In his only other postseason experience (with the Dodgers in 2009), Randy Wolf started two games, allowed five earned runs and walked seven batters in just nine innings of work. Wolf’s opponent Wednesday night, Joe Saunders, had three previous postseason starts under his belt, in which he had pitched 15 innings, allowed nine earned runs and walked ten.
Nothing changed for either pitcher in this ballgame, as neither lasted past the third inning.
Wolf allowed the most damage, seven earned runs in three innings, including two home runs. After Milwaukee scored a run off of Saunders in the top of the first inning, Wolf found himself in trouble quickly. Willy Bloomquist led off with a crisp single to center field, Aaron Hill popped put, Wolf then walked Justin Upton and surrendered a single to Miguel Montero. The bases were loaded and Paul Goldschmidt, who had homered in a bases loaded situation the night before, dug into the batters box. This time, however, Goldschmidt failed to conjure up any bases loaded magic, as he struck out looking. That brought Ryan Roberts to the plate with two outs, bases still loaded.
Roberts had a breakout year in 2011. Though he only hit .249, he posted an above average .341 OBP due to his keen plate discipline skills. He also just narrowly missed a 20/20 season, hitting 19 home runs and stealing 18 bases in 555 plate appearances. His ability to get on base and limit strikeouts earned the trust of manager Kirk Gibson early on and led to him being slotted into the sixth spot in the batting order for game four of the NLDS.
Not having good command and not having calls go his way on pitches low in the zone, Wolf couldn’t get the ball down to Roberts, which resulted in a third pitch fastball that just about centered the strike-zone. Roberts took a mighty hack, put good wood on the bad pitch and hit a line-drive home run that cleared the fence to the right of the left field foul poll. The Arizona crowd was going crazy and the game was still in it’s infancy. Five pitches later, more cheering was in order as Chris Young sent a scenic blast to deep left-center. The score was 5-1 now in favor of the D-Backs, but the offensive action certainly did not stop there.
Joe Saunders allowed another run in the top of the second, then another in the top of the third. His command was not sharp and he had to battle his way out of several jams just to keep the damage to three runs in three innings. Kirk Gibson was well aware that his starter didn’t have his best stuff and that the dangerous Brewers lineup had the potential to put up runs in bunches. This is what led to a crucial decision for Gibson, one that would look brilliant if it paid off, but that was sure to be highly questioned and criticized if it didn’t. With runners on second and third and two outs, Gibson sent up Collin Cowgill to hit for Saunders, putting the game in the hands of his bullpen for the next six innings. Cowgill hit a ground ball single between third and short, both runs scored.
It was a brilliant move.
It was now 7-3 in favor of the Diamondbacks and those seven runs proved to be just enough for Arizona. The bullpen held their ground, allowing three more runs the rest of the way on the shoulders of two innings from Micah Owings, one-third of an inning from top prospect Jarrod Parker, who in a different circumstance might have been pitching in the Arizona Fall League instead of the NLDS, one and two-thirds innings from Bryan Shaw, one inning from David Hernandez and one inning from J.J. Putz to close out the game.
Now the series moves back to Milwaukee and we as fans get to enjoy the finality that is game five in a division series. The Brewers were 57-24 at home during the regular season, a 70.4 percent winning percentage, the best home record in baseball. The Diamondbacks were 43-38 on the road during the regular season, a 53.1 percent winning percentage.
In game five, we will get a rematch of both game one starters. That series opener was won by Yovani Gallardo, who set a Brewers postseason record with nine strikeouts; the only chink in his armor being a one-run home run off the bat of Ryan Roberts. On the other side was Ian Kennedy, who went 21-4 with a stellar 2.88 ERA during the regular season, but battled through 6.2 grueling innings in game one, allowing four earned runs on eight hits. Chances are Kennedy will pitch much better on Friday – he faced the Brewers once during the regular season, going seven shutout innings.
Will beer and champagne be flowing through the streets of Milwaukee on Friday night, or will the Diamondbacks bring an NLCS back to Arizona?
I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.