PHOENIX — It has been apparent for some time now that the Diamondbacks must to find a new path to the postseason. Advancing from ahead is so last year.
So they are trying the St. Louis/Tampa Bay way.
Beating NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on Thursday was, if nothing else, a good sign. The D-backs broke a six-game losing streak behind Ian Kennedy and a bullpen featuring the Pied Piper of double plays, Brad Ziegler, to beat the Dodgers 2-0.
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After their seventh straight victory over the Dodgers, the D-backs (65-67) are 9 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West and 6 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the second NL wild card.
Right in the race? Recent history cannot say a peep.
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has held up the 2011 World Series-winning Cardinals as the standard for powering through the tough times, and Tony La Russa is with him.
“The Diamondbacks are right,” La Russa said while taking in a game at Chase Field last week. “It is all about refusing to give in. Then you have no regrets. If you don’t (give in), it’s amazing what kind of things you can make happen.
“Look at what they have. They are all like him (Gibson). (Alan) Trammell. (Matt) Williams. They are all just gamers, self-competitors. Our stars were that way. Our extra guys were that way. Our pitchers were that way. We just competed.
“They can make it happen. We did.”
The Cardinals were playing better than the D-backs at this point last season, sitting at six games over .500, but they were still 9 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL wild-card race with 30 games to play, a margin that grew to 10 the next day. They suffered a little bit of deflation when the Brewers went on a big August run, La Russa said, but were able to put that aside and keep playing.
The baseball world will not forget what happened next.
The Cardinals kept chip, chip, chipping away and won the wild card on the final day of the regular season, clinching a few minutes before the Rays sewed up the AL wild card on a walkoff home run after trailing the Red Sox by nine games with 24 remaining.
The reason that final day of the regular season was so memorable is because it was so rare, like the Rockies’ charge in 2007. But it does reinforce the possibility.
“We all remember last year, in both leagues,” said Ziegler, who has now induced 15 double-play ground balls, the most among major league relievers.
“In a lot of ways, we all feel within the locker room that we have very much underachieved. It’s kind of amazing that we have played as poorly as we feel like we have and we’re still in striking distance, for sure. We know this is a very streaky team. We can get on runs where it seems like for eight or 10 days, no one can beat us. And then we’ll have streaks the other way where for three or four days, we can’t even come close to winning a game.
“It’s frustrating to kind of be up and down like that. You’d almost rather it be a more steady pace. At the same time, if we buckle down and play the kind of baseball we know we are capable of, we know we can put ourselves in a good position at the end.”
Chris Young’s two-run home run down the left-field line that followed Miguel Montero’s leadoff double in the fourth inning gave the D-backs the only runs they would get or need. They have beaten Kershaw twice this season, and he was 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his career at Dodger Stadium against them coming in.
Young caught what looked like a slider or cut fastball from Kershaw early, and the only question was whether the ball would stay fair. He missed first base while watching it but could retouch and take his time rounding the bases on his 14th of the year.
“This is big series for us, a big road trip, point blank,” Young said. “After this road trip, you have a pretty good idea of where you’re standing and what your chances are. We kind of have our backs against the wall a little bit, but it’s nothing that we haven’t experienced before. I think we are strong enough to stay positive and put our best foot forward.”
Kennedy (12-11) attacked the strike zone, throwing 17 of 24 first-pitch strikes, and with that approach, he kept the Dodgers at bay. He mixed his curveball in a little bit more than usual, striking out seven and giving up only two hits.
After Kennedy walked and hit a batter with one out in the seventh, the D-backs turned to Ziegler. Juan Rivera hit a ground ball that Aaron Hill cut off with a dive to his right, starting a double play to keep the score 2-0.
“Shockingly, ‘Zig’ came in a got a groundball,” closer J.J. Putz said with a straight face.
David Hernandez pitched the eighth, and Putz pitched around inning-opening hits by Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez in the ninth to post his 18th straight save, his 27th of the season.
“That’s one of those games you can feed off of,” Putz said.