By HAL McCOY
There must be something in the water, a puff-‘em-up ingredient in the Salt River, a small stream that runs through the Salt River at Talking Stick baseball complex near Scottsdale, Ariz.
Both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies conduct spring training preparations at the beautiful complex at Salt River.
And neither the Diamondbacks nor the Rockies were expected to accomplish much this season. The D-Backs lost 93 games in 2016 and the Rockies lost 87.
But somebody sprinkled stardust in the Salt River.
There they were Wednesday night, facing each other in the National League wild card game. And they don’t call it the wild card game for nothing. In a wild, wild game full of shocks and surprises, Arizona scored an 11-8 victory in a game littered with disbelief.
If you judge them in 2017 on the National League West standings, well, the Diamondbacks finished 11 game out of first place and the Rockies finished 17 back. That, though, is because the Los Angeles Dodgers won 104 games.
That’s the beauty of the wild card system. The Diamondbacks won 93 games and the Rockies won 87, the two best records for non-division winners in the National League.
So that pitted them against each other Wednesday night in Arizona for the one-game wild card playoff, with the Diamondbacks’ reward being a best-of-five National League Division Series against, yes, the Dodgers and their $242 million payroll. That’s more than $100 million above the major league average of $137 million.
In contrast, the Diamondbacks are 26th of 30 teams with a $93 million payroll, a million less than Cincinnati’s $94 million (25th). The Rockies are at $131 million, 16th in the majors.
To make it even more interesting, they should have played the game at Talking Stick. But because the Diamondbacks had the best regular season record the game was staged at Chase Field, the roofed downtown Phoenix facility with a swimming pool in right center field.
As so often happens in these one-and-gone games, some strange and unexpected things happen.
Colorado starter John Gray was 4-and-0 with a 1.44 earned run average on the road for the Rockies this year. And he was 2-and-0 in Arizona.
But before he retired a batter, he was down 3-0. He gave up back-to-back singles to David Peralta and Ketel Marte. That brought up Paul Goldschmidt, who finished the season 0 for 17 and was 0 for 11 against Gray.
Of course he drilled a three-run home run. And Gray gave up hits to five of the first six Rockies, but worked out of it with just the 3-0 deficit.
Gray gave up a singled to Peralta in the second and when Marte triple to make it 4-0 and Gray was gone. He entered the game 10-and-4 with a 3.67 earned run average. But in only 1 1/3 innings he gave up four runs and seven hits.
The D-Backs made it 6-0 in the third against left hander Tyler Anderson. Former Rockie Daniel Descalso clubbed a two-run home run. It figured. Descalso owns a career .235 average against left handers with only five home runs in 456 plate appearances.
But it is a one-and-gone game, a one-game wild card affair and usually lives up to its name. Wild.
Now, a 6-0 lead for Greinke is like giving a bulldog a raw steak and then trying to take it away from him. Greinke was 13-1 with a 2.87 earned run average at Chase Field this season.
The Rockies, though, were not impressed, even though Greinke retired the first 10 he faced. Colorado scored four runs on five hits in the fourth inning — three singles and a double. And Greinke’s day was done after 3 2/3 innings, his shortest start ever in a post-season game.
Arizona’s Marte ripped his second triple of the game with one out in the fourth, the first player to hit two triples in a postseason game since the Phillies Mariano Duncan (a former Cincinnati Reds infielder) did it in 1993. But Rockies relief pitcher Chris Rusin worked out of it.
The Rockies crept within one in the top of the seventh when Jonathan Lucroy doubled, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Charlie Blackmon’s bunt. A bunt? Blackmon hit 37 home runs during the regular season. And he was thrown out at first base on the bunt to leave the Rockies down a run, 6-5.
Time for more zaniness. How about a two-run triple by a pitcher with a .098 career batting average.
In the bottom of the seventh, with Colorado relief pitcher Pat Neshek pitching, Arizona’s Jake Lamb singled and Daniel Descalso walked. But with two outs and pitcher Archie Bradley at the plate, the Rockies had no worries. They thought.
Bradley, a brute on the mound with a 100 miles an hour fastball, turned brute at the plate by driving his first career triple up the left center gap to score two runs and give Arizona an 8-5 lead. Hey, big deal. Bradley may have been hitting .098, but his first career hit came off LA’s Clayton Kershaw. And now he may get to face Kershaw again.
Bradley, though, wore himself out flopping into third base on the triple. In the top of the eighth he gave up back-to-back home runs to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. Bizarre? Bradley hadn’t given up a home run all year to a hitter batting third or fourth in the order. Arenado was batting fourth.
Bradley struck out the next two and Colorado’s Pat Valaika nearly tied it with a foul ball just outside the foul pole in left field. Then Valaika, a brother to former Reds outfielder Chris Valaika, doubled. He represented the tying run at second base Bradley retired Lucroy on a fly ball to right field.
Colorado manager Bud Black brought in his closer, Greg Holland, for the bottom of the eighth, hoping to keep the deficit at one run.
Of course it didn’t work. Holland gave up a two-run triple to A.J. Pollock, the fourth triple of the game by Arizona. Catcher Jeff Mathis then did the unconventional, a two-out bunt. It worked for a run-scoring single and the D-Backs put it away with the three-run inning.
The Rockies kept trying. They scored a run in the ninth off Arizona closer Fernando Rodney, but that was it.