Tagged: Playoffs

It’s Over!

It would be really easy to blame the end on Conor Jackson. The first baseman’s error opened to door for the runs that were the winning margin in Colorado’s 6-4 Game 4 victory over Arizona. And I’m sure CoJack is blaming himself today. But you win as a team and you lose as a team, and that error does not, in and of itself, account for a four-game sweep.

There were a lot of contributing  factors, not the least of which was the very streaky nature of the Diamondbacks all year. You just knew they’d be done for if they went on a skid where, as a group, they couldn’t deliver. And that’s just what they did. The Rockies pitched well, but not so well that they couldn’t be beaten with some timely hitting. The D’Backs actually out-hit the Rox 36-30 in the series. To a certain extent–how much exactly, I  don’t know–you’ve got to give the Rockies pitchers credit for hanging tough with runners on base. But the D’Backs were not exactly a Murderers’ Row that got stopped in their tracks by the Colorado pitching staff. To some extent–again how much exactly, I  don’t know–the Snakes stopped themselves.

Errors did matter. On the basepaths, where Upton, Montero and Drew were out at second at very inopportune times, and in the field, where 3 errors all led to the Rockies’ scoring unearned runs. Meanwhile, the Rockies played flawless defense…spectacular defense at times. Taveras’ catch of Tony Clark’s fly ball in Game 3 was pivotal. Garrett Atkins grabbed an Eric Byrnes smash that was headed down the left field line for two bases. Josh Fogg caught a Byrnes line drive in an act of self-defense and very nearly turned it into a triple play. And what can we say about shortstop Troy Tulowitzki except that he’s the Second Coming of Derek Jeter?

Luck also cames into the picture. While the Diamondbacks seemed to be hitting with all the Rockies 25-man roster on the field, the Rockies hit balls that seemed to have eyes. Or at least the spirit of Wee Willie "Hit ’em where they ain’t" Keeler guiding them. Brandon Webb was victimized by dinks and dunks in Game 1 and that bloop in no man’s land down the left field line last night by pinch-hitter Seth Smith gave the Rox a lead they would never relinquish. When you’re going well — and it’s the understatement of the year to say that the Rockies are going well — you get that kind of luck. It’s like a reinforcing feedback loop.

This column would not be complete if I didn’t tell you I have a bone to pick with Eric Byrnes. I just knew someone would get on in the 9th to give Eric one more chance. But it was over in a flash when he took an "excuse me" swing at the first pitch and grounded out, fittingly for the Rockies, Tulowitzky to Helton, with Byrnesie diving for the bag. (With all the technology in baseball nowadays, someone should conduct some tests in Spring Training to show once and for all that sliding into first is actually slower than running through the bag).  If Byrnes had actually swung hard at that pitch, he might have had a single.  He who hesitates is lost, EB.

After last night’s game, Manager Bob Melvin told reporters, "It hurts right now. But when you
sit back and reflect on where we came from, obviously it was a
successful season." I’ll agree with that. Most of us were hoping/predicting that the team would play above .500. Third place would have been a respectable finish. At the beginning of the season, no one saw 90 wins coming; no one saw the NL West crown; and most assuredly, no one saw a victorious sweep in the first round of the playoffs. That’s success for a team that was under .500 last year. More success than the Cubs on a lot less payroll, experience, and on-the-field firepower.

In a way that is hard to see now, the loss in round two may be a blessing in disguise.  Some very interesting discoveries were made along the way to that ignominious end to a good season: particularly Mark Reynolds, Augie Ojeda and Jeff Salazar. Next year, the BabyBacks will be a bit older and wiser and a lot hungrier. O-Dog will be back. I hope Tony Clark will be back also, though you never know with these free agents. And Eric Byrnes, who finally made it past the first round of the playoffs, will come into his own as a team leader, because he’s finally going to learn how to be a second-half player.

In the meantime, there really isn’t anyone who loves the game who objects to Todd Helton getting into the World Series. I just wish it didn’t have to be this year.


