Young's aggression defines D-backs' recent run
PHOENIX -- Controlled aggression, Chris Young called it.
The play of the game, manager Kirk Gibson affirmed.
When Young tagged up and advanced on a routine fly ball to deep right-center field and Jason Kubel followed with an RBI single, the D-backs had the insurance run they needed in a 4-3 victory over the Athletics that extended their winning streak to a season-high five games Sunday at Chase Field.
It was the D-backs' first series sweep since they won three games against the team from the other side of the Bay over the season's opening weekend, and it could not have come at a better time with a six-game road trip to AL West contenders Texas and the Los Angeles Angels beginning Tuesday.
The D-backs seem to have regained their swagger here recently, and if there is a turning point to the 2012 season, it may have come in the 5-1 homestand that included a comeback from a six-run deficit Friday night to beat the A's in walk-off fashion.
If there is a play that defines it, Young's might be it.
After singling to open the fifth inning in a 3-2 game, Young tagged up on Paul Goldschmidt's easily handled fly ball to former D-back Collin Cowgill not far from the warning track in right-center field. Standard operating procedure calls for the runner to go halfway to second in case the ball is dropped. Young saw an opportunity and took it.
He retreated to first base to tag up almost immediately, and he made second easily when Cowgill's throw was nowhere close. It was a difficult play for Cowgill, who had to turn and square his body, and Young knew it.
"I thought it was a good time in the game to take a chance. We could be talking differently if he throws me out, but in that situation, I thought the ball was deep enough and he would have to make a perfect throw to get me out," said Young, who knows a little bit about playing center field in this park.
"It's not an easy throw," Young added. "You are trying to catch the ball and get your body in position. I was pretty committed to going. Kubel made me look real good when he got the base hit. He was huge for us today."
The D-backs (30-30) got to .500 for the first time since May, when they lost to the Mets to start a five-game losing streak. They have won seven of their last eight games and 10 of their last 14. They remain 8 1/2 games behind the NL West-leading Dodgers but face them 13 more times this season.
Their offense is rolling, especially Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt. Kubel had a single and two RBIs, one when the A's botched a potential inning-ending double play with the bases loaded and one out in the last of the first. Aaron Hill followed with a two-run single for a 3-0 lead.
Kubel was 6 for 13 with seven RBIs against Oakland, hitting in the second, fourth and fifth spots in the order. Goldschmidt, looking more deserving of a spot on the NL All-Star team every day, extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games with a single and also stole a base. Justin Upton was 4 for 11 while returning to the lineup against the A's after being held out of the final two games of the series with the Rockies before Thursday's off day.
"This is the club that I think we envisioned that we'd be on the field offensively," Gibson said. "It's not going to be this way all year, we understand that. We struggled mightily early in the season."
The D-backs' winning streak has coincided with two events -- managing partner Ken Kendrick's calling out of Upton and Stephen Drew and Upton in an online interview and Gibson's decision to give Upton consecutive days off last Tuesday and Wednesday despite Upton's protests.
Winning pitcher Joe Saunders, now 13-4 in 19 career starts against Oakland after giving up one earned run in six innings Sunday, said Kendrick's comments might have something to do with the team's current run.
"It might have been a wakeup call, maybe," said Saunders, 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA. "Owners have the right to do that. So if he wants to kind of light a fire under us, good for him. I think he did it. It was nice to hear that he said what he said. I think we were playing good baseball, but we were just falling short on a couple ends of the spectrum. That's good that an owner can take charge like that and maybe fire up his ball club."
Young vows that the D-backs will continue to, as he put it, "throw it all out there every day." Gibson believes it, and now the D-backs do, too.
"Our character has always been to be an aggressive base-running team and to put pressure on defenses," Young said.
"We had a stretch where that wasn't paying off for us, but in the long run, when you put pressure on defense, it causes them to make more errors. It causes them to rush their plays a little more, just because they know in the back of their head that you are willing to push the envelope. That's a character trait that I think is amazing for any team. We've built that around here, and we need to continue to work on it and make some better decisions."
The one Young made Sunday is a start.