09/20/07 2:40 AM ET
One more: D-backs hold division lead
Valverde closes out Arizona's victory over San Francisco
By Jason Grey / Special to MLB.com
One more victory to add to the best record in the National League.
One fewer game left to play as they seek to maintain their hold on the National League West with a week and a half to go.
One -- the number of games they remained in front of the Padres.
The D-backs took the finale of this three-game series against the Giants, 6-4, in front of 42,855 at Chase Field.
However, for a tense couple of minutes around 9:40 p.m. MST, the margin in the division was in a state of flux.
That was right about the time Arizona closer Jose Valverde was giving up singles to the first two batters of the ninth inning, while approximately 350 miles away, former D-back Scott Hairston was hitting a walk-off three-run homer that allowed the Padres to beat the Pirates.
So what two minutes earlier had looked to be the D-backs expanding their lead to two games now had very real potential to be a tie for first place at the end of the night.
And don't think for a second that was lost on the people in the home dugout.
Although manager Bob Melvin said, "I wasn't particularly focused on that. I was just trying to win the game," he said he was aware of what had transpired on the West Coast.
Fortunately, as he has done a Major League-leading 46 times this season, Valverde was able to shut the door and preserve the lead -- not just in the game, but in the division as well.
He retired the next three batters on a bunt popout, a grounder to second that Augie Ojeda made a great diving play on and a fly to center.
It put the finishing touch on yet another stellar night from the bullpen, which picked up struggling starter Doug Davis with 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief while the offense went to work.
"The bullpen came up big -- everyone we brought out of there," said Melvin. "They picked us up big time."
Juan Cruz (6-1) picked up the win by recording a key out in the fifth. With two on and two runs already in during the inning, Cruz replaced Davis and struck out Dan Ortmeier to get out of the jam.
|"He's been huge for us this second half and our catalyst down at the bottom of the order. He's getting a good at-bat almost every time up. He's real confident right now."|
-- Bob Melvin,|
on Chris Snyder
"I have to give props to the bullpen," said Davis, who allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings despite striking out seven. "They came in and shut it down."
It was a back-and-forth contest with four lead changes in the first five innings. Every time the Giants would push runs across, the D-backs, as they have done for much of the season, eventually had an answer.
"Once again, the offense keeps battling throughout," said Melvin. "Guys are really showing up and grinding all game."
Mark Reynolds had three hits, as did the team's hottest hitter, Chris Snyder, who gave the club the lead for good with a two-run double in the fifth off Giants starter Barry Zito (9-13), who also was unable to get through five innings.
"They've got a good lineup," said Zito. "They don't have a lot of huge [statistics] over there, but they have guys who want to play and want to win. For teams like the Marlins in '04 and Anaheim in '02, those intangibles, like a strong desire to win and good camaraderie in the clubhouse, that can go a long way for a team."
Snyder has a team-high .319 batting average and .410 on-base percentage since the All-Star break, and his .546 slugging mark is second only to Tony Clark in the second half.
"He's been huge for us this second half and our catalyst down at the bottom of the order," said Melvin. "He's getting a good at-bat almost every time up. He's real confident right now."
You probably could say that about any member of the D-backs at the moment, as the team continues to fend off its challengers for the right to play into October, with just nine games to play in the regular season.
But as those few fateful minutes late in the nine o'clock hour on Wednesday illustrated, the battle is far from over.
Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.