D-Backs close out Astros in 9th - East Valley Tribune: Sports

D-Backs close out Astros in 9th

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Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003 10:23 am | Updated: 2:06 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

HOUSTON - The last time the Diamondbacks rallied in such unlikely fashion against a dominant closer — well, you probably know that story.

It happened again, somehow, Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. The D-Backs scored two ninth-inning runs off hard-throwing Billy Wagner for a 2-1 defeat of the Houston Astros.

“To come back like that, it's a big boost for our club,” said Luis Gonzalez, whose leadoff homer in the ninth on a 100 mph pitch tied the score.

From the start of the 2001 season through Tuesday, the Astros had been 186-4 when leading after eight innings.

“That was a big game to win right there,” D-Backs manager Bob Brenly said.

“You don't ever anticipate (beating a closer like Wagner). You hope for it. Tonight we were lucky to find a way to scratch and scrape and put a couple of runs up there against him.”

As far as a season turning point, judgement should be withheld for a while. Milwaukee handed Wagner his other blown save April 19 and then lost 17 of 23.

When the ninth inning started, Houston led 1-0, thanks to 6 shutout

innings from Arizona castoff Ron Villone and Jeff Kent's homer off Brandon Webb. The D-Backs had gone 0-for-6 with men in scoring position and twice failed to execute a sacrifice.

In came Wagner, who had converted 16 straight save chances and held left-handed hitters to a .156 average this season.

He began the inning with a 99 mph fastball for a called strike and a 100 mph fastball that Gonzalez swung through.

On deck, Robby Hammock thought to himself, “If Gonzo does that, I don't have a chance.”

Yet on the next pitch, also 100 mph, Gonzalez connected for a fly ball to left field. The cozy dimensions of Minute Maid Park, cursed by the D-Backs the night before, came in handy.

Gonzalez's 14th homer went an estimated 340 feet, enough to land in the seats above the out-of-town scoreboard.

“Three hundred thirty, 331, whatever it was out there, it counts,” he said.

Wagner last allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter July 4 (Brian Giles).

Hammock fell behind 1-2 before he, too, got a 100 mph fastball. And he also made contact, breaking his bat while dropping a looper just fair down the left-field line for a double.

“I went up there trying any way possible to get on base,” Hammock said.

Wagner struck out Lyle Overbay, who had a career-high three hits in the game, and Rod Barajas to bring up Quinton McCracken, in an 0-for-13 slide that had dropped his average to .196.

But McCracken hacked at a first-pitch 99 mph fastball, dropping another bleeder into right field. Hammock hustled home, sliding in safe when catcher Brad Ausmus caught the ball near his chest before applying a tag.

“He's going to come right at you,” said McCracken, who had been 0-for-9 with men in scoring position this month. “I just wanted to try to put a good swing at it.”

To recap: home run by a left-handed hitter on a 100 mph, 0-2 pitch; double on a 100 mph pitch; bloop single by a .196 hitter on a 99 mph pitch.

Wagner (1-3) was pitching less than nine hours after his wife gave birth to the couple's third child (a daughter, Olivia) but did not use that as an excuse.

“That had nothing to do with tonight's performance,” he said. “I missed location on about three pitches and they hit all three of them.”

Eddie Oropesa walked Lance Berkman to start the bottom of the ninth, but Jose Valverde came in to get Richard Hidalgo to hit into a double play and finished up for his fourth save.

Webb allowed three hits in six innings, bettering his ERA to 2.36.

Villone, passed over for promotion by the D-Backs, exercised his out clause from Class AAA Tucson last month. Pitching in the majors for the first time this year, he struck out six in his 6 innings.

“There was a little fire in the eyes,” he said of his chance to make a point to the Diamondbacks.

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