This evening’s contest features two of the 10 teams within 6 ½ games in the National League Wild Card race. I am pleased to see Mark Grace handling the color commentary portion of the broadcast. Grace is entertaining and informative in the booth. I learn something every time I watch one of his broadcasts. Every time I watch him, I think of two things instantly: a) his key single off Mariano Rivera that started Arizona’s game-winning and series-winning rally in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and b) the term “slumpbuster.”
The pregame chat revolves around the one-sided pitching matchup. In Houston’s corner, future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Roger Clemens, who should have a career win total in the 350s if not for the lack of run support he’s received over the last 2 seasons. This season, Clemens is 2-4 with a 2.09 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 11 walks. In Clemens’ last 29 starts, the Astros have scored two runs or fewer 24 times. Hopefully, Houston will give Clemens a belated birthday gift and actually score some runs. Clemens turned 44 on Friday.
In Arizona’s corner is Dustin Nippert, who has won one major league game. Nippert was called up from AAA Tucson to replace the ailing Brandon Webb. The Diamondbacks starters haven’t looked good lately; giving up 19 earned runs, 13 walks in their last 18 2/3 innings. With Brandon Webb’s sore elbow keeping him out, things aren’t looking encouraging for the Diamondbacks.
Top 1: Let the Craig Biggio countdown to 3,000 begin. Biggio reaches on an infield single for hit 2900! Shouldn’t there be a countdown board at the “The Juice Box” for this? Reaching 3,000 hits is a huge deal and I hope the Astros and the Houston community does this future event right! Biggio is the 34th player to reach 2,900 hits and should be the 27th to reach the magic 3,000.
Top 2: Nippert is in trouble early loading the bases for Brad Ausmus, who went 0 for 40 during one stretch earlier this season. Ausmus is batting .228 with one home run and 22 RBI on the year. Nippert could benefit from a double play. Instead, he serves up a change-up over the middle of the plate and Ausmus’ season totals increase to 2 home runs and 26 RBI. 4-0, Houston. Arizona, we have a problem!
Graphic of the night. When Arizona scores first, they are 41-12. When they don’t score first, they are 14-42. When the Diamondbacks trail at the end of the game, they are winless (0-55). When they are ahead at the end of the game, they are undefeated (55-0).
Bottom 2: Shortstop Stephen Drew is one of many reasons why Arizona fans should be optimistic for the future. They have some promising young talent. Drew does his part by driving home Orlando Hudson with a groundout. 4-1, Houston
Top 3: I still don’t get the reason for a pool at a major league ballpark. If people want to swim, go home or go the neighborhood pool. Just as I was thinking this, Luke Scott sits on a change-up and smashes a two-run home run into the pool deck area. Don’t run around the pool and beware of home runs. Those two don’t go together. 6-1, Houston. Nippert’s change-up isn’t looking too good.
Clemens has been pitching well, not dominating but effective. Pitching with a lead relaxes anyone.
Top 5: Aubrey Huff smashes a home run to left. Huff looks like wrestler Val Venis all of the sudden. I took Huff for the second straight year in two of the leagues. Once again, I’m disappointed with the result. Still, Huff’s dinger gives the visitors a 7-1 lead. Nippert gets out of the inning. He’s due to come up first in the bottom of the inning. My guess is he’s done for the night.
Bottom 5: And I am right when pitcher Enrique Gonzalez pinch-hits for Nippert. The Arizona bench is already thin since Jeff DaVanon left in the first inning with a sprained left ankle. Nippert allowed seven runs on eight hits, walking three and striking out six. Gonzalez grounds out.
The Eric Byrnes blog has something to write about tonight. Their hero smashes a solo home run. 7-2, Houston.
Top 6: Berkman and Huff follow with RBI hits. 9-2, Yao Ming!
Evander Holyfield is fighting again…..sorry, I just spend 3 minutes reading (and laughing) at what I just typed!
Top 7: Luke Scott is having a monster night. He records his fourth hit of the game. Nothing else happened.
Arizona commercials rule! Some have been entertaining. The lady having to go the ATM to get a tank top was a hoot. We don’t have these commercials in DC. Apparently, am/pm and Jack in the Box are still around. I haven’t seen either of the stores since the early 80s in the DC area.
Bottom 7: Hudson gets things going for the home team with a double, his second of the game. Carlos Quentin, who has been very productive in his brief major league career, scores Hudson with a double. 9-3, Houston! Quentin is 5 for 9 with eight RBI off the bench. Clemens finishes the inning without further damage. His night is done after throwing 106 pitches. He gave up three runs on eight hits, striking out five and walking one lowering his ERA to 2.32 in the process.
Top 9: Scott’s quest for a 5-hit game falls short as he is walked.
Final score: 9-3, Houston. Clemens earns win No. 344. Houston (53-57) is four games behind Cincinnati in the NL Wild Card chase and six and a half back of first-place St. Louis in the NL Central. Arizona falls to 55-55, two games back in the Wild Card and two games behind first-place San Diego in the NL West!
Top 8: Drew and Hudson, a Gold-Glove winning second baseman with Toronto, turn a very smooth 6-4-3 double play, their second of the game. Drew and Hudson have the makings of a very good middle infield tandem.