Hester, Haren complement each other
Rookie catcher, pitcher do it all as D-backs sweep Astros
PHOENIX -- The D-backs' "Welcome John Hester Weekend" entered the next stage on Sunday, when it was difficult to determine who got a bigger kick out of the rookie catcher's first Major League start.Hester, who went 2-for-3 in Arizona's sweep-completing 4-3 victory over the Astros, scoring two runs and doubling in another? Or right-hander Dan Haren, the kid's All-Star batterymate? In contrast, it was easy to identify who felt worst after the D-backs had completed their third series sweep of the season: closer Chad Qualls, who dislocated his left kneecap while avoiding Jason Michaels' line drive on the game's final pitch. But while Qualls was on his way to an MRI, the H&H boys threw props at each other across the D-backs' locker room. "He was tremendous," Haren said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver's work behind the plate. "He gives you a big target, he blocked a couple of balls. I'm not the easiest guy to catch, but it was a good experience. "I'm happy it went well for him, and for me, and hope it was the first of many. I really wanted to do it, to have him catch me." Relayed Haren's sentiments, Hester was nearly at a loss for words. "That's the first I've heard it, and it's great," Hester said. "I appreciate that he wanted to throw to me. To catch someone like him in my first game is pretty special." As was the totality of Hester's first start. He found a neat way to top an opening act that couldn't be topped: that pinch-homer in his first Major League at-bat on Friday night. He singled in the second and came around to score the D-backs' first run, doubled to deep center to give them a 3-1 lead in the seventh and came around to score the eventual winning run later in the inning. The Astros had jumped into a 1-0 lead in the top of the first without the aid of a hit -- Michael Bourn led off with a walk and stole his National League-leading 47th base before working his way home on successive infield grounders by Jeff Keppinger and Lance Berkman. Arizona tied it at 1 in the third on an RBI single by Ryan Roberts, scoring Hester, who had led off with a single and advanced into scoring position on Haren's sacrifice bunt. All of Hester's damage came against the tough left-hander, Wandy Rodriguez (12-9). Along with two RBIs by Justin Upton, including his tiebreaking solo homer in the sixth, his 22nd, it was all the D-backs needed. "I got a few good pitches to hit, and took advantage of it," Hester said modestly. "He swung the bat with authority," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And I thought he handled Haren very well. To be able to catch a Dan Haren in your first Major League start had to be pretty exciting." An exciting, but not terribly demanding, chore. Hester sounded like perhaps he should have been charged admission. "Catching someone like him is about as easy as it gets. It was awesome," said the 25-year-old. Haren (13-8) struck out seven, walked two and was charged with three runs after being chased by singles by pinch-hitter Jason Michaels and Bourn to start the eighth -- after he'd apparently left his best stuff on the bases the previous inning. In the midst of the two-run seventh, Haren had singled for the satisfaction of knocking out his mound opponent. But Rodriguez's departure triggered a parade of three Houston relievers for the next three batters, all that taking place with Haren on base. "I stiffened up after being out there for 20 minutes," Haren said. "But [Juan] Gutierrez did his job, got outs, then Chad took care of the rest." The Astros did scratch out two runs on consecutive infielder grounders off Gutierrez before Qualls came on to end the eighth with a strikeout of Hunter Pence. Qualls then appeared on the way to a ho-hum ninth for his 23rd save -- until the ultimate pitch sounded the only dour note of an upbeat weekend. As Hinch noted, "Instead of being out there shaking hands, we've got our closer on the ground in pain." Otherwise, it was an uplifting three-day pit stop at home between a 2-8 trip and another week-long trek to Los Angeles and Denver beginning Monday. "We needed a weekend like this off that trip," Hinch said. "After two blowouts and another win in a close game, we're in better spirits leaving than we were coming home."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.