Astros hold on vs. D-backs after Peña’s diving play, Arizona can clinch wild card on Saturday
Sep 29, 2023, 11:07 PM
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks came up short of clinching a postseason spot on Friday with a 2-1 loss against the Houston Astros at Chase Field.
Their magic number remains at one, as a win or a Cincinnati Reds loss on Saturday would get the job done.
Houston shortstop Jeremy Peña made a game-saving diving play with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning to rob D-backs designated hitter Tommy Pham of a potential game-tying single with the score 2-0.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo thought that ball would get through and bring in a pair of runs after Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte executed a double steal. Peña laid out, spun and fired the throw just in time.
UNREAL 🤯 pic.twitter.com/3bp0zoDX5u
— Houston Astros (@astros) September 30, 2023
The D-backs caught a break in the ninth inning, as Astros second baseman Jose Altuve committed a fielding error with one out to bring the tying run to the plate.
Catcher Gabriel Moreno blasted a double to left-center field, halfway up the wall, to cut the deficit to 2-1. Moreno thought the ball was gone off the bat, but he was stranded on second base by Houston closer Ryan Pressly to end the game.
D-backs ace Zac Gallen tossed another quality start in his final outing of the regular season, but Astros first baseman Jose Abreu’s two-run double in the sixth proved to be the difference.
The Miami Marlins and Reds won on Friday, while the Chicago Cubs lost in extra innings to the Milwaukee Brewers. The race for the final two NL Wild Card spots looks as follows entering play on Saturday: D-backs 84-76, Marlins 83-76, Reds 82-78, Cubs 82-78.
The Cubs cannot catch the D-backs due to the tiebreaker, but the Reds still could.
Merrill Kelly is up
Friday’s loss forces Merrill Kelly to pitch Saturday instead of getting pushed back to Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series if the D-backs clinch. That would force Lovullo to turn to rookie Brandon Pfaadt or a bullpen game unless the club has any other creative ideas.
Kelly will match up with Houston’s Justin Verlander on Saturday in what would be another critical opportunity for the visitors. The Astros hold a one-game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the third and final AL Wild Card spot while trailing the Texas Rangers atop the division by a game.
Gallen dealt with traffic early but did not break through five scoreless innings to start his outing.
His book closed with 6.1 frames and the two earned runs from Abreu’s double, which was initially called a home run but was overturned on replay review. The ball hit the yellow line in straightaway center field.
It would have been a home run in 29 of 30 MLB parks, according to Statcast, although Moreno’s double would have been gone in 28.
Gallen struck out seven hitters with one walk. Lovullo praised his starter for driving his fastball to both sides of the plate and keeping Arizona in the fight.
“I think of games in May just like games like this, I think that’s the only way to prepare for them,” Gallen said of the stakes. “You can’t let the moment get too much of you, that’s where you tend to struggle. I went through my routine like normal. Nothing really different.”
D-backs’ Zac Gallen exits the game surrendering two runs in the contest against the Astros. pic.twitter.com/hlBv6iCkon
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) September 30, 2023
Gallen said it is hard to sum up his campaign when he expects to pitch again in the playoffs.
It was an eventful regular season for Gallen, who made his first All-Star Game, reached 210 innings and set a career high with 220 strikeouts. His ERA finished at 3.47 with a 3.26 FIP.
He is in line to pitch Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series. Lovullo said he would not use Gallen on short rest in Game 1.
Lovullo sensed some anxious at-bats from his hitters on Friday, as Arizona had three hits through seven innings with quick plate appearances. The D-backs had five first-pitch outs through five innings against Astros starter Jose Urquidy, despite Urquidy walking three hitters early.
Urquidy — who replaced listed starter J.P. France after he was scratched due to a family matter — got through innings 3-6 on 36 pitches.
“I think there were some at-bats that could have been a little bit more mature,” Lovullo said.
“We got to keep talking about it, preaching it to those young hitters who made some early-count outs in some critical at-bats. … Good teams, one through nine, they grind you down and force you to throw the pitch where you’re looking for it.”
He still felt the D-backs were one big hit away, but they finished 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Urquidy threw six scoreless innings.
“He doesn’t have a ton of velo, but his heater plays up a little bit and he just does a good job and mixing it in and out, up and down and he had good command,” third baseman Jace Peterson said. “We just weren’t able to get to him. We just missed a couple opportunities there.”
Saturday’s first pitch
The D-backs and Astros start at 5:10 p.m. on Saturday, while the Reds face the St. Louis Cardinals at 4:15 p.m.
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