It was a marathon game that the Arizona Diamondbacks seemingly had in the bag early.
When ace Dan Haren left after seven innings, Arizona held a commanding 6-1 lead over the San Diego Padres. Haren had pitched brilliantly, giving up only four hits and striking out five.
Then came the usual ass-pain for the Diamondbacks: the freakin' bullpen.
In the bottom of the ninth, its members served up five runs to the Padres, and the score was tied. So-called closer Chad Qualls was the biggest goat, allowing tiny David Eckstein, a D-Back last year, to hit his first home run of the season -- a three-run, pinch-hit shot into the left-field bleachers of San Diego's Petco Park.
When the 5-foot-7 Eckstein put Qualls' first pitch to him into the seats to erase the rest of the Diamondbacks' lead, all Fox Sports color commentator Mark Grace could say was: "Unbelievable!" He said it several times. What we were saying was much worse.
The local fans and players went crazy, because the Padres had been one out away from a loss in which they'd been able to generate little offense. Guess you could say their hitters were Snakes-bitten.
Mostly by Haren, who hadn't given up a run until the seventh inning, when San Diego third-baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a solo homer to left field.
After the Padres tied the game in the ninth, eight innings of scoreless baseball followed. Arizona had runners on base frequently, only to strand them time and again
One casualty of the extra innings was young slugger Justin Upton, who suffered a shoulder injury swinging hard for a strike in the 10th and had to leave the game. Upton is the best hitter on the team, and his departure from the lineup would be a blow to the already-downtrodden D-Backs. There was no immediate word on when he would return to action.
About the 15th inning, Grace began talking about the longest games in Major League Baseball history. Turns out this 18-inning contest was the longest in D-Backs history, though the team played this many innings twice before.
While we're on the subject, the longest game in big-league history was a May 1, 1920 pitching duel between the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Robins (who later became the Dodgers) that ended in a 1-1 tie after 26 innings. The game lasted eight hours and 22 minutes.
The longest game in modern MLB history was a May 9, 1984 battle between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox that the Sox took 7-6 in the 25th inning. That game went eight hours and six minutes.
At five hours and 45 minutes, Sunday's game came nowhere close to those records. But it ended with a flash, if you're an Arizona fan.
The Padres had exhausted their pitching staff by the 18th and were forced to put reserve shortstop Josh Wilson on the mound. With two outs and two men on base, D-Backs third-baseman Mark Reynolds slugged a three-run, opposite-field homer just over the top of the wall in right field, making the score 9-6. Petco Park is huge, and the ball carried more than 400 feet.
San Diego could muster nothing in the bottom of the inning, and the Snakes escaped with the victory.
As bad as the, um, stars of Arizona's bullpen were at the end of the first half of the game, it's second-tier relief pitchers held the Padres scoreless for the last nine innings of the game.
Maybe instead of looking first to Tony Pena, Juan Gutierrez, and Chad Qualls, manager A.J. Hinch should be going with Leo Rosales (who pitched 3.1 innings), Clay Zavada (who pitched 2.2), Esmerling Vazquez (2), and Jon Rauch (1), all of whom didn't give up a solitary hit.
What we're saying is, the D-Backs bullpen was both terrible and great in the same game. Zavada was doing such a good job that, rather than pinch hit for him, Hinch kept him in the game so he could return to the mound.
With the win, Arizona's 2-1 against the Padres so far in this four-game series.
The D-Backs won the first game 8-0 Friday night behind starter Doug Davis, who allowed only three hits and walked just four in six innings. Center-fielder Chris Young, who's been in a season-long slump, hit a solo homer in the second inning and stole two bases in the game.
Saturday, Arizona's bullpen problems festered again. After a solid performance by starter Max Scherzer (the Snakes had a 2-0 lead when he left the game), the 'pen gave up six runs in the sixth inning. This time, Daniel Schlereth was the culprit, failing to retire any of the four hitters he faced in the sixth. The Padres wound up winning 6-4.
The two teams play again tonight, starting at 7:05 p.m. at Petco. John Garland (4-5, 5.34 ERA) for Arizona and Jake Peavy (5-6, 4.10 ERA) for San Diego are scheduled to start. TV: Fox Sports; Radio: KTAR-AM 620 (English), KSUN-AM 1400 (Spanish). For more information, visit www.diamondbacks.com.
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