PHOENIX – Keep the champagne on ice for at least another day.
For the second straight game, the Arizona Diamondbacks failed to gain separation from other clubs in the National League wild-card chase and denied clinching a post-season position. That will have to wait at least one day and possibly, as Arizona manager Torey Lovullo predicted a number of weeks ago, “this will go down to the last game, book it.”
That would be Sunday and, prior to Friday’s game, Lovullo said his pitcher for that game is TBA. If the season comes down to that final game, look for the TBA to be righthander Brandon Pfaadt.
For now, those empty beer and champagne boxes outside of the Diamondbacks clubhouse remain a testament to an expected event on Friday that did not happen.
In the past two games, the culprit was a sluggish offense, the inability to manufacture runs, and a lack of pressure on defenses.
If the offense failed in their road finale of the season against the White Sox on Thursday, the draught continued in Chase Field on Friday. Managing a mere four hits and just one run in dropping a 2-1 decision to the Houston Astros before 34,133, the Diamondbacks could not generate any productive offense. For a club on the precipice of gaining a post-season spot, the lack of offense is frightening.
“These are the frustrations of the game,” Lovullo said after Friday’s loss to the Astros. “You build innings and get into situations where you are one hit away. You don’t go in and the opponents make good plays. We were one small step from cracking this game open.”
If Lovullo was frustrated by the lack of offense, starter Zac Gallen, once targeted to open the post-season for Arizona, gave his club a chance to win. Strong over 6.1 innings Gallen allowed a two-run double by Jose Abreu with two-out in the sixth and that was all Houston needed. Starter Jose Urquidy and three relievers held Arizona in check, and afterward, Gallen said he would not be consumed by the hour of urgency.
“Games in May are just games like this,” Gallen said into a thicket of microphones and recorders. “You don’t let the moment kind of get to you. My routine was normal and nothing really different.”
In the challenging September surge, the bats have gone eerily silent. Scoring just two runs combined in two critical games during the last week of September is not a conducive feeling to winning.
“We know what’s in front of us,” Lovullo added. “The guys are playing hard, and the guys are engaged. There was a great crowd (Friday night) and we felt the energy. Maybe our guys got a little anxious in certain at-bats. You have to quiet it down and have mature at-bats during the course of the entire line-up. If we do that in one-through-nine, and the way we have been, we will be fine.”
While scoring their only run with a two-out double in the ninth from catcher Gabriel Moreno, the critical play occurred during the previous inning.
That eighth inning theater defined the drama of the moment.
With Corbin Carroll on third and Ketel Marte in second with two outs in the eighth and down 2-0, Tommy Pham drilled a hard grounder up the middle. Shortstop Jeremy Pena, sliding to his left, gloved, rose, and threw on one bounce to retire Pham. Had the grounder gone through, that would have tied the game and prompted Lovullo to comment, “when it left the bat, yeah, I thought it was through. (Pena) made a great play and it thought that would tie the game.”
Playoff scenario …Here is where things stand after games of Sept. 29. The Diamondbacks’ magic number is one to gain a spot in the postseason. That could happen if the Diamondbacks win one of their remaining two games and the Cincinnati Reds lose one of their remaining two against Sr. Louis. With Miami, the scenario is tricky because the Marlins could still play one inning of a suspended game with the Mets. The confusion could stop by virtue of the Diamondbacks winning on Saturday. Merrill Kelly (12-7, 3.38) is scheduled to start against veteran Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.32).
The Astros continue to battle with Seattle for the final AL wild-card spot. With the Mariners win over Texas Friday night, Seattle remained one game behind Houston and each team has two games remaining.
For the AL West Division, the Rangers need one win to wrap up the division title. The possibility of a three-way AL West division between Houston, Seattle, and Texas tie cannot be ruled out.