Practically Perfect in Every Way

I am not sure the electrons even cooled from my post yesterday when I got a text message to go and check out Major League Baseball’s web site. The late breaking story announced that Atlanta Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira had been traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman and pitching prospect Stephen Marek. Just like that the discussion we had yesterday regarding Chad Tracy potentially going to Atlanta alone with Micah Owings became academic.

Micah Owings was not completely out of the woods though. He was involved in a player transaction; it just happened to include a one-way plane ticket to Tucson. Owings was demoted to Triple-A to work on his command and pitch location. Hopefully he will be able to straighten out the problems he is having and will rejoin the team showing the form he had in April.

You would think that all of these moves and transactions would have been the big story for the day. Those stories would pale when compared to what would happen later.

In the early afternoon Diamondbacks players began to file into Petco Park to begin their preparations for game 2 of the three game series. They had said good-bye to teammate Micah Owings and awaited the arrival of Jailen Piguero who had just been called up. At about this time a 5.8 level earthquake struck southern California. Although the quake was centered around Chino Hills, CA it could be felt some distance away. There is nothing quite like an earthquake to shake you up and remind you that there are things more powerful than baseball. The quake did nothing to structurally damage the stadiums in LA or San Diego so they treated it as business as usual. I had to wonder if this was an omen from the baseball Gods saying they didn’t appreciate the Mark Teixeira trade.

The scheduled starter for the game was left-hander Doug Davis. He would face right-hander Chris Young from the San Diego Padres. This was the first game back for Young who you may remember was struck in the face by an Albert Pujols line drive on May 21. That was a scary sight as Young laid on the mound attempting to collect himself while trainers and attendants tried to stop the bleeding.

Young is especially difficult for the Diamondbacks hitters and he has had very good outings against Arizona in his career. After Micah Owings let one get away last night it was extremely important that the Diamondbacks not drop two consecutive games to the Padres. Doug Davis has been very good since returning to the rotation following successful thyroid cancer surgery. This had all the drama one would expect from a late season series rather than one in July. Arizona definitely needed to turn things around and even the series where they would have all-star Dan Haren on the mound.

The game went extremely fast considering it was Davis on the mound. Double D is generally known for his deliberate (read slow) working habits on the mound. Chris Young countered by working extremely quickly as is his norm. Through the first 5 innings batters came to the box and left empty handed. Young made the most of his 88 pitches recording 8 strikeouts while walking only 2 batters and yielding just 2 hits. The Diamondbacks hitters tried to be patient but the consistent strikes made it difficult. This looked bleak for the visiting team and fans had to wonder whether this game and series win would again go to San Diego.

While Padres pitcher Chris Young was masterful in his first game back, it was Doug Davis who was the story. Young had allowed only 2 hits and 2 walks in 5 innings. Davis had allowed no hits and no walks in that same time frame. As the fifth inning ended Doug Davis was throwing a perfect game. Doug Davis who just a few short weeks earlier wondered what his fate would be as he went in for treatments for thyroid cancer was now halfway towards perfection.

The funny thing about a no-hitter and a perfect game is that no matter how much you want to enjoy it and share it with other fans, you don’t. Not because you are being selfish but because you don’t want to jinx it. There is nothing that will make a no-hitter disappear faster than talking about it. Not only do you not talk about it but you don’t even go near it. As the game progresses and the notion of a no-hitter becomes more realistic you’ll see players begin to move away from the pitcher in the dugout between innings. By the seventh inning when Davis was still throwing a perfect game he found himself having half the dugout to himself. It looked just like it did when he was undergoing radiation treatment and was quarantined for being radioactive.

In the bottom of the seventh inning Davis retired the first two batters he faced bringing up Padres right fielder Brian Giles. This was the same Giles that was rumored to possibly be traded to the Diamondbacks. On this night I think everyone wished that trade would have happened. With a count of 2-2 Giles hit a sinking line drive to center field and just like that perfection was gone. That one moment erased all of the hard work and dreams that Davis had of seeing his name in the record books. You don’t appreciate how difficult it is to throw a no-hitter let alone a perfect game until you sit and watch every pitch and what it takes to retire 27 consecutive batters.

Davis recorded the third out of the seventh inning and the Diamondbacks went to the dugout to congratulate their teammate who was no longer an outcast. Arizona bats had erupted for 3 runs just an inning before so they looked to be in complete control of this game with Davis throwing a 1-hitter through 7. Doug’s pitch count had now reached the century mark and everyone fully expected that he would be lifted for a pinch hitter. Instead Bob Melvin stuck with Davis and allowed him to bat meaning Doug would pitch in the eighth.

It was obvious from the first batter in the bottom of the eighth that Davis was physically and mentally shot. He got Kevin Kouzmanoff to ground to third base for the first out but then allowed the second hit of the game when Chase Headley singled to third. Davis was now really struggling and walked Khalil Greene to put men on first and second with one out. Surely Melvin would take him out, right? Instead of manager Bob Melvin, pitching coach Brian Price went to the mound and talked to Davis. After that conversation Davis got Nick Hundley to fly out to center for the second out. The Padres sent Josh Bard to the plate as a pinch hitter and again everyone expected Davis to be taken out of the game. Melvin though stayed with his starter and Doug ended up walking Josh Bard to load the bases.

Suddenly that 3-0 Diamondbacks lead was looking very shaky. I could not even imagine what would happen if the Padres somehow hit a grand slam and Davis was tagged with the loss. That would be a blow a team may never recover from. Mercifully Bob Melvin emerged from the dugout and relieved Davis bringing in big Jon Rauch to face pinch hitter Jody Gerut. On a 1-0 count Rauch threw a fastball that Gerut hit to right centerfield. Hit may be the understatement of the year. Gerut crushed that ball into the gap that easily looked like it had the distance to go out of the ballpark. Centerfielder Chris Young rushed towards the gap but there was no way he could get to it. Out of nowhere right fielder Alex Romero emerged and chased down the ball against the wall catching it on the fly recording the third out.

The Arizona Diamondbacks dugout and bullpen erupted as did what D-Backs fans there were at the stadium. Rookie Alex Romero had just single-handedly saved not just this game but probably this series and potentially this season. It is still July and there is a lot of baseball left to play but that catch may just be the spark this team was lacking to make a prolonged run. Arizona would send Brandon Lyon out in the ninth inning. He would get the Padres out in order striking out 2 of the 3 batters he would face.

Doug Davis would get the win and should get the most valuable player award for this game but I think if you asked him Alex Romero is the real hero of this game. Suddenly things are looking a lot brighter in the Diamondbacks clubhouse. This was nearly a perfect night but you know what, near-perfection feels pretty good too.

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