D-backs' 'Survival Swing' off to very good start
SEP 01, 2012 12:21a ET
Another victory over the Dodgers, whose recent big-money moves have not brought them immediate return. Another game closer to the pack.
The D-backs claimed they embraced the pressure that the current 10-game road trip would bring when they left Chase Field on Wednesday afternoon after a miserable 2-8 homestand, and their eighth straight victory over the Dodgers reinforced that notion Friday night.
The D-backs lost a three-run lead in the middle innings but held the line after that, their bullpen shutting down the Dodgers for as long as it took, this night until Jason Kubel's leadoff home run in the 11th inning gave them a 4-3 victory.
Kubel broke a 1-for-24 skid to give Brad Bergesen his first D-backs' victory, and closer J.J. Putz picked up his 19th consecutive save in his 24th straight scoreless appearance.
It was the game the D-backs (66-67) always won last year, their season seemingly turning on a dime around a Josh Collmenter start in this ballpark in mid-May. The D-backs won 18 games in their last at-bat, home or road. It was the game the D-backs have had a lot more trouble with this season. This was No. 6 in their last try.
"It happened last year here, and I know last year's last year, but we've been playing really well here. Yesterday was a complete game, and today was just another one of them," said Putz, who has sdaved the first two games of the series.
"As early as two weeks ago, we probably fold and don't win that game. That's just kind of what we've sensed."
The sense is now that things are shifting. The D-backs still have lost six of eight, and they still have a lot of ground to make up. But they do seem to be doing some serious grinding.
The significance of the trip, of course, is no secret, as general manager Kevin Towers mentioned earlier Friday. With the first four games against the second-place Dodgers and the next three against NL West-leader San Francisco, the opportunity to get back into the races, both division and wild card. Of course, if things go the other way …
"Take 10 games off the schedule, and if we haven't made up any ground on any of the clubs in the wild card or here (NL West), that's going to make it really tough. It's one of our few chances to be head-to-head," Towers said.
"We're going to have to win this series. We have to win the Giants' series. We have to pick up some games and look for some help when they are playing other clubs."
So far, so good.
The D-backs (66-67) are 8 ½ back of San Francisco with nine more to play in the season series. They have gained two games in two days against second NL wild card St. Louis, closing to within 5 ½ games, although they do not meet the Cardinals against this year.
Putz has become as close to a sure thing as he was at the start of 2011, when he set a franchise record by converting 16 straight save opportunities in his first season, eventually setting a personal record with 45.
Even when the Dodgers put two runners on base Friday, as they did with one out Thursday, the game never seemed out of rhythm. Putz got a fly out and a popout to save a 2-0 lead victory in the first game of the series, and hegot A.J. Ellis on a weak fly with runners on first and third and two outs Friday. He has 28 saves and has not been scored on since June 19.
"It is a lot of fun to compete in those situations. But I wish it would have been a 1-2-3 inning," Putz said.
Kubel, who has carried the D-backs' offense with second baseman Aaron Hill and catcher Miguel Montero much of the season, turned on a cut fastball on the inside part of the plate from former Minnesota teammate Matt Guerrier to break the tie in the 11th. Kubel was given a day off Thursday but was back in his normal No. 3 spot in the order against Aaron Harang.
"Against a good team, a team that's in front of us, a team we need to beat, so it's pretty special, yeah," Kubel said. "They'd been throwing me inside all game and I guess finally decided to get the head out on one. I'm just happy I got it pretty good."
Bergesen was the latest member of the bullpen to step up. The D-backs have relied on their pitching to keep them in games recently – they had 27 runs on the 10-game homestand and have 33 runs in their last 12 gamessince beating up on Houston in mid-August.
Luis Cruz's two-out single in the 11th off Putz was the Dodgers' only hit in the bullpen's 5 1/3 innings in back of Trevor Cahill. Bergesen walked two and got newcomer Adrian Gonzalez on a routine fly ball to left field with a runner on first to end the 10th.
"Especially with the way we finished up at home, we knew we needed to get in here and turn it around. I just tried to relax in that situation. A situation like that, you always have a little extra adrenaline going, so you don't want to work too fast," Bergesen said.
The D-backs seem to have found their pace.
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