Wednesday, June 07, 2006

De-Fanging Da D-Backs

Cole Hamels stepped on the mound last night at the airplane hanger they call a ballpark in Phoenix.

It’s a hill of dirt that had been called home by two of the best pitchers of the last 20 years, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, after the nascent Diamondbacks franchise opened up its checkbook for Johnson and convinced the Phillies to spread their buttcheeks as they stole Schilling in a one-for-four-losers trade.

Signing Johnson, the ugliest motherfucker in baseball history, was some of the best free agent money ever spent, especially considering that Kevin Brown was the other “prize” dangling on the open market in 1999 and the D-backs pursued him as hard as Johnson. But the Dodgers left Johnson on the market after they signed Brown, and Johnson opened up space on his shelf in Paradise Valley for four Cy Young Awards he earned in Arizona.

Schilling, on the other hand, was highway robbery courtesy of dumbshit Phillies GM Ed Wade. How can Miserable fans in Philly forget that one? He traded him in July, 2000 for the hapless quartet of Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla.

The results were not surprising. The D-backs brought Arizona its first sports championship in 2001 behind the two aces, again proving that while good pitching wins games, it helps to have an unexposed steroid freak like Luis Gonzalez hit 57 homers. As for the Phils, who proceeded to trade Scott Rolen in 2002 to assure the Cardinals' still-bright future, there is not a single player acquired from the two trades remaining on their major- or minor-league rosters.

The idiots who live in the hell that is Phoenix got lots of giggles over that deal. Who wouldn’t? In a city where most of the residents come from somewhere else, and where it seems the natives come from both financial and intellectual poverty, the World Series victory galvanized the city and bonded together its residents for…about a week. But it was a nice way to forget about 9/11 a month after it happened.

I’m sure Hamels, a Southern Californian, had none of this on his mind when he started the game last night. He should keep his head that way. With the roof at the stadium now called “Chase Field” closed, he pitched his best game of the three he’s hurled in the majors, commanding his pitches to befuddle the hot-hitting Snakes into a 10-1 submission, a sterling performance at the site of many masterful efforts in the stadium’s short history. It was his first of hopefully 300 victories in the bigs.

The game was over in the first inning. Baby Girl Burrell homered to stake the Fightless to a 2-0 lead, and that’s all Hamels needed. He threw 5 2/3 innings of one-run, three-hit ball and left with a 6-1 lead. The bullpen shut Arizona down, as it had in the previous victory against the D-backs' new ace, Brandon Webb.

Last night’s win came against Russ Ortiz, a shamefully fat remnant of his former self who should call it a career. He threw 41 pitches in the first inning alone, and even after he settled in, he had written his own warrant for an early removal from the game.

For the Fightless to fly in to Phoenix and take the first two games is no small feat. They looked their old schizo selves in Los Angeles, and miraculously came away with a 2-2 split in that series.

Arizona has rebuilt itself after Johnson and Schilling requested trades to escape the deep hole the team dug for itself by shelling out wasted millions on multi-year contracts for washed-up veterans who had one good fuck left in them. Fans were fooled into believing Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Mark Grace and Tony Womack, who were “generous” enough to take deferred payments on their outsize contracts, would last more than three seasons. None of them did, and the team is still paying. That’s the cost of instant gratification.

What the D-backs need is about 98 years of going without to appreciate a losing franchise; somehow it doesn’t seem fair they’re competitive again. But the novelty has worn off in Phoenix, and the fans have shown their true colors, barely able to assemble 25,000-strong most nights in their air-conditioned playpen.


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