Mitch Haniger’s line drive found Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar’s glove in the ninth inning on Sunday, and a game that had seemed on the verge of meltdown was suddenly manageable again.
The Diamondbacks lost their series this weekend against the Seattle Mariners, but at least they didn’t do so spectacularly. By escaping with a 5-2 win on Sunday afternoon, they managed to both avoid a sweep and move unaccompanied into first place in the National League West.
They did so thanks to some of their biggest strengths and despite some of their more concerning weaknesses. Zack Greinke threw well and Paul Goldschmidt delivered the most important hit of the day. But they also watched their bullpen back itself onto the precipice of disaster, and were it not for a little good fortune with Haniger’s liner, the unit might have blown its second save in as many days.
BOX SCORE: Diamondbacks 5, Mariners 2
The Diamondbacks had led 5-1 since the third, when Goldschmidt’s three-run blast capped a five-run inning against Mariners right-hander Mike Leake. Greinke was in control just about the entire way, and relievers Andrew Chafin and Archie Bradley held serve until Yoshihisa Hirano took over to start the ninth.
His afternoon did not last long. A pair of singles were followed by an error by left fielder David Peralta, who dropped a Dee Gordon liner, allowing a run to score and bringing Torey Lovullo from the dugout to summon closer Brad Boxberger. The previous night, Boxberger had allowed a two-run lead to vanish in what became a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.
“When I tell you today was hard,” Lovullo said, “it probably was an understatement after what we walked through last night.”
Torey Lovullo: “This was an amazing game.”
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
At first, Boxberger’s outing on Sunday didn’t appear to be any more promising. He walked pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz to load the bases, then left a first-pitch change-up over the plate for Haniger, who hit a rocket to third.
The ball came off Haniger’s bat at 105.5 mph – but it also went directly at Escobar, who reached to his right and plucked it off the ground, then raced to the bag to try to double off the runner from third. Escobar was late, but, one batter later, the Diamondbacks got the double play they sought.
After throwing Robinson Cano a fastball and then four consecutive change-ups, Boxberger came back with a fastball, which Cano grounded to short to start a game-ending double play.
“I feel like he was getting a little bit better timing on the change-up, and the way he took a couple of them that were down and out of the zone,” Boxberger said. “Just, if anything, (I threw the fastball) to get him off the change-up (so I could) go back to it.”
Zack Greinke on winning effort vs. Mariners
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
With Hirano ineffective on Sunday after Boxberger and Jake Diekman were roughed up on Saturday, the Diamondbacks bullpen seems to be filled with pitchers going through recent struggles.
“That’s part of the grind of the season,” Boxberger said. “It’s late-August now. We definitely have a lot of appearances down there in the bullpen. You’re not going to be perfect every outing, so no matter who it is, it’s just a matter of getting through that day and working on to the next.”
They headed back on the road Sunday evening, departing for San Francisco, where they’ll play three games against the fourth-place Giants before heading to Los Angeles for a four-game showdown against the third-place Los Angeles Dodgers, who remain 3 1/2 games back.
“I don’t know about the strength of schedule, but it looks like we’ve got a lot of tough teams coming this month,” Greinke said, “and play the people we’re competing against a lot, so it is going to be an intense last month, I’d expect.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.