PHOENIX – Remember last year, when the Arizona Diamondbacks appeared hopeless while losing 93 games, Zack Greinke had a rather ordinary 4.37 ERA and Giants fans were breathing relief that he turned down their $200 million offer to join a division rival?
Remember when the Giants signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, instead, and counted their good fortune?
The cleat is on the other foot this season, and the Diamondbacks are one step closer to the playoffs after taking a 4-3 victory over the Giants Friday night at Chase Field.
Greinke (15-6) matched the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for the major league lead in victories while pitching into the seventh inning, and Giants left-hander Ty Blach was left to ponder one regrettable changeup he threw with a base open to a leading NL MVP candidate.
Paul Goldschmidt hammered Blach’s pitch for a three-run home run in the third inning, and despite Brandon Crawford’s best efforts, the Giants couldn’t rally all the way back from the early deficit while losing their 78th game.
The Diamondbacks have now become the Giants’ best source of hope that a swift turnaround is possible in 2018. And for that to happen, Cueto will have to rebound from a blistered and below par season just as Greinke has done this year.
Cueto, who hasn’t made a major league start since July 14, is scheduled to make a rehab appearance Sunday for Single-A San Jose in what he hopes will be a final tuneup before rejoining the club for September.
Greinke will make $31 million this season as part of the six-year, $206.5 million contract he signed prior to the 2016 season, choosing Arizona’s offer (with some deferred cash) over a similar proposal to join the Giants.
“Oh, I think he’s played a big part of their turnaround,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s an ace of their staff, and the pitching, that’s what is doing it for them.”
The reticent right-hander might never be a marketing dream, but he is producing like an ace again this season. And he is seldom outfoxed on the mound.
Greinke was in trouble after Crawford and Pablo Sandoval hit consecutive singles in the second inning. But the right-hander caught Crawford running on first motion in a 2-0 count, stepping off the rubber and making a snap throw to pick him off base.
“We didn’t have anything on,” Bochy said. “And Craw, he’s one of our better baserunners. I guess he thought he was getting in a pattern there. He guessed wrong. Greinke’s got pretty good game awareness, you know.”
The shrewd move minimized the damage when Nick Hundley followed with a double that scored Sandoval from first base. The Diamondbacks cut off the throw to the plate in order to hang up Hundley between second and third; he alertly froze to ensure he wasn’t tagged before Sandoval crossed the plate.
But a missed barehand pickup, and then a missed location, put the Giants in a 4-1 hole.
The Diamondbacks threatened in the third when David Peralta and Chris Iannetta hit one-out singles, and both advanced a base when center fielder Denard Span overran the ball for an error. A.J. Pollock followed with an RBI nubber for an infield hit when Sandoval couldn’t make a clean pickup on what would’ve been a tough play.
With second base open, Hundley set up wide as if to block Blach’s 2-1 pitch. Instead, his changeup was down the middle and Goldschmidt put it into the seats while knocking in his 99th, 100th and 101st runs of the season.
“I thought he could have come out of that better than what happened there,” Bochy said of Blach. “The other balls weren’t hit that well. It’s a tough outing. What I liked was that nothing fazed him. He went out and gave us a bounce-back inning.”
Greinke might have kept the Giants out of scoring position the rest of the night if not for Crawford, who hit .417 with two homers on the last homestand and stayed sizzling in the series opener here.
Crawford doubled and scored on a fielder’s choice in the fifth inning. Then he doubled and scored as shortstop Ketel Marte made a two-out fielding error in the seventh.
Greinke is an uncomfortable at-bat for most hitters. Not for Crawford.
“No matter who’s on the mound, you’ll feel better at the plate when you’re more balanced,” Crawford said. “I feel I’m more able to sit on my back leg and react to every pitch.
“If it were that easy, I’d be doing it all year. It’s one of those stretches, hopefully, that lasts a little while.”
The Giants bullpen did its part, as Kyle Crick impressively stranded Josh Osich’s leadoff walk in the seventh and Cory Gearrin threw a scoreless eighth. But Arizona closer Fernando Rodney went through the heart of the Giants’ order in the ninth.
The Diamondbacks are 71-58 and continue to lead the NL wild card standings.
“They have a deep team,” Crawford said. “They have guys off the bench that can make plays and get on base for their guys in the middle of the lineup. Good bullpen, good starting staff. You have that and you’ll have a good team.”
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