Game 3

I had a bad feeling about Game 3 when Eric Byrnes came within a hairsbreadth of lining into a triple play in the first inning.

Actually, I wasn’t feeling that good about it while watching the pre-game show, because the weather was bad and expected to stay bad throughout the night. The temperature was 40 degrees, it felt like 34, and it rained throughout the game. Football weather. Bad football weather.

They even ran out of the drying agent that is spread on the infield when conditions are bad, and had to send out for something else. They called the Broncos, the universities, construction companies etc. and finally came up with 40 giant bags of crushed gravel that were delivered during the seventh inning stretch. They were lucky this game didn’t go extra innings because the next step would have been to use kitty litter.

Everyone knew that the weather reports called for today and tomorrow to be clear, albeit cool. The schedule had an extra travel day built in precisely because of the possibility of inclement weather. (Remember two rain outs in St. Louis last year?) Shouldn’t the league be interested in the safety of the players, the comfort of the fans in the stadium, and good playing conditions for a game in the CHAMPIONSHIP series? We can all stand to wait a day.

I know that I could have waited forever to see what I saw from the Diamondbacks yesterday. Three DP’s in the first three innings! Where did Colorado starter Josh Fogg come up with those pitches when he was getting hit so often during those three innings?  He did well to catch Byrnes’ line drive om the first inning. That smash served as reminder of how vulnerable pitchers are on the mound.

The game turned out to be typical of the way Arizona starter Livan Hernandez loses. He game up a 3-run homer in the sixth. He is one of the league leaders, if not THE league leader, in giving up gopher balls. And it wouldn’t have been so awful if he gave it up to Todd Helton, or Matt Holliday or Troy Tulowitzki, but Yorvit Torrealba? And with two runners on!

That’s the risk you take with Livan. He pitches to contact, and pitches around certain hitters, and so when he gives up the long ball there are usually runners aboard. Especially in the 5th or 6th inning, when he typically weakens.

And there wasn’t anybody to pick him up at anytime. Again the Diamondbacks got ’em on, but couldn’t get ’em over or get ’em in. Their one run was accounted for by a Mark Reynolds solo shot in the fourth, his only hit of the night. Eric Byrnes was abysmal, following up the double play with a strike out looking and two popouts.

Now the D’Backs are faced with doing what the Red Sox did in ’04, except that they don’t have anyone like David Ortiz on their team and the Rockies are way hotter– a ridiculous 20-1 –than the Yankees were then.

But can we at least avoid the ignominy of a sweep, please?


Outplayed But Not Outclassed

Eric Byrnes stirred up a little controversy in his workout-day press conference yesterday, particularly by his remark that "I think we’re a good team. I also don’t think the Rockies haveoutplayed us, because they haven’t. Not even close. They’ve had a
little luck go their way. Definitely the ball has bounced in their
direction. They’ve been the beneficiary of some calls. So when we look
at that as a group, we look back on those first two games, we have not
been outplayed. If anything, I think it’s the other way around."

With the Diamondbacks having lost the first two games of the LCS at home, MLB.com is suggesting that Byrnesie may have furnished a few inspirational words for the Rockies’ bulletin board. Surely the Rockies have outplayed the D’Backs in the sense that they have won both games. But they have not outclassed the Snakes. They have not played such dominating baseball as to make the Diamondbacks look like they don’t belong on the same field with the Rockies. As I’ve said before, it looked more like the Diamondbacks lost it, rather than the Rockies won it. Same results statistically however you look at it, but the first is a critically different perspective for a team looking to get up off the mat.

Consider the first game: Stephen Drew came up twice with the bases loaded and two out, and twice failed to deliver even one run. The Rockies scored 5 runs on 7 hits. Outplayed, yes. But none of the Rockies’ hits were for extra bases! Outclassed, no! Brandon Webb said, "They had some good luck on their side, because they didn’t hit too
many hard. But give them credit for putting the ball in play and
hitting it where we weren’t. There was nothing I could do about it." By putting the ball in play, the Rockies got chances to benefit from good luck. Lady Luck likes to hang out with Big Mo, and Big Mo has been hanging out with the Rockies for about a month now.

