PHOENIX – The Diamondbacks found a good time to reprise 2011.
Ian Kennedy was unbeatable.
The bullpen, unflappable.
The D-backs did most the little things right, and a few big things, too. They exploited the one crack in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ defense to score in the seventh inning, two innings after left fielder Jason Kubel took a two-run home run away from Luis Cruz.
They beat reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw for the third time in four meetings this season, and with a 1-0 victory – their first 1-0 victory of the season – moved within five games of St. Louis for the final NL wild card berth with 20 games to play.
“It’s proof that we can play good, clean games,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
The D-backs will need more of them, and pronto. Five games out of the playoffs with five teams to pass is not the path of choice down the stretch, but it is the path the D-backs have been given. St. Louis and Tampa Bay were 6 ½ games out of the wild card race with 20 games to play last year, but neither had more than one team to catch.
Does it surprise anyone that Gibson is prepared to meet the challenge head on?
“Maybe it’s never been done before. There are great stories in sports all around the continent. It’s just the way I think,” Gibson said.
“You guys think I’m crazy, but I’ve been through several things in my career in different capacities competing, and I’ve lived some very, very good dreams. That’s where I stand on that. When I have to concede, the numbers will take care of themselves. I’m not going to give in on that.”
Those dreams include a walkoff home run in Game 1 to key a Dodgers’ sweep of the 1988 World Series and a 35-5 start with a 1984 Detroit team that also won the World Series.
These days, they include another strong start from Kennedy, who shut out Kershaw the Dodgers for the second time in 13 games.
Kennedy (13-11) located his curve ball well, and by throwing that for strikes gave the Dodgers three pitches to think about. He gave up four hits and struck out six in 7 1/3 innings, and the closest he got to a walk was when the count reached 3-2 to Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier in the fifth. Ethier doubled with two outs, but Kubel ended the inning with his leaping catch at the Dial billboard in left-center field to take a home run away.
“Off the bat I knew I could possibly have a play. It hung up a little too long, and I was able to get there,” said Kubel, who also leads NL outfielders with 12 assists.
“Who knows? It could have been a 2-1 game right there. Ian threw great. I didn’t swing the bat to help him at all, so I helped him any way I could. It kind of makes up for it.”
The D-backs got only one runner as far as third in the first six innings, before Paul Goldschmidt started a rally in the seventh inning by running hard out of the batter’s box on a ground ball to shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
The ball had some backspin, and Ramirez turned it into a more difficult play when he backed up on it to take it on the second hop. With Goldschmidt running hard, Ramirez did not have time to set his feet, and his throw one-hopped first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who could not dig it out.
“That’s why you hustle down the line,” Gibson said.
“It took a high hop and I saw him way back. I thought I might have a chance to beat it out,” Goldschmidt.
Miguel Montero drove a one-out double to the fence in right-center, and Goldschmidt scored easily after getting a good read on the ball as it hit the gap.
It was 1-0, and it stayed that way when Brad Ziegler got A.J. Ellis to hit into a double play to end the eighth inning and David Hernandez struck out two and pitched around a two-out double by Shane Victorino in the night. Hernandez got Gonzalez looking at a breaking ball at the knees to end the game. Closer J.J. Putz’s back stiffened earlier in the day, Gibson said, and he was unavailable. Hernandez got his third save.
For Kennedy and Kershaw, it was more of the same. The two have faced each other three times this season, and neither has given up more than two earned runs in any of the three. Kershaw won the first meeting here May 8, 3-1, and Kennedy won in Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2-0. If anything, they two were sharper Tuesday.
“Ian’s been really spectacular against those guys his last two starts. Kershaw is very good. It’s almost what you have to do to beat him,” Gibson said.