Kole Calhoun Hits Bookend an Interesting 24 Hours
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Kole Calhoun hit an inside-the-park home run Wednesday against the Houston Astros that helped wake up his team’s dormant bats. On Thursday, he hit a walk-off two-run double to beat the Astros and give the Diamondbacks their first series win of 2020. The inside-the-parker came at 7:11 pm Arizona Time; the double came at 7:25 pm. Had the first come 14 minutes later or the second come 14 minutes sooner, they would have been exactly 24 hours apart. They bookended an interesting series of events.
Kole Calhoun Sparks Hit Parade
Wednesday’s hit was the second of an eventual nine hits in the bottom of the fourth. It turned a 4-0 Astros shutout into a 9-4 Diamondbacks lead – one that became a 14-7 drubbing. To say it opened the floodgates doesn’t do it justice. A better description is that it was like a dam burst.
First, some background. Going into the game, the Diamondbacks were not hitting the ball well at all. Several – including Astros manager Dusty Baker – stated that they were sleeping giants that hadn’t woken up yet, but in the meantime, they were losing games due in part to anemic hitting. Entering Wednesday’s game, they were 14th out of 15 in the National League in batting average, with .194. (They actually had .1943 and the Pirates had .1939, so the tie is due to rounding.) Not only is this below the Mendoza Line, but it was 40 points lower than the league average of .234 – the lowest league average ever, five points lower than the .239 averages of 1908 and 1888. (Yes, it’s early, but it’s still noteworthy.)
The Diamondbacks were also 11th out of 15 in extra base hits with 20. That’s bad enough, but the three teams below them were the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals, all who had played less than half the games that the Diamondbacks had. The Diamondbacks had only two home runs, last in the National League by far, less than half of the next two lowest teams, the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. Their wOBA of .245 was last in the National League and 77 points lower than the league average of .312. This all led to a runs per game output of 2.64, the only team in the league that was below 3.00.
The Lucky Bounce
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. had mowed through the Diamondbacks lineup in the first three innings, retiring all nine hitters – eight via the ground ball. Houston led, 4-0, thanks largely to two home runs.
The roof opened heading into the fourth, and second baseman Ketel Marte opened the bottom of the inning by dumping a single just in front of right fielder George Springer. That brought up Kole Calhoun, who ripped a 3-2 pitch to the right-field corner. It hit the bottom of the bullpen gate and catapulted back toward center, shooting past a sprinting Springer and toward center. “I saw it hit the base of the wall, (putting) my head down as I was touching first, and I saw it just shoot back towards the pool,” Calhoun said after the game. “It was like, ‘Here we go.’ I kept going and thought it was a stand-up triple all day.”
As he neared third, center fielder Myles Straw was barely picking the ball up. Third base coach Tony Perezchica waved Calhoun home, as did the entire bench of the Diamondbacks, who were in the third base dugout. “Everyone was waving, ‘YOU GOTTA GO!!!!’” left fielder David Peralta told reporters after the game, waving his left arm to imitate the motion. Calhoun appeared to stumble before mustering up every bit of energy he had left for the final 90 feet. “I was trying to stop, and (Perezchica) was waving me,” Calhoun explained through a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Alright, well, here we go!’” He later added, “That extra 90 feet could have been a whole football field.” Peralta said, “I think he was tired for like two innings!”
The Dam Bursts
This was Calhoun’s first inside-the-parker since Little League, where they didn’t even have fences, according to him. “My homers go over the fence,” he said with a laugh. The lucky bounce and Calhoun’s all-out effort to get around the bases lit a fire under the Diamondbacks. Center fielder Starling Marte dropped a surprise drag bunt up the third base line on the very next pitch, making it to first without a throw. “Just another good, heady baseball play by Starling,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “(It was) maybe a little bit of a natural letdown” by the Astros, given that they were reeling from the previous play.
