Despite Goldschmidt’s heroics, D-backs bullpen collapses in extras
PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks haven’t quite reached “must-win” territory yet in the National League playoff race, but they get closer with every loss and seven games left on the schedule against the division-leading Colorado Rockies.
At the very least, every loss from here on out is going to sting.
That made Thursday’s 7-6 loss in the series opener at home against the Atlanta Braves feel notable.
The defeat wasn’t necessarily one the D-backs let slip away, but they fought hard to stay in the game and it was certainly winnable from three different sides:
Starting pitcher Zack Greinke wasn’t all that good but had a decent amount of run support. The offense left more runs on the board. And, despite all of that, Arizona reset the game in the ninth.
Paul Goldschmidt came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth down one with two outs and hit a game-tying home run. With that moment in mind, the D-backs had a terrific bounce-back opportunity from their recent poor form and a way to grab the momentum in a big four-game series at home.
Even worse than the loss was a loss in frustrating fashion.
After closer Brad Boxberger got the first two outs in the 10th, he loaded the bases and was pulled for his second straight appearance by manager Torey Lovullo with the game on the line.
Yoshihisa Hirano replaced him and threw a ball in the dirt that catcher Alex Avila couldn’t handle and the game-winning run scored.
Arizona wouldn’t score in the bottom half and lost their fifth game in six tries, falling to 2.5 games behind the Rockies in the NL West standings.
Because of their level of play in a close loss, Lovullo saw positives.
“We didn’t play particularly our best game today, but when we needed to, we rallied around one another, we tied the game and unfortunately we couldn’t close the deal,” he said after the game. “I felt like had we gotten out of that 10th inning, we would have had a lot of momentum.”
The D-backs hit 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and had more opportunities before Goldschmidt’s heroics.
In the seventh down two runs, consecutive pinch-hitters — Jon Jay and Chris Owings — hit singles.
With runners on the corners and no outs, the top of the order came up. The chance was there but the D-backs didn’t take advantage.
Outfielder A.J. Pollock struck out and third baseman Eduardo Escobar grounded into a double play. The two combined to hit 1-for-9.
In the next inning, Ketel Marte’s RBI single made it a one-run game, but Daniel Descalso struck out with two runners on and two outs.
Perhaps the D-backs can draw it up to a mediocre start from Greinke that had some bad luck tied in.
In the first inning, Atlanta outfielder Ender Inciarte singled and first baseman Freddie Freeman came up next, hitting a ball to the corner of left field. D-backs left fielder David Peralta never properly judged the angle of the ball, and dropped it while sprinting into the corner.
The error brought home Inciarte, and Nick Markakis’ single on the next at-bat put Arizona’s struggling bats in an early 2-0 hole.
Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki hit a bullet to left with two outs in the first, but Peralta was able to back up and take a slight leap for the catch.
Suzuki hit the ball even harder on his next at-bat.
With a runner on first in the fourth, Suzuki smashed a Greinke fastball over Peralta’s head and the fence in left to make it 4-0.
The D-backs did fight, as Lovullo would say afterward.
A bases-loaded-clearing double by D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed scored three runs in the bottom half of the fourth and put them one run down.
There was also the rally in the ninth. Goldschmidt’s homer came after a sacrifice fly by Pollock, a two-run comeback to send the game to extra innings.
But, to add more sting to the loss, Andrew Chafin gave up a run in the ninth, meaning Goldschmidt’s homer would have won the game.
From an outside perspective and the focus fully on the standings, the feeling was that Thursday’s loss was a brutal defeat for a team desperately in need of a big win they were so close to seizing. But for Lovullo, he once again saw it from another angle.
“It wasn’t easy, we didn’t play good, but we put ourselves in a position to maybe perhaps win a game, steal a game that we had no real chance of winning,” he said.
Game two of the series between the D-backs and Braves gets underway Friday at 6:40 p.m., with pregame coverage starting 40 minutes prior on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
Patrick Corbin takes the mound for Arizona while Atlanta counters with Kevin Gausman.
Corbin (10-5) hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs since July 28, six starts ago. In his last outing, Corbin didn’t give up a run in five scoreless innings against the Dodgers.
Gausman (9-9) is on a similar streak as Corbin, sacrificing less than four runs in all six of his starts for the Braves since the Baltimore Orioles traded him to Atlanta.