That’s an old axiom in baseball that it only takes one.
Ask the Los Angeles Dodgers about the first pitch starter Hyun-Jin Ryu delivered to Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning Monday night.
With one out in the opening frame, Goldschmidt hammered a fast ball into the right center-field stands with A. J. Pollock on first base. The two-run bomb stood up as the Diamondbacks defeated the Dodgers 2-1 before 24,933 in Chase Field.
The victory kept the Dodgers magic number at four and any combination of Dodger victories and Arizona losses which total four will give Los Angeles the National League West Division crown.
The win was the Diamondbacks third straight and four victories in their last five games.
After Goldschmidt’s 33rd bomb of the season and his RBI total increased to 116, Ryu settled into a brilliant groove. He proceeded to retire the next 19 hitters until Aaron Hill lined a two-out single in the seventh.
“It was the first pitch in the count so I’m looking for a fast ball,” Goldschmidt said of the game-winner. “I just want to put a good swing on the pitch. Yeah, it’s was amazing to get two hits and win. Ryu was unbelievable and we would have liked to get guys more on and take off some pressure.”
If Ryu was proficient, D-backs’ starter Trevor Cahill was, up to a point, equally strong.
From a 22 pitch first inning in which the Dodgers left two runners on base, Cahill retired 13 straight until he walked Ryu to lead off the L. A. sixth.
A single and a walk proceeded to load the bases with no outs. He managed to get Adrian Gonzalez to fly to left, but after walking Yasil Puig to force in a run, Cahill’s night was finished.
Afterward, manager Kirk Gibson said he sensed a rather sharp decline in Cahill’s production and after Puig‘s at-bat, the decision was made.
“I wasn’t going to leave him in,” the manager said. “For some reason and at some point in a game, (Cahill) loses it. He starts aiming and tries to throw the perfect pitch.”
For his part, Cahill agreed but could not offer a definitive reason for the collapse.
“Maybe it’s subconscious, I’m not sure,” he said. “(Monday night), I kind of lost it. The ball didn’t go where I wanted it to go.”
Cahill left with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth. Enter Josh Collmenter and the reliable righty struck out A. J. Ellis and Skip Schumaker grounded to second to end the inning.
Leaving the 2-1 lead in the hands of the bullpen, David Hernandez and closer Brad Ziegler then slammed the door.
Yet, the finish was without high drama.
Hernandez came on in the eighth and one out, hit Mark Ellis with a pitched ball. The speedy Dee Gordon went in to run and the Diamondbacks expected Gordon to try and steal from the first pitch to Adrian Gonzalez.
With as many throws to first to keep Gordon close, Hernandez managed to get the second out of the inning by getting Gonzalez to fly to center and struck out Puig on a nasty curve low and away.
In the ninth, closer Ziegler allowed singles to the first two hitters he faced. With runners on first and second and no outs, Juan Uribe bunted into a force-out at third, and after Nick Buss grounded to second, the runners advanced to second and third.
That brought Matt Kemp to the plate, and just activated from the DL. Lifetime, Kemp was 1-for-8 against Ziegler coming into this time at-bat. Kemp fouled off the first two pitches, took a ball and then missed on a breaking pitch wide and outside.
“Right now, Brad is really sick and not feeling well,” said Gibson. “There’s a virus going around the clubhouse and last week, (Martin) Prado had it. (Ziegler) seems to get worse each day, but really sucked it up and shut them down when it counted.”
While the Diamondbacks are not mathematically eliminated from post-season play, manager Kirk Gibson continues to hold steadfast to the present.
That is, he will continue to play players an interval basis. That has been his practice this season.
This means certain players will get certain days off and certain players will play. At this point, Gibson says he will integrate third baseman Matt Davidson and shortstop Chris Owings into the lineup only on a day-by-day basis.
Some argue Davidson and Owings represent the core of Arizona’s future. Gibson will not go as far as to commit players like Davidson and Owings to an every-day playing schedule and his approach is different from others in the game.
After the Phillies traded third baseman Michael Young to the Dodgers and realized their season was over by Labor Day, manager Ryan Sandberg inserted Cody Asche in as the everyday third baseman. Recognizing Asche as “the future,” the Phillies did not compromise on his playing time and Asche was hitting .275 with five home runs and 21 RBIs coming into Monday’s game with Miami.
For his part, Gibson will not commit Davidson and Owings to absolute playing time for the reminder of the season.
“I won’t sit down other guys,” Gibson said prior to Monday’s game with the Dodgers in Chase Field. “I want to get (Willie) Bloomquist, (Didi) Gregorius, (Cliff) Pennington playing time and I won’t sit (Martin) Prado. Everyone will be involved.”
After all, Gibson added, “we’re trying to win ball games.”
At the start of the four game series with Los Angeles, the Diamondbacks faced an elimination magic number of four for the division crown.
A combination of Dodger victories and Arizona losses totaling four will give Los Angeles its first National League West Division title since 2009.
To avoid the Dodgers popping champagne corks on their home turf, the Diamondbacks will have to win three of the four games.
“That’s not something I want to see,” said manager Kirk Gibson prior to Monday’s game. “Look, they’ve played well over the second half and they’ve earned it. You have to tip your hat to them.”
Then, Gibson offered the challenge.
“Clinching the division is the easy part,” he said. “We clinched it two years ago but fell short in the playoffs. The post-season is entirely different and a different road. It will be very challenging for them and there are many good teams in playoffs.”
TAKING OVER THE DIVISION
Back on June 14, the Dodgers were 8.5 games out of first place and manager Don Mattingly was on the verge of looking for a new job.
With 5-3 win in 11 innings at Pittsburgh on that day, the Dodgers began to turn their season from failure into envy. Skipping into the National League West Division lead with 14-5 win July 22 in Toronto, the Dodgers proceeded to win 21 of their next 24 games and left the rest of the division in the rear view mirror.
“There are two factors for what we did,” Mattingly said before Monday’s game. “We’ve stay relatively healthy and received great pitching.”
In particular, Mattingly cited the season turned by Zack Greinke, who is 14-3 and 2.74 ERA. Unbeaten in his last eight starts, Greinke, who starts against Patrick Corbin Tuesday night, is 6-0 and a 1.58 ERA since August 5. He was selected as the National League pitcher-of-the-month for August.
“From an offensive standpoint, (Yasiel) Puig gets the attention, but Hanely Ramirez is the force,” Mattingly added. “Overall, we had a shaky start, a great middle and now it seems to be coming apart. We need to put it back together again and see where we go from here.”
Coming into the Diamondbacks series, the Dodgers had dropped three straight and losers in eighth of their previous 11 games.