TOP OF THE EIGHTH: DIAMONDBACKS 9 (4) – 2 CARDINALS
I check the MLB Gameday feed and see this in the 8th inning: Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Below that: Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Again: Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. And for the coup de grâce, the quadruple-stacked burger of cardinal meat, there’s a fourth update: Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Has this happened before? It must be approaching some kind of MLB record. Jeremy Hazelbaker standing there in the outfield grass, fielding hit after hit, like he’s at the bottom of a giant grass funnel, endowed with powers he can use only for team-sabotage and not offense, wondering—is this ever going to end?
Someone should check the ball for doctoring. And keep an eye on Hazelbaker. He might be ready for a world record yet, knocking off the world champ from his unappreciated perch–most magnetic man alive.
So with Jonathan Broxton on the mound in relief, Jake Lamb comes up first for the Diamondbacks, sneaking a ground-ball single down the left-field line past a diving Matt Carpenter.
It’s another long bullpen night for the Cardinals, with Carlos Martinez done after five so-so innings, and Michael Wacha having imploded the night before. See Big Inning #38.
First-base coach Dave McKay whispers in Lamb’s ear, whipping out a stopwatch to time Broxton’s delivery, peering out behind half-shaded sunglasses almost matching the charcoal gray of Arizona’s new uniforms. There’s a familiarity with McKay and Busch Stadium, having assistant-coached the ’06 and ’11 Cardinals champs, and just now the camera cuts up to his old boss, Tony La Russa, taking notes up in one of the executive boxes, now CBO for the Diamondbacks.
Lamb takes a lead, McKay steps back onto the grass beside first, and Broxton sets up on the mound as Yasmany Tomas steps in to the box.
He walks. No outs, two on. Nothing spooky yet.
Catcher Chris Hermann comes up, and knocks a perfect sac bunt back toward the mound, thrown out by a charging Yadier Molina who whips the ball over to first. Runners on second and third, one out. Brandon Drury up. Intentional walk. Drury lays his bat in the dirt and trots to first.
The camera cuts back to Tony La Russa, still beloved in St. Louis, and Dave McKay puts his hands on Drury’s hips, whispering advice into his ear now, too.
Chris Owings comes up now, only the second appearance of that surname in MLB history, unrelated to former D-Back Micah Owings.
He fouls off a pitch, then fouls off another, another, another, and another. He’s batting .391 with the bases loaded, looking to bump that up over .400, and Broxton delivers again.
Owings waits on a ball breaking left to right through the zone, and it’s Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker #1. Tomas scores easily from second. Diamondbacks lead: 6-2.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) May 21, 2016
“That is a big-league at bat right there by Chris Owings,” says Arizona announcer Bob Brenly, “what a grind that was!”
Rickie Weeks Jr. comes on to pinch hit, and he lofts a slider in the air above short, and it’s Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker #2. Another “long, grinding at bat,” in the words of Bob Brenly, now rewarded. 7-2 Arizona.
There’s a mound meeting, Broxton’s night is done, manager Mike Matheny snatches the ball and twists it around in his palms, his infield huddled around him, as Kiekhefer jogs in from the bullpen and readies to get to work. The mob splits up and jogs back to their spots.
Jean Segura comes up next, setting up into a low crouch, his bat waggle at full force. Kiekhefer unfurls lanky, Chris-Sale-like arms, and whips home, inducing a ground-out right back to the mound, spinning and throwing to second for the force-out.
Interesting trivia here from Bob Brenly: Kiekhefer was selected in the 37th round of the 2007 MLB draft, then declined to accept, betting on his future chances, only to be drafted in the 36th round three years later. Can’t fault him for feeling undervalued there…
Michael Bourn steps in now, against Kiekhefer, getting stuck right away in an 0-2 count, and then it’s Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker #3. Low line-drive to center.
Michael Bourn knocks in his 2nd run of the game. It’s a four-run 8th for the #Dbacks who now lead it 8-2.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) May 21, 2016
Broxton couldn’t stop the Hazelbaker magnetism. Kiekhefer can’t stop the Hazelbaker magnetism. This now has the makings of a horror movie, with the unseen bad guy a force of nature and not a villain, creeping through your own teammates, your own homeland to wreak untold havoc. Matheny must be aware of it now, but unable to speak out lest be becomes its next victim. He keeps young Hazelbaker in the game, the only buffer between him a full magnetic hex.
Paul Goldschmidt rips a line-drive to center and it’s, yes, Single to center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker #4.
9-2 Diamondbacks now, and Hazelbaker is glowing in center field, with strange, comic-book squiggly lines around him, the grass by his feet a radiant orange—stuck in the endless pull of a magnet ray.
Who’s behind all this? A conniving, all-powerful fan for the other side? Tony La Russa? Dave McKay?
“They’ve been keepin’ Hazelbaker busy out in center this inning,” says Bob Brenly, chuckling. Could it be him?
Or could it, according to Hazelbaker himself, be the haunted house he’s been living in? If so, this might all lead back to Lance Lynn. Spooky.
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) May 19, 2016
Jake Lamb comes up again, the D-Backs have batted around, and he smacks the hardest-hit, farthest-hit ball of the inning, to center. Over the head of—you guessed it—Jeremy Hazelbaker. High in the air. Going, going, going, caught. On the warning track. Just short of a three-run homer for his second hit of the inning. Three outs.
Is the curse broken? The Diamondbacks are fourth in the NL West. If they keep up the baseball magnetism, first place might be theirs by the end of the week.
To be continued…