Arizona Diamondbacks Claw Their Way Back, Only to Let Game Slip Away to Atlanta Braves

This one's gotta sting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. First, their hitters are shut down for six innings against young Atlanta Braves future star Tommy Hanson. Then, two big hits -- a two-run pinch-hit homer by Chris Young in the seventh and a three-run double by Kelly Johnson in the eighth -- get the D-Backs back in the game with a 7-7 tie heading into the ninth. 

Cue the bullpen, and we think you know what happens when those guys start toeing the rubber. Fireworks. Closer Chad Qualls gives up five hits and four runs in the top of the ninth to give the Braves an 11-7 lead. The D-Backs load up the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but Braves closer Billy Wagner strikes out Rusty Ryal and Chris Snyder. End result: four-game split with the National League East-leading Braves.

It was Johnson's second three-RBI game this series, and the second baseman raised his average to .279 heading into tomorrow's series opener with the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, Qualls' horrifying actually got worse. Though he wasn't in line to save the game, his job was to get three measly outs to give the D-Backs' top of the batting order a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth. Instead, Qualls got just one out, all while watching his earned-run average soar to 7.77. 

This could be the game -- offensive futility for five innings, a burst of late energy, and sadly inevitable bullpen meltdown -- that sets the wheels in motion for change in the major league roster. Between them, Qualls and reliever Cesar Valdez, who came on in the fifth after starter Dontrelle Willis was ineffective, gave up 11 hits and nine earned runs in exactly one inning of work. The good news? Blaine Boyer and Juan Gutierrez pitched 3.1 innings of shutout ball. Congrats, guys.

Willis, the former Florida Marlins phenom whom the D-Backs took a chance on earlier this month after the Detroit Tigers had seen enough, pitched four innings, giving up two runs on three hits and (gulp!) six walks. Dontrelle, it was nice knowing ya.

If you're looking for a silver lining, a 2-2 split with the NL East's front-runner would probably qualify. It's not going to get easier this weekend when Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals come to Chase Field for a three-game series. Despite a thumping lineup containing Pujols, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick and two top-tier starting pitchers in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have underachieved this season and are currently on a four-game losing streak and 1.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. 

Here are this weekend's match-ups:
Friday: Jaime Garcia (5-2, 1.47 ERA) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (2-4, 4.27), 6:40 p.m.
Saturday: Adam Ottavino (0-1, 5.06) vs. Dan Haren (6-4, 4.83, 88 Ks in 87.2 IP), 5:10 p.m.
Sunday: Chris Carpenter (7-1, 2.54) vs. Edwin Jackson (3-6, 5.36), 1:10 p.m.

All games are on Fox Sports Arizona (TV) and KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.dbacks.com


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