Monday, April 27, 2009 at 7:55 a.m.
After a couple of truly dismal games on Friday and Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks showed Sunday why we can't quite write them off and why there's still reason to believe (though they'll probably continue to drive us crazy all season long) in a team loaded with some of the best young talent in baseball.
IIt appeared as if the D-Backs were going to waste another good starting pitching performance (this one by Jon Garland) when they staged an improbable ninth-inning rally and, then, stole the series finale against the San Francisco Giants with a 5-4 win in 12 innings Sunday.
After Garland served up a three-run homer in the eighth to Giants future star Pablo Sandoval, the D-Backs looked like a team about to be swept for the first time this season (to the pitching-rich but, overall, inferior Giants). But in the bottom of the ninth, the D-Backs' own future star, right fielder Justin Upton, hit a two-run homer off Giants closer Brian Wilson, who had been perfect this year in converting save opportunities.
It was Upton's second home run of the series, and it boosted his season average to .222. In the series, the kid went 4-for-9, scored three runs, drove in four, and -- hey, hey -- walked twice. Not a bad series for the 21-year-old, whom the D-Backs and their fans have been patient with because they know he has the tools to be the team's franchise player for years to come.
In the 12th inning, Arizona loaded the bases for Conor Jackson, another struggling D-Back, who redeemed himself (for one day, at least) with the game-winning single. Jackson went 2-for-6 to nudge his average over the .200 mark.
"Hopefully this will carry over some momentum," Jackson said after the game Sunday. That would be nice -- and it was a huge win -- but the light-hitting D-Backs mostly looked meager against a trio of flame-throwing Giants starters.
On Friday, reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum carved up the lineup with 12 strikeouts en route to an easy 6-1 win. On Saturday, Randy Johnson struggled, not getting out of the fourth inning, but surrendered only two runs. The D-Backs had numerous opportunities to pound their former ace but left (gulp!) 11 men on base in the 5-3 loss. And on Sunday, Matt Cain overpowered the D-Backs, giving up only four hits in seven innings. Garland's strong outing was the only thing that kept the D-Backs in the game for seven innings.
It should be noted that Eric Byrnes has a pulse. The $10 million man, just two seasons removed from his 20-homer/50-steal campaign, had himself a respectable series at the plate, going 4-for-12 with a homer, two runs scored, and an RBI. His one bonehead move of the weekend occurred Saturday night when he was thrown out trying to steal third base with two outs on a pitch that got away from Giants catcher Bengie Molina.
The D-Backs will be looking for their first back-to-back wins tonight when the Chicago Cubs come to town. Arizona will be without its two best overall players, Brandon Webb and Stephen Drew, but the underachieving Cubs are expected to keep struggling Derrek Lee and injured slugger Aramis Ramirez out of the lineup for the series. And given that the D-Backs usually beat up on the Cubs at Chase Field, Bob Melvin's team has a respectable chance of winning two out of three. Entering tonight's game at 7-11, the D-Backs should be focused on reaching the .500 mark. At that point, in the wide-open NL West, anything can happen.
Here's how the Cubs series shapes up:
Tonight: Ted Lilly (2-1, 2.41 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (1-3, 1.38). 6:40 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona.
Tuesday: Carlos Zambrano (1-1, 4.85) vs. Yusmiero Petit (0-1, 6.00). 6:40 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona and WGN.
Wednesday: Ryan Dempster (1-0, 4.88) vs. Doug Davis (1-3, 3.67). 12:40 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona.
All games will air on KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.dbacks.com.