While Opening Day has been mostly a pitcher-friendly event for the most part this 2012 MLB season, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants didn’t hold to that script on Friday at Phoenix’s Chase Field.
Chris Young and Paul Goldschmidt both socked home runs for the D’Backs, and Melky Cabrera hit a two-run bomb for the Giants, but ultimately it was Ryan Roberts’ RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning that proved the difference, as Arizona downed San Francisco 5-4 in a wild start to the season for both clubs.
The pitching matchup between Ian Kennedy and Tim Lincecum was supposed to be a preview of a Cy Young race between the two aces, but they largely failed to live up to that hype in this one. Kennedy looked fairly inconsistent in giving up three runs and scattering nine hits in 6 2/3 innings of work, and Lincecum looked shaky in the first inning, giving up both D’Backs home runs and laboring mightily. He also ended up giving up both Arizona runs in the sixth inning, but he also did strike out seven Diamondbacks in a losing effort.
One of the keys for the Diamondbacks heading into this game was to try to keep their emotions in check on what was going to be a crazy day anyway. Between the pre-game ceremonies that saw Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy receive their Silver Slugger Awards, Kirk Gibson get his Manager of the Year Trophy, and Gerardo Parra get his Gold Glove Award, and then the traditional fly-over of the open roof at Chase Field, the emotions of the day were strong. Adding to that the unveiling of their 2011 NL West Champions sign in left field was just icing on the cake.
Kennedy was clearly jazzed up when he got to the mound, struggling with his command a bit but ultimately escaping without incident in the first. When the Diamondbacks came to the plate to start their outing against Lincecum, the adrenaline gleaned from the ceremonies ended up playing to their advantage. After a lead-off single by Willie Bloomquist, who was filling in at shortstop for the injured Stephen Drew, Young blasted a two-run homer over the left field wall to give Arizona an early 2-0 lead.
Two batters later, Goldschmidt continued his career dominance of Lincecum and hit a mammoth 420-foot blast into the left field bleachers to cap off a great inning for the team.
After that, the game settled into a slow rhythm, with both pitchers flirting with danger and then pitching their way out of it. That all changed in the top of the 5th inning, however, as the Giants scored their first two runs of the game on a home run by Cabrera that bounced off the top of the right field wall. After stonewalling the Diamondbacks in the bottom of that frame, the Giants came back and got runners on second and third with one out in the sixth. They tied the game on a ground-out to shortstop, and that set the stage for the dramatic sixth inning.
The inning started out with Upton belting a ground rule double into the left field corner, setting the stage for the rest of the frame. After a sacrifice fly by Miguel Montero moved Upton to third, Goldschmidt drew a walk. Jason Kubel then reached when Buster Posey of the Giants botched a ball in front of the plate, and that set the stage for Roberts to do his thing, and Tat-man did not disappoint. He ripped a double down the line, scoring both Upton and Goldschmidt, and despite Aaron Hill and Kennedy being unable to do any more damage, the runs proved to be enough, as the D’Backs bullpen slammed the door and hung on for the win.
Perhaps more than any other facet of their game, the big reason the Diamondbacks managed to get to 1-0 in the standings was because of that work by their bullpen. Joe Patterson came in a tough spot in the seventh inning, with runners at first and second and two outs. Facing Aubrey Huff, he overcame Huff’s repeated fouling off of pitches to retire him, much to the delight of the Phoenix crowd.
David Hernandez sent down the Giants in order in the eighth inning with two strikeouts and a harmless fly to center field, and then JJ Putz made things interesting when he came in for the save. He allowed the lead-off runner to reach, then struck out Angel Pagan, and got the second out on a fielders choice. Pablo Sandoval managed to extend the game by doubling in a run, but Putz got Posey to ground out to end the game.
The bullpen did allow a run in the ninth, but aside from that, they managed to fulfill their roles nicely in this one. The lefty specialist Patterson retired his lone hitter, and Hernandez got the hold without much effort. With a lineup as talented as San Francisco’s, you would expect them to cause some damage, so Putz giving up the extra run he had to work with wasn’t a huge surprise. He looked largely in control as well, and if the bullpen can perform successfully, like they did tonight and most of last season, they should be a huge asset to the team’s defense of their division crown.
The Diamondbacks will look to go 2-0 on the year Saturday afternoon when they face Madison Bumgartner in a matinee affair. Daniel Hudson will toe the slab for the Diamondbacks in the game, which will be broadcast nationally on Fox for their Game of the Week.
Player of the Game: Paul Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt may seem like an obvious choice, seeing as though he did hit a home run and scored twice in the game, but the bigger reason for his selection was his willingness to work counts. Most youngsters just go up to the plate looking to hack away at anything, but Goldschmidt made Lincecum and the other Giant pitchers really throw all their pitches, and in his four plate appearances he saw 23 pitches, the most on the team. That includes the five that he saw on his first inning home run, as well as the six he saw on his walk in the sixth inning.
That patience will serve him well, and will likely ensure that he stays hitting near the top of the order for Kirk Gibson.
-Kubel did give way to Parra in the seventh inning, in a move that will likely occur more often than not for this club. Similarly to the way Alfonso Soriano is treated by the Cubs, Kubel will probably be removed for defensive purposes late in close games. There is also talk that Parra will spell Young in center field frequently, especially on days like Sunday when the Diamondbacks are facing a particularly tough right-handed pitcher.
-The victory was the Diamondbacks’ sixth straight on an Opening Day.
-With the opening of Marlins Park in Miami, Chase Field is now the fifth oldest park in the National League. Only Wrigley Field (1914), Dodger Stadium (1962), Coors Field (1995), and Turner Field (1997) are older.