In the second game, Willie Taveras, whom Eric Byrnes called "… really good.  He’s one of the better center fielders in the game," made a crucial difference in the sixth inning. Tony Clark, immediate victim of Taveras’ leatherwork said, "Obviously, he made a great catch. If that ball tips off his glove,
Byrnesie scores and it’s a different ballgame, so it was a great play by
Willy. Very few players are athletic enough to make that play and Willy
is one of them."

The Rockies made several great plays that game, while Mark Reynolds let a grounder go through the wickets and eventually an unearned run scored. Outplayed, yes. But the game was a one-run affair that went 11-innings! Outclassed, no.

And since the Diamondbacks are not outclassed by the Rockies, they have a legitimate chance to take Game 3 and even take the series. Thirteen teams have come back to win a 7-game series after going down 0-2, the latest was the ’04 Red Sox. So, while the task is hard, it’s not impossible.

The Diamondbacks have to play like Western Division Champions, not like a bunch of guys who’ve never been there before, even though Reynolds, Drew, Montero and Upton, to name a few, haven’t been there. The veterans have to step up. Livan Hernandez, a former World Series MVP, has to pitch lights out. They need the kind of out of the box thinking that induced pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo to beat out a beautiful and unexpected two-out bunt in Game 1. They need Jose Valverde to be the closer who led the majors in saves. And they need the hitters, this means you, Eric, No. 3, proud to be one of the guys called upon to drive in runs, to be timely.

Byrnesie called himself out on May 24th when the D’Backs were shut out for the second time in the then-young season. He delivered and led the team on a winning streak. Let’s see if he can do it again.


<impatiently tapping foot>

Dear Diamondbacks,

When I said yesterday that you couldn’t leave 10 runners on base in the playoffs, it wasn’t license for you to leave 11.

The Rockies played great defense, particularly center fielder Willie Tavaras making a diving catch of a Tony Clark fly ball that looked destined to become on RBI double, and third baseman Garrett Atkins handling of a hot smash by Eric Byrnes that would have meant two bases for Byrnesie if it got by him. But that’s no excuse for leaving 11 baserunners. If you put on 11 baserunners, that’s a signal that the Rockies’ pitching was not all that great, triple digits on the radar gun or not.

Rookie mistakes continue to haunt you guys. Mark Reynolds let a ball go through his wickets. That led to one of the two runs given up by Doug Davis in his five innings of work. And in the ninth inning, Stephen Drew got caught off second base after assuming he was out when Matsui flipped Byrnes’ bouncer to Tulowitski. But the flip pulled Tulo off the bag, everybody was safe (for a moment) and the tying run scored. But Drew assumed he was out, started walking back to the dugout and was tagged out.

Drew later said, "I looked back and saw no call, and I figured I was out." No call is no call. Make sure the ump calls you out before you head back to the dugout. Then Drew said, "It’s unfortunate. You can’t hear the umpire’s call. I was
just trying to come in hard and break up the double play." If you can’t hear the umpire’s call, stick to the bag until he repeats it. Umpires know it’s noisy out there and they are not the least bit shy. They’ll repeat a call if you didn’t hear it the first time. You know what they say happens when you assume…it makes an *****. out of you and me.

Justin Upton tried to defend his teammate after the game.
"Those things happen. I mean, they’re going to happen. And there’s nothing we can do about it. Next question." Very gentlemanly of you to stand up for Drew, young man. But I’ve never seen that happen and I’ve been watching games longer than you’ve been on this planet.

