By the time the Arizona Diamondbacks caught up to San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito on Wednesday night, the little things had all but done the D-Backs in. And by the "little things," we mean putting down a sacrifice bunt, throwing accurately to first base on a pick-off attempt, and, um, catching the ball when it's hit to you. In the D-Backs' 6-4 loss to their division rivals from the Bay Area, they failed to do all three.
It looked as if the D-Backs had opening-night jitters on Wednesday, but here's the thing: It was game number 60 in what's looking like a season to forget. In the first inning alone, the Snakes' starting pitcher, left-hander Doug Davis, threw wild to first baseman Mark Reynolds, allowing a Giants runner to advance to second base. Then, a wild pitch moved that runner to third before he eventually would score. Ugly.
Dropping a bunt? With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the second, Davis (usually a decent-hitting pitcher, with an average of .208) popped up foul on a bunt attempt on the first pitch from Zito. Ugly.
The whole catching-the-ball thing? In the top of the tell-tale third inning, with the score tied 3-1 (after a two-run homer run by Giants catcher Bengie Molina and a walk and a single), a deep fly ball off the bat of Andres Torres sent centerfielder Chris Young racing back to the warning track, where he weakly stuck his glove out for a costly missed basket catch. Two runs scored and Torres ended up on third. Ugly. Generally, when a fielder has to run that far to make a play, he's given the benefit of the doubt and the play is ruled a base hit. But it seems even the official scorer at Chase Field is tired of Chris Young's ineptitude this season: He ruled it an error. So it goes for the 2009 D-Backs.
You may remember that in Monday's loss to the San Diego Padres, leftfielder Eric Byrnes similarly waved and missed at a catchable would-be flyout. It's become that bad for the D-Backs: Two guys who can't hit (Byrnes is at .215; Young is at .177) still have starting jobs for their supposed ability to make defensive plays. But now Byrnes and Young are stinking up the joint with the leather as well as with the wood. Will either of these guys be in D-Backs uniforms by the All-Star break? Man, let's hope not.
Byrnes is a veteran with playoff experience both here in Arizona and with the Oakland A's. He could be a nice presence as a back-up outfielder on a contending team. Young, only 26 years old, still has plenty of upside -- a hitter with that rare combination of speed and power. Perhaps a trip to Triple A Reno, where he could hone his craft, would do him a world of good and get him ready for a fresh start in 2010.
Of course, Wednesday night's performance wasn't all bad. In the fifth inning, the D-Backs' bats came alive against Zito. They tagged him -- and tagged him hard -- scoring three runs on five straight hard-hit balls, bringing the score to 5-4. In the barrage, Stephen Drew smoked a 2-run double. Drew has really come alive, with a 14-game hitting streak and 5 RBI in the past two games. The shortstop's batting average is up to .255 and is beginning to look again like the burgeoning superstar D-Backs fans are expecting.
Also on the positive side, early-season pariah Jon Rauch continued to look unhittable in pitching two scoreless and hitless innings -- and keeping the D-Backs in the game. He now has kept opponents scoreless for nine straight innings. On the flipside of the coin, closer Chad Qualls looked eminently hittable (again), giving up a couple of rockets in the top of eighth, including a run-scoring double that made the score 6-4. At that point, the fans started to file out of the opened-roof Chase Field. After that fifth inning, the Giants' relievers went to work, not allowing a hit and striking out seven of the 12 D-Backs hitters they faced.
The young D-Backs' struggles were magnified after the third inning, when the team honored Giants pitcher Randy Johnson, who won his 300th game last week against the Washington Nationals. Of course, Johnson won a boatload of those games -- not to mention four Cy Young awards and a World Series ring in 2001 -- as an Arizona Diamondback. A short video highlighted the future Hall-of-Famer's countless accomplishments, so many of which were achieved in that godawful purple-and-teal D-Backs uniform.
The often-irascible Johnson climbed the steps of the Giants' first-base dugout after the video's conclusion to tip his cap. Somewhat surprisingly, the crowd's standing ovation for the man who arguably is the best athlete in Arizona sports history was brief and modest, a polite round of applause. Are the fans still angry that Johnson left them -- twice -- for such un-Phoenix-like places as New York and San Francisco? Or have they already forgotten how happy Johnson made them feel as he dominated National League hitters en route to that world title in 2001?
Maybe they simply want some new highlights to marvel over but realize those highlights will come only sporadically in this disappointing 2009 season.
Today, the D-Backs try to salvage their series against the Giants before the Houston Astros come to town on Friday. Here's the pitching match-up for today's game, which starts at 12:40 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Arizona. Radio: KTAR 620 AM.
Jonathan Sanchez (2-5, 5.19 ERA vs. Max Scherzer (2-4, 4.10)