For Diamondbacks and Brewers, there's just no place like home
PHOENIX -- The playoff pendulum swings swiftly from goat to hero or tactical novice to managerial Midas, often returning to its prior location the very next day.
The Brewers and Diamondbacks have not been spared its violent mood swings. Call it momentum, call it homefield advantage or call it the fluke of a small sample size, but there's been a tangible shift in Arizona's favor that could nevertheless dissipate in the thin skies that will carry the team charters from Phoenix to Milwaukee for Friday's elimination game.
Arizona torched Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf for seven runs in three innings in Wednesday's Game 4, including a five-run outburst in the first, and capitalized on most opportunities thereafter, too, adding crooked numbers to its ledger until the Diamondbacks were the 10-6 winner. The victory tied the National League Division Series at two games apiece, forcing a deciding Game 5 on Friday afternoon in Milwaukee as Arizona hopes to become the first club to rally from an 0-2 deficit since the 2003 Red Sox.
"Obviously I feel like it's a brand-new series," said Diamondbacks centerfielder Chris Young, who homered twice on Wednesday. So far the series has played exactly to script. The Brewers had the majors' best record at home and the Diamondbacks had the fifth-best mark, and the home team has won all four games.
After scoring a total of five runs in the series' first two games in Milwaukee, the Diamondbacks have now scored 18 runs in their two games in Arizona. The Brewers scored 13 runs at home and then seven runs on the road.
At Miller Park, the Brewers were 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position while the Diamondbacks were 1-for-11; the D-backs were 4-for-10 with RISP on Wednesday night and 9-for-20 in the two games at Chase Field, while the Brewers were 1-for-14 in Games 3 and 4. "We know we're capable of scoring runs," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said, "so that was outstanding. But to keep things in perspective, we haven't accomplished anything yet. We didn't come here to win two games and not win the series."
What gives next? The starters in Game 5 will be a rematch of Game 1, when the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo struck out nine while allowing one run on four hits over eight innings, besting the outing from Ian Kennedy, who lost while allowing four runs over 6 2/3 innings.
"These two games are certainly not typical of what we've done all year," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, "[but] I think Yo coming back and pitching Friday should be good for us."
In that Game 1, Kennedy twice pitched to a hitter many expected him to walk, only to be burned by run-scoring hits, calling into question the decisions of Kennedy, Gibson or both. In Game 2, again the strategic edge went to the Brewers, when manager Ron Roenicke ordered a successful squeeze that opened the door on a game-deciding five-run sixth inning, while Gibson allowed reliever Brad Ziegler to get pummeled with hit after hit.
In Game 3, that pendulum roared to the other side. After Roenicke ordered an intentional walk, Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt hit a grand slam. In Game 4, Gibson started a struggling left-handed hitter Gerardo Parra in left field despite facing a lefty pitcher -- Gibson gave pregame praise of his player's "exceptional" defense -- and Parra ranged far into the left-center field gap to snare what could have been a bases-loaded double when Arizona led by only four in the sixth.
That wasn't Gibson's only lineup hunch that paid off. In the first three games of the series Roberts had batted seventh, one spot behind Young. In Game 4, however, Gibson flipped the two without explanation before the game.
"Nothing I'd like to share," he said with a laugh. "Did I flip it? I didn't notice the difference."
Sure enough, only because of that switch did Roberts bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning, rather than Young. Roberts hooked Wolf's down-the-middle pitch into the home bullpen by the left field pole to clear the loaded bases, the Diamondbacks' fourth straight home game with a grand slam.
"Breathe and relax -- I think that's the main thing," Roberts said of batting with the bases loaded. "You don't want to get too high because if you do, you might get out of your game plan. So breathe and relax and try to stay calm. Put a nice easy swing on it and don't try to do too much.
Gibson's reasoning likely had something do with Roberts entering the game 6-for-13 with a homer in his career against Wolf and batting a team-leading .455 (5-for-11) in the first three games of the series. That switch not only created the opportunity for Roberts' grand slam, but Young also had a monster batting in his new lineup spot. Young followed the grand slam with a solo shot -- first back-to-back homers in Diamondbacks postseason history -- and then he hit a second homer of the game, a two-run shot in the seventh, which was the first multi-homer playoff game in club history.
In Game 4, the pitching matchup featured two starters with eerily similar regular-season stats. Both Saunders and Wolf had a 3.69 ERA and issued 2.8 walks per nine innings. Saunders had a 1.31 WHIP in 212 innings; Wolf had a 1.32 WHIP in 212 1/3 innings.
Maybe it was fitting both last only three innings, though Saunders allowed only three runs to Wolf's seven. And, of course, Saunders exited in favor of a bottom of the third inning pinch hitter, Collin Cowgill, who delivered a two-out, two-RBI single, further evidence of Gibson's golden touch.
The bullpens expended six innings of work apiece on Wednesday, though Thursday's off-day mitigates the impact fatigue might have, and with the Brewers and Diamondbacks facing elimination, surely all hands will be on deck to pitch -- that includes Game 2 starters Zack Greinke and Daniel Hudson, in addition to each team's standard set of relievers.
On Friday afternoon the series relocates from the southern desert valley to the northern lakeshore, but will the pendulum shift to the homefield advantage of the Brewers or stay with the momentum of the Diamondbacks?