PHOENIX — With the Dodgers coming to town and two of their aces scheduled to pitch, this seemed perhaps an unlikely weekend for the Diamondbacks to collect their first series win at Chase Field this season.
But prior to the series, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson predicted that his team, which has shown marked improvement lately, would play the Dodgers better after having lost seven of the first eight meetings this season. As it turned out, he was right.
The Diamondbacks capped a weekend of good feelings with a 5-3 win Sunday, finally solving the Dodgers and getting their first home series win in their seventh attempt.
"It’s big, especially against them," said starter Josh Collmenter, who earned the win Sunday. "They’ve had our number all year. … If we can keep up our success on the road and hopefully match it with some at home, we can get out of May with a pretty good month."
The D-backs returned from a 6-3 road trip last Monday with four times as many wins away from Chase Field (12) as they had at it (three). They’ve doubled that number now, though they remain 10 games under .500.
It seemed on Friday that the Dodgers, who had outscored the D-backs 46-28 coming into the series, would continue their domination of the D-backs after Zack Greinke’s lights-out performance in a 7-1 Los Angeles win. But the pendulum swung the other way Saturday when the D-backs chased reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in the second inning of an 18-7 rout.
"The thing about last night’s game (is) unless you play good tonight, it doesn’t really mean anything," Gibson said. "We played pretty good."
Certainly, a loss Sunday would have undone any momentum gained Saturday and cast a pall over an otherwise positive weekend. In off-the-field matters, the D-backs on Saturday hired Hall of Famer Tony La Russa to head their baseball operations department, and on Sunday, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of Randy Johnson’s perfect game.
A first home series win and a series win over the Dodgers might be small victories, but the D-backs need whatever victories they can manage after a dreadful start.
"It’s good," Gibson said. "We’ve been playing better on the road, then came home and lost to Washington in a series we should have won. We got into this series and kind of got a little momentum in the game last night. It was good for us. The guys went in there with a good attitude."
In a peculiar break, the D-backs benefited from unnerving news Sunday. Third baseman Martin Prado was removed from the game after the third inning due to blurred vision in his left eye and replaced by Eric Chavez, who wound up hitting a decisive two-run home run in the fifth inning.
"Earlier in the season, those things didn’t work out for us," Gibson said.
Prado did not travel with the team to St. Louis on Sunday but will go there Monday after having his eyes examined in Phoenix.
Also contributing to a positive ending of the homestand was Cody Ross, who hit his first home run since Aug. 8 of last season. The solo blast in the fourth inning was a culmination of sorts for Ross, who worked tirelessly to recover from a fractured hip and now seems to be rediscovering his power. An emotional home run trot followed the booming shot to straightaway center field.
"I kind of got a little choked up running around second base thinking about all I’ve been through," Ross said. "There was talk of me never even playing (again) or possibly coming back midway through the season. Here we are in May and I’m able to produce and get a big win today. It’s pretty special."
The win was about as big as one can be for a team with the second-worst record in the National League. But if reversing a trend of poor play at Chase Field and securing their first home series victory was a mental hurdle on the path back to respectability, the D-backs cleared it in style Sunday.
D-backs shortstop Chris Owings had an impressive three-hit day Sunday and also stole two bases. Perhaps more impressive, Owings improved to 9 for 12 against Dodgers starter Dan Haren.
2 — Home runs by Eric Chavez in his last three at-bats. After a pinch-hit home run Saturday, Chavez belted a two-run home run in the fifth inning Sunday to give the D-backs a 5-3 lead.
— D-backs third baseman Martin Prado was removed from the game in the fourth inning and replaced by Eric Chavez. The D-backs later announced Prado had been removed for precautionary reasons due to blurred vision in his left eye. Prado said he woke up with the issue Sunday and tried to play through it but determined after his third inning at-bat he couldn’t be effective.
— Aaron Hill remained out of the lineup for a second straight day Sunday as he deals with right shoulder soreness. "We’re just kind of nursing him along," manager Kirk Gibson said. "It’s not going to be anything serious. We’re just trying to get it calmed down."
— Chavez collected his 900th career RBI on his fifth-inning homer. It was the first time Chavez had homered in back-to-back games since July 30-31 of last season.
New chief baseball officer Tony La Russa met with D-backs players on Sunday morning for a brief introduction and quick explanation of what he hopes to bring to the organization. He knows the process of reshaping the culture within the organization won’t be quick, and his message Sunday was about effort even amid a tough season.
"The one message is that there’s never an excuse to back off the effort," La Russa said. "If times are tough, you can’t back off it. If times are good, you don’t back off and take it for granted."