Of course, the vets messed up, too. Eric, we could have done without the popout with runners on first and second. And are you ever going to learn to throw to the right base? Trying to get the lead runner is not always the smart thing to do. Throwing to second keeps the double play in order by preventing the guy who hit the single from taking second on the throw. Discretion is the better part of valor, Eric. I’d like to see you do the fundamentally correct thing, rather than the attempted heroic thing, just on principle. There will come a time when it will be important. Maybe as soon as Game 3.

Jose Valverde, I know that closers don’t have their "A" Game all the time, even in playoffs. But your walking the bases loaded and then walking in the winning run gave me ugly flashbacks to the 1999 NLDS when the Mets handed the Braves the pennant on a bases-loaded walk. You see those guys on the field behind you with gloves? They’re called fielders. They’re on your team. If you don’t have your good stuff, just throw your hardest fastball down the middle and dare the batter to hit it. He might be so surprised his knees buckle and can’t take the bat off his shoulder. Or he might swing and miss. Or he might just hit it to a fielder. Those guys are behind you to take care of that stuff. He might also hit it off the wall or over it, but that’s better than walking in the winning run because he would have had to do something more than stand in the batter’s box watching pitches go by. You can’t defense a walk.

<Sigh> Game 3 Sunday in Colorado. Livo against Fogg. Get your act together, Diamondbacks!


Not a Good Way To Start

We knew that winning the NLCS wasn’t going to be easy. With the Rockies and the Diamondbacks so well matched, no one’s expecting a sweep on either side. The Rockies have been so white-hot for the last month that it’s UNREAL. Yes, I remember when the Oakland A’s won 20 in a row–the Rockies are 19-1 for their last 20–and that was unreal, too. But this is really unreal (huh?) because the Rockies’s run  includes the postseason. And they have had Brandon Webb’s number all year.

But, although the Rockies pitched well last night, they weren’t so dominating that the D’Backs didn’t have a chance. I can’t help but feel the Diamondbacks lost Game 1 more than the Rockies won it. Twice, the Snakes loaded the bases with two out, then stranded all the runners when Stephen Drew, who led the attack against Chicago, first struck out, then flied out to right. And there were other LOB situations; Eric Byrnes was on twice and did not score. You have to have scoring opportunities with less than two out and you have to deliver WITH two out at this level. You can’t strand 10 baserunners and expect to win.

Add to the offensive woes two problems on the basepaths: Justin Upton’s interference and Miguel Montero’s overrunning second base on a double and getting tagged out to end the game. Upton is 20 and came up mid-season, and Montero is a rookie catcher who platoons with Chris Snyder. They both have come up big during the season but they showed their youth last night. Overexuberance, especially on Montero’s part. Can’t have that at this level. Both players showed how the art of sliding has deteriorated over the years. Ditto the slide that took Orlando Hudson out for the season.

We also didn’t need the idiots throwing water bottles and other detritus on the field and holding up play. Those weren’t Chase regulars, but tourists with money to burn and nothing better to do on a Thursday night in Phoenix. You get that sort of element when you price out the regular fans. Bleacher seats, for example, were $35 at the NLDS and were bumped up to $60 for the NLCS. This in the market that has the lowest per-capita income in MLB. The stands were filling up at the end of the regular season when ticket prices dropped and no one threw stuff onto the field.

OK, D’Backs, time to regroup. Pitch the game of your life, Double D. The team can’t afford losing both games at home.


P.S. The Diamondbacks’ lone run came in the first inning when Stephen Drew singled and ERIC BYRNES doubled him in. Byrnesie now has "hit for the cycle" in this year’s postseason. This means that three of his four hits so far this post season have been for extra bases. They have also driven in runs. Byrnesie’s warming up. Good.

Good Luck, Diamondbacks!

The Arizona Diamondbacks begin their quest for the NL pennant and a place in the World Series today. They face Colorado at Chase Field. Brandon Webb takes on Jeff Francis in a battle of aces.

Dance with who brung ya, D’Backs: pitching, defense and the understanding that Anybody Anytime can deliver at the plate.

