video thumbnail

Montero blasts a two-run shot in the first

PHOENIX -- The D-backs did what they had to on Wednesday at Chase Field by defeating the Pirates, 8-5. Now they must sit around and wait for the Giants, who won by the same score on Wednesday and play the Dodgers in the series finale on Thursday at Dodger Stadium.

With Arizona's magic number having now dwindled to two, the D-backs won't be able to clinch the fifth National League West title in their 14-year history until Friday at the earliest.

"It's exciting. It's a blast," said D-backs closer J.J. Putz, who struck out the side in the ninth to record his 43rd save. "But we're not looking too far ahead still."

The Giants are at Chase Field next for a three-game set that opens on Friday night. The defending World Series champs trail the D-backs by 5 1/2 games with seven to play, and the title clincher certainly could come down to one of those games. Arizona has only six games remaining.

The D-backs are also a game behind NL Central-leading Milwaukee for the second-best record in the league and home-field advantage in the best-of-five NL Division Series. The D-backs own the tiebreaker with the Brewers by virtue of having beaten them 4-3 in the season series.

Home field is still essential to play for, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said after the game.

"Let's just get there. I'm focused on getting there," said Gibson when asked if he would rest some starting pitchers and position players after the team clinches. "We're one back of Milwaukee now, right? We'd like home-field advantage. We play pretty good here. I'd like to bring the playoffs here to our fans, get some excitement going on."

In the event of the Giants losing on Wednesday night, Gibson said he hadn't thought far enough ahead to say whether the club would gather to watch Thursday night's game as a group. Gibson said Putz, the club's ringleader both on and off the field, was "probably already working on it."

Putz, for his part, said there would be some discussions among teammates if it that situation occurs.

"But it's not going to be at my house," he quipped. "I can tell you that."

The better possibility is that the team could gather in its clubhouse at the stadium to celebrate.

Wednesday's game was over early, as the D-backs scored three times in the first and five times in the third, chasing Pittsburgh starter Ross Ohlendorf when he couldn't get a batter out in the third inning. Miguel Montero's two-run homer in the first was the big blow. It was his 18th of the season, a career high for the All-Star catcher, who also matched another career high with three hits in the game.

The D-backs had only scored 12 runs in the previous six games, suffering four losses.

In the first, the D-backs continued their season-long aggressive play by setting a club record for a single inning by stealing four bases: double steals by Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill and Chris Young and Lyle Overbay. The D-backs previously had three steals in an inning nine times, the last time in the first inning on Aug. 26 against the Padres at Chase Field.

With 127 steals this season, the D-backs are third in the NL behind the Padres and Dodgers. The Padres lead the league with 165.

"It's been that way all year," Gibson said. "You've got to take what's given to you. You've got to keep with it. That's who we are. We took some opportunities. That's who we want to be. But Pittsburgh used 15 total position players, six pitchers. They came at us with everything they had. We were ahead and they just kept pushing back."

In the end, the left-handed Joe Paterson, whom the D-backs plucked, ironically enough, from the Giants in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, came in for one batter. He induced Ryan Doumit to ground out to short with runners on second and third to end the eighth. A base hit would have pulled the Bucs within a run at that juncture.

"That was the game right there," Gibson said.

And Putz came on to record his 22nd consecutive save to help the D-backs reach the 90-wins plateau for the fifth time. Last year, they lost 97 and finished last.

Was there any significance to that being his 22nd in row, Putz was asked?

"Nope, the number two, the magic number, is all that matters," he said. "That's the only number I really care about." Comments