Perhaps even more importantly, it was not a called play. “He did that all on his own. I talk about instinctual baseball, walking around with a high baseball IQ, looking for moments like that…. It was fantastic – cranked us up to lead to more runs, and we didn’t shut down.” First baseman Christian Walker doubled, advancing Starling to third. Third baseman Eduardo Escobar got hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Peralta, who cleared them with a triple. That made the score 5-4, but the onslaught was only beginning. Catcher Stephen Vogt, up next, plated Peralta with a double, making it 6-4.
Seven Diamondbacks had batted without making an out. Designated hitter Jon Jay and shortstop Nick Ahmed grounded to the pitcher and lined to third, respectively, but Ketel kept the inning going with a double, scoring Vogt and chasing McCullers from the game. Calhoun welcomed rookie reliever Nivaldo Rodriguez to the game with an RBI single to make the score 8-4. After Starling walked, Calhoun scored his second run of the inning when Walker singled him home. The inning ended when Escobar followed with a fly to left.
Huge Momentum Swing
Nine runs scored in the bottom of the fourth – more runs than the Diamondbacks had scored in their previous four games combined. For only the fifth time in team history, they had nine hits in one inning. The rout was on. Starting pitcher Robbie Ray pitched one more inning, and despite giving up a two-run homer to Springer that cut the lead to 9-6, left the game in line to get his first win of the season. The Diamondbacks were not finished, adding five more runs – all via home runs. They came off the bats of Ahmed, Peralta, and Escobar – the first of the year for all three. Escobar’s home run gave every Diamondback who played in the game at least one hit. They hung on for a decisive 14-7 victory.
Peralta’s home run had a special meaning of a personal nature. A friend of his – Jacob Medina, “a kid” according to Peralta – recently passed away from cancer. In his memory, Peralta has had writing on his hat. “I promised him my first home run of this season was going to be for him.” He looked to the sky in the press conference and said, “That was for you, buddy.”
A TMZ Distraction
The team woke up Thursday morning with a spring in their steps, looking to win the rubber match and get their first series win of the young season. With the game being a national FOX broadcast, it started at 4:10 Arizona Time. Getting a series win is big enough, but for it to come against a defending pennant-winner on national television is even bigger.
However, TMZ broke a story at 7:54 am Arizona Time that could have turned into a huge distraction. After Ahmed’s homer, a photograph of the Diamondbacks bullpen showed closer Archie Bradley with his middle finger in the air. “DIAMONDBACKS’ ARCHIE BRADLEY APPEARS TO FLIP OFF CHEATER ASTROS…After Mammoth HR” the headline blared. It grew legs on social media.
If there’s anything baseball players know by now, it’s to avoid giving opponents bulletin board material. The Diamondbacks, desperate for games to start going their way, had just drubbed a defending pennant winner. They needed to win the final game to get some momentum going into a critical seven-game road swing into San Diego and Denver, where they will play the top two teams in the division.
The First Press Conference
Lovullo addressed the media shortly after 12:30 pm for his routine pregame press conference. The biggest narrative of the morning came from having to reduce the 30-man roster to 28 by optioning reliever Yoan Lopez to the alternate training site and designating beloved veteran infielder Ildemaro Vargas for assignment. However, the conversation turned to the Bradley situation.
“Within five minutes of coming in here, I was just getting updated on that. I was unaware of that. I’m not a big TMZ guy, but it seems like it went viral. First of all, it’s not anything we condone here. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Archie about it, but I will.” There was something else that caught his eye. “Within that picture, as I’m looking at it, I’m watching some guys without their facemasks on. I’ve got a couple of things that I’m gonna talk to our guys about.”
Although Lovullo was obviously not pleased, he understood Bradley’s mistake. “Players in the heat of the moment get excited and are very emotional, but that’s not any way to express your emotions.”
An Impromptu Press Conference
Lovullo was originally the only member of the Diamondbacks scheduled to talk to the media. However, about 15 minutes after the end of the first press conference, the team announced that Archie Bradley was going to address the media at 1:20.
