie could’ve used the runs; his performance with the bases loaded is definitely subpar. That’s why earlier this month, managers Clint Hurdle and Bud Black intentionally walked the batter in front of Byrnes to make him hit with the bags full. Eric delivered a single both times, which was good, but in several years of watching him, I have yet to see him get more than a single in such a situation. He has never hit a grand slam in the major leagues.
The setting seemed perfect for a breakthrough on this level. If not a grand slam, at least a double. It was the Diamondbacks’ night and Byrnes had already gotten two hits. The pitcher was left-hander Joe Beimel and Byrnes hits left-handers well. Moreover, the game was in Chavez Ravine and Byrnes came into this game batting .373 on the road this season. And he does very well against the Dodgers, batting .380 against "The Boys in Blue."
It was a five-pitch strikeout. Byrnes took pitches one and three for strikes; Biemel threw a ball in between. Eric fouled off the fourth pitch and then completely missed the fifth. This season, Diamondbacks announcer Mark Grace, himself a very good hitter in his day, has spoken frequently about the pitch a batter should have hit and didn’t, either because he took it, missed it, or fouled it off, being the real out pitch, rather than the pitch on which the batter was subsequently retired. I’m convinced I saw an example of that last night in Byrnes’ last at bat. The two called strikes looked hittable, especially the second one. Then suddenly, Eric was in a 1-2 hole, looking tense and swinging defensively. He went after–and badly missed–a pitch that looked like a ball.
I don’t know why he took those strikes. There was no longer a need to work deep in the count to get the pitcher out of the game. In fact, there was no longer a need for the Diamondbacks to score any runs, so I doubt that any instructions as to what to do came from the coaching box. But Byrnesie needed the runs so that opposition managers stop thinking that he’s the guy they want to face with RISP and the game on the line. He was tense; that was written all over him, especially when the count went to 1-2.
Eric, you got to relax more with the bases loaded. Two or three or four more RBI would have been a perfect ending to a good April. You’ve ended the first month of the season batting .276, with an OBP of .347, thanks to 12 (!) walks. You’ve got 15 RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases. And you’re just getting warmed up! Now it’s May. We all know how good you are in May!