PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks’ ninth inning Thursday was a little like their season. So close, but not quite there. Through the stops and starts of the last month, it has seemed like a second consecutive playoff appearance was always about 90 feet away.
The D-backs loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth but could not score in a 6-5 loss to San Diego at Chase Field, and it was a defeat that left them with a monumental hill to climb in the race for the second NL wild card.
The D-backs have fought the odds since a 2-8 homestand the last time the Padres were in town, and they are even longer now that St. Louis has turned it around. The Cardinals completed a sweep of Houston on Thursday to move 5 ½ games ahead of the D-backs. With 13 games left and five teams to pass, the D-backs (74-75) need a lot to go right as they head to Colorado for a four-game series that begins Friday.
Rookie left-hander Tyler Skaggs continued his on-the-job training in his sixth major league start. It did not begin well, when he gave up a three-run home run to Jesus Guzman with two outs in the first inning on a inside fastball that Skaggs wanted shoulder-high but came in about belt level. He settled in after that, giving up one run in his final four innings.
“That’s a live-and-learn deal,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
The D-backs understand that the transition to the major leagues is seldom if ever easy, even for the highest rated prospects. The lessons are immediate, the reward delayed. By this time next year, Skaggs may even appreciate it.
“I’m not that patient of a person. I want results now. It’s tough, because I want to win because are in a pennant race for the wild card spot. Costing us games. Gotta be better,” said Skaggs, 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA. He gave up seven hits, walked three and struck out two.
“He’ll have to trust his stuff. He has the ability to do it. We knew when we brought him up he was young and that he would go through some growing pains. That’s part of it, and that’s part of why we did it. This environment, what’s on the line, the good ones come,” Gibson said.
“He’s probably trying to miss bats maybe more than he should. It’s just a natural thing. The reality of it is, he has the same stuff he has always had. There are times when you need to miss a bat. But for the most part you just need to make good pitches and let hitters get themselves out.”
Skaggs gave up a run in the second inning, and the D-backs closed to 4-2 before Skaggs gave up a single and a walk with one out in the fifth, sending manager Kirk Gibson to the mound. When Gibson visits, it usually means a pitching change, but Gibson simply told Skaggs to take a breather, regain his composure and make his pitches.
Skaggs responded be getting the final two batters on four pitches, on a routine fly ball and a grounder back to the mound. Gibson liked the way Skaggs recovered.
“He learned some things today,” Gibson said.
“It might not look like it, but I am,” said Skaggs, who said he is seeing the value of getting ahead of hitters. “I have to get ahead. Once I get ahead, I’m fine. It’s tough to get big league hitters out when you are falling behind two-and-oh.”
The D-backs, down 6-2, got back in the game with two runs in the sixth inning on run-scoring singles by Paul Goldschmidt and a bases-empty home run by Adam Eaton with two outs in the seventh, another first for Eaton, who has his first triple and first RBI in a 6-2 victory Wednesday.
The ninth inning brought out the Tony La Russa in San Diego manager Buddy Black, who used five pitchers to face six batters. Luke Gergerson and Joe Thatcher loaded the bases on a single, a walk and a fielding error on a potential double play grounder before Nick Vincent, Tommy Layne and Anthony Bass kept them loaded. Bass had his first major league save.
After Jason Kubel walked to load the bases off lefty Thatcher, Gibson played the matchup game to get Mike Jacobs his second at-bat in as many days. After Chris Young was announced as a pinch-hitter, Black brought in right-hander Vincent, which prompted Gibson to turn to left-handed hitting Jacobs. Jacobs fought off several pitches before fouling out in a nine-pitch at-bat.
Eaton hit into a fielder’s choice at the plate and Aaron Hill, who hit his 23rd home run of the season off Clayton Richard (14-12) in the first inning, struck out.
“You get the bases loaded with nobody out in the ninth inning in your home ball park, you expect to at least tie the game up. That part of it was disappointing,” Gibson said.