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D-backs can’t find traction during Greinke-Darvish battle in NLDS loss

(AP photos)

PHOENIX – A one-run deficit for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the first four innings of their NLDS Game 3 didn’t look lopsided. The two-run deficit for most of the next five didn’t either.

But most of their do-or-die game Monday against the Dodgers felt lopsided in Los Angeles’ favor.

D-backs ace Zack Greinke chewed up 54 pitches through the first two innings alone before grinding through 5.0 frames and entering the top of the sixth having given up two earned runs on 103 pitches. That alone felt like a victory. But after a solo shot by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes in the sixth, Greinke was pulled after throwing 105 pitches, walking a season-high five batters and allowing three runs off four hits to go with four strikeouts.

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish entered the bottom of the sixth with just 66 pitches thrown and a 3-1 lead after Greinke allowed the home run a half-inning prior. It seemed like a clearly superior way to go about winning a baseball game.

Then things changed.

Suddenly, Darvish was off the mound.

It could have been a moment in the game to inspire hope. Until it wasn’t.

Arizona’s season came to an end with a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, who completed an NLDS sweep. Even with Darvish chased out of the game earlier than expected when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled the starter after just 5.0-plus innings and 74 pitches, the Diamondbacks just couldn’t find offensive traction.

“He was hot, so you’re trying to get him out of there,” said D-backs center fielder A.J. Pollock. “We get him out of there. Their bullpen did a great job, they stepped it up.

“(I) was trying to wait for mistakes. If we could have fought a little harder, I feel like, and get a couple more pitches, maybe fouled off a couple more, or taken a couple tougher ones – I’m just looking at my own at-bats – maybe I would have gotten more of a mistake, but they didn’t make too many of them. I mean, what are you gonna do?”

That about said it all.

Arizona only managed three hits: a bunt single by Ketel Marte in the first, a home run by Daniel Descalso in the fifth and a ninth-inning single by David Peralta.

That Darvish didn’t go deeper was surprising.

His departure came suddenly. Arizona pinch-hitter Christian Walker led off the bottom of the sixth with a gutty eight-pitch at-bat. On the first pitch, he took an inside toss to the knob of his bat and his acting job wasn’t selling the umpires on a hit-by-pitch more than the replay review that upheld the foul ball called. By the eighth pitch, though, he’d actually been struck – right in the brim of his batting helmet.

Then, with his command apparently shot, away with Darvish the Dodgers went.

“I support (Roberts’) decision,” Darvish said through a translator. “Like, it was 3-1, and it was a really close game, like I said. We didn’t want to give them any chances. So if I was the manager, I’d do the same thing, like, use all the bullpen because we’re going to have an off day tomorrow and day after tomorrow.”

Before that, Darvish was on despite admitting afterward the roof at Chase Field being open changed how his off-speed pitches were working.

“He switched up his game plan a little bit and deserves a lot of credit, because he was throwing a lot more fastballs and to some key batters in some key situations than we maybe had thought,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said.

“But he stood on his stuff and executed with a three-pitch mix. He’s got exceptional stuff, and he made it very tough on us tonight.”

After all that success, Darvish was gone like Greinke, through 5.0 innings plus a batter. He’d allowed just two hits and one earned run, a solo shot by Descalso in the fifth that pulled Arizona to within 2-1.

Then, after Barnes’ sixth-inning bomb, the bullpen cold war was on.

Before the Walker hit-by-pitch, it appeared Greinke would break first. The Dodgers didn’t chase one pitch outside the zone until Greinke struck out Darvish in the second frame. He said the two solo homers hit off him — by Barnes in the sixth and Cody Bellinger in the fifth — were on quality pitches.

“I just think it was a little lack of fastball command, getting behind guys. That’s one thing that sticks out,” catcher Jeff Mathis said of Greinke’s rough start.

“He battled his tail off. After the first couple of innings if you told me he’d get to the sixth, I really wouldn’t have believed you. I respect the hell out of it.”

It was messy and rhythm-less and maybe not good enough considering expectations for Greinke. But for an Arizona batting lineup that had slapped four home runs off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw two games back and scored five runs in each of the past two outings, it could’ve been enough.

What are you gonna do?

Some Arizona players hugged in the locker room after the game. Many did so with eyes red. Lovullo admitted he didn’t think the Dodgers played their best ball. Neither did his Diamondbacks.

“It stings, honestly,” Pollock added. “I know we went down two games, but we felt really good about it. We felt really good about coming in today.

“We didn’t do enough. We didn’t do enough. It stings.”

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