Bradley explained that it was all a misunderstanding. “I wish I could (talk trash about) the Astros and make up a story that I hate them and that’s what it was about, but it really wasn’t. It’s the first time we’ve really scored runs this season. Being down in the bullpen, we kind of feel left out sometimes. We don’t get to celebrate with our teammates; we don’t get to jump up and hoorah. Our thing is, when a guy hits a double or hits an RBI or, especially, a homer, as they’re rounding second, we encourage them to point to us and give us a dap or some sort of celebration.” He lightly punched the air as he said “dap.”
Continuing, he said, “We had a bunch of players not acknowledging us during last night’s game. Simply, that’s all it was. It was like, “Hey, eff you guys! We’re part of this team, too, and we want to celebrate and be a part of it, especially with these new COVID rules. We don’t get to be around each other as much.
An Inside Joke
“I wish I could sit here and give you guys a great story about this personal vendetta against the Astros, and that it was meant towards them. But that’s just not the case.” He later added, “Call it immature (or) stupid. I shouldn’t do it; there’s kids watching, especially now. (It was a) bonehead move on my part. I kind of meant it just as a joke towards teammates. We all have our little inside jokes we do, and so, definitely, in my position – how long I’ve been doing this – I’ll wear it and take all the criticism for it. I’m not trying to brush it off as no big deal, but it wasn’t intended toward anyone but our team as an inside joke and finally us scoring and winning ballgames.”
Kole Calhoun Caps Comeback
The second game saw two Diamondbacks rallies for the win. Zac Gallen pitched well, becoming the third pitcher in the past 50 years to allow three runs or less in each of the first 18 starts of his career. (The other two were a pair of All-Stars, Montreal Expos legend Steve Rogers and Aaron Sele, who did so with the Boston Red Sox.) He left the game in line for the win after the Diamondbacks scored three runs in a third of an inning off middle reliever Cy Sneed.
Diamondbacks reliever Stefan Crichton, who had pitched well in all five outings so far, looked to be in good shape in the eighth before giving up a two-out double to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Next, third baseman Alex Bregman ripped a homer to left to give the Astros a 4-3 lead.
The bottom of the ninth saw Ryan Pressly enter the game for the Astros. With closer Roberto Osuna going on the injured list and possibly needing Tommy John surgery, Pressly was pitching his first game as an Astros closer. It was a disaster for him as he faced four batters without recording an out.
Rookie Andy Young led off with a walk and gave way to pinch-runner Tim Locastro, the fastest man in the majors. A follow-up single by Ahmed put runners on first and second for Ketel, who lined a sharp single to left. Despite Locastro’s speed, Perezchica held him at third. It made no sense to test the strong arm of Kyle Tucker with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up. That was a wise move, since Calhoun – up next – roped a double to the famous right-field corner to score both Locastro and Ahmed for the tying and winning runs, respectively.
A Crazy 24 Hours Bookended by Kole Calhoun
Two huge extra-base hits to the right field corner bookended a crazy 24 hours. Both came off the bat of local product Kole Calhoun, who played high school ball at Buckeye Union High School and college ball less than 12 miles from Chase Field at Arizona State University. It was a great time to face the struggling Astros relief corps, one that has been decimated by injuries and has nine players who are rookies. Their bullpen WHIP is 1.593, well above the AL average of 1.281. Five relievers have an ERA greater than 7.00, and four of them are double digits.
The offensive improvement in the last two games has raised the Diamondbacks team batting average 31 points to .225, bumping them from 14th to 11th. They now have 34 extra-base hits, seventh in the NL. While they are still last in home runs, the last two games have tripled their total from two to six. Their runs per game has leapt up to 3.69, 12th in the NL.
While there is still work to do, the 24-hour period bookended by huge hits from Calhoun has certainly given the Diamondbacks a much-needed shove in the right direction. It was exactly what they needed as they head back to San Diego. This was the site of the season-opening series loss to the much-improved San Diego Padres. They face the Friars in a three-gamer over the weekend before facing the Colorado Rockies in a Monday-Wednesday series at Coors Field.
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