After what seems like forever, the Diamondbacks are back in town. The recent road trip was a nightmare as the Diamondbacks saw themselves dropping down the standings like a rock in a river. This home stand doesn’t look to make it any easier. Arizona continues its National League West portion of the schedule as the Los Angeles Dodgers come in for three games then the San Diego Padres come to down for three. Both teams are ahead of the Diamondbacks in the standings so these games become paramount. Tonight’s game has Claudio Vargas pitching for Arizona while the Dodgers counter with future hall-of-fame pitcher Greg Maddux. At first glance this match up would definitely favor the Dodgers but if you look beyond the fact that Maddux has won 318 games you will find that the Diamondbacks are the one team that holds a winning record over him. Maddux is 1-9 lifetime against the snakes with a 5.35 ERA. He is 0-5 at Chase Field so this should have been an interesting match-up.
To say it was interesting would probably be an understatement. The Dodgers staked themselves to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and by the fourth inning had extended their lead to 6-3. It looked like Arizona’s bad luck of late would continue as the Dodgers seemed to have their way with the Diamondback pitching staff. Vargas left after just 4 innings, his shortest outing this month. But Maddux was not quite out of the woods yet. The Diamondbacks slowly began chiseling away at the Dodger lead and by the time Maddux left the game he was clinging for a 6-4 lead. That lead didn’t last long as the Dodger bullpen gave up 2 runs allowing the Diamondbacks to tie the game in the eighth inning. From that moment on it became a game to see who would blink first. Each inning the Dodgers would put runners on base and the Diamondbacks would snuff out their rally. At the bottom of the inning the Diamondbacks would attempt to string together a rally only to see the Dodgers close the door without scoring. The ninth inning ended with the Diamondbacks failing to score and we headed for extra innings. For the first couple of innings, each team thinks that they will score and the game will be over. Bench players and pitchers are used to set up favorable match-ups. This worked in tonight’s game too. Each team played for a win and it looked like the Dodgers had found the right combination. In the eleventh inning JD Drew hit a single to right field that scored Rafael Furcal to give the Dodgers a 7-6 lead. It looked like the Diamondbacks would drop another game in the standings. But in the bottom of the eleventh inning Arizona came up with their own rally beginning with a single by Conor Jackson and an error on Betemit on a sacrifice bunt by Stephen Drew. Carlos Quentin then hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Jackson and tie the game at 7-7.
This was a turning point as the game then becomes a marathon. The benches are nearly void of substitutes and the bullpen quickly becomes depleted. The Diamondbacks had used pretty much every position player they had which came back to haunt them when they had to use Livan Hernandez as a pinch hitter in the thirteenth inning. The pitching staff was pretty shorthanded as well. Brandon Lyon became the last man standing entering the game to pitch until someone finally won the game. This is vastly different than his normal role of pitching one inning to set up the closer. Being in multiple innings also brought about something new for Lyon, his first at bat. Before tonight’s game Lyon had never had a Major League at bat but he came up in the bottom of the fifteenth inning. So how did he do? He walked. This brought up Orlando Hudson with two outs in the bottom of the fifteenth inning. I wondered when the count reached 3-2 whether Lyon knew he should start to run with the pitch. I didn’t have to wonder for long as O-Dog hit a ball to straight away center for a two-run walk off home run to win the game 9-7.
There are many interesting side stories to an extra inning game. The game time was 5:06 and if you factor in that many people come when the gates open then we were at the ballpark for over seven hours. Only three concession stands remain open during extra innings so finding a snack can be a challenge. Alcohol stops being sold after the seventh inning meaning that those who drink sat through nearly another whole game without being able to get a beer. The fourteenth inning stretch sounds just like the seventh inning stretch but the crowd doesn’t seem quite so energetic when they haven’t had beer for seven innings. Mascots are a lot less funny the closer you get to midnight. At some point after that many innings you start to care less about your team winning and more about how you are going to explain to your wife how you let your nine-year-old stay up that late eating sugar. When the Diamondbacks pitchers strike out 10 or more fans receive a Circle K ThirstBuster drink and when the Diamondbacks score eight or more runs fans get a Chalupa. Those prizes tend to lose their value when you realize that the game has gone on so long that Circle K and Taco Bell are now closed. No matter how many innings a game goes, a diehard fan still wishes it went just one more.