And have fun. No one, including me, expected you to be here this year. The greatest pleasure is in doing things others say you cannot do.

Go, Diamondbacks!


P.S. Byrnesie, remember May and June and the first week of September!

Armageddon Is Hereby Postponed!


(photo by M. Spencer Green/AP)

"Who would have thought that at the beginning of spring training or the
season? I’m sure there were a lot of people thinking maybe .500 baseball. We have guys who are ready to
win. We’ve already exceeded expectations so far and we’re going to continue to
do so."

–Eric Byrnes

For how long, I don’t know. But the fact that the Chicago Cubs will not win the World Series this year is evidence that the gods — the baseball gods, at least — are not quite ready to conclude business on this planet.

The Arizona Diamondbacks completed their sweep of the Cubbies, 5-1 at Wrigley Field today. Maybe now, folks will get to know who are Diamondbacks are.

Are they really so improbable? The Snakes took four of six from the Cubs during the regular season. Haven’t we always believed that good pitching stops good hitting? The middle of the Cubs order could do no damage against the D’Backs hurlers in the three-game playoff. Isn’t strong defense a characteristic of winning teams? The D’Backs turned four double plays today, stopping Cub threats before things could get out of hand.

And they almost got out of hand today with Livan Hernandez on the mound. He walked the bases loaded as prelude to the 3rd DP. It is amazing that the Cubs scored only one run with Hernandez yielding 5 hits and issuing 5 free passes while striking out only two.

I watched the game with a sense of forboding while at work, half-expecting the roof–or the sky, Wrigley’s an outdoor venue– to cave in as the Cubs kept getting men on base. As I’ve said before, Livo’s "don’t throw a strike until you have to" style is an acquired taste, and I haven’t acquired it. But he has a rep as a big-game pitcher and he has a World Series ring to show for it. Today, he lived up to that reputation (with the help of his infielders).

The big bats were awake in the Arizona dugout. Lead-off hitter Chris Young belted the first pitch he saw into the seats. And Eric Byrnes finally hit one out in the 6th, his first homer since September 4th; Whew! I had begun to think he’d forgotten how. And Stephen Drew hit his second homer of the series, the nail in the Cubbies’ coffin, in the 9th inning.

But they were all solo shots. The D’Backs also scored runs with small ball and hustle, as they have throughout the year. Eric Byrnes nearly grounded into an inning-ending double play his third time up. Nearly. His hustle plus Mark DeRosa’s slight hesitation in getting rid of the ball at second base was enough for Eric to beat out the throw. Barely. But it allowed Miguel Montero, who had gotten aboard by walk, to score from third. The announcers later did a short dugout interview with manager Bob Melvin who said that hustle was part of the team’s play and that it begins with Eric Byrnes, who runs out everything from the first day of spring training.

Of course, there are things to pick on. Particularly the fact that the Diamondbacks left ten runners on base. They can’t afford that sort of thing in the next round. The light-hitting Snakes have gotten as far as they have by getting TIMELY hits. They squandered a lot of chances today. Byrnesie himself was charged with 4 LOB and he himself was left on third twice. Miguel Montero was charged with 5 LOB. If it hadn’t been for those double plays, the stranded runners would have spelled trouble rather than mere aggravation.

Eric Byrnes met the definition of True Elation today: two hits and 2 RBI. Plus he stole second. I hope that this gets him going for the next round. His only other hit was that RBI triple in Game 2. The team needs more productivity from the leader of the offense. I had a gut feeling that he was going to start slow. But if my guts are on target, he’ll get better and better. Yes, I’m expecting the Snakes in the World Series.

But for now, let me just spend the next four days catching up with the rest of my life. And enjoying what has just happened.

Congrats, Diamondbacks!


P.S. My Byrnes/Diamondbacks jersey arrived yesterday and I was wearing it at work today. No dress code for a radio broadcast tech and sometime journalist who does phone interviews for her stories. Though I must say, this jersey is nicer than most of the stuff I wear.