Last year’s season brought the improbable Arizona Diamondbacks into the National League elite once again. Their season was a wonder to watch. Guided by the impossibly relentless Kirk Gibson, the former major league star who in a little over one year has become a major league star manager, deftly handled a young and talented pitching staff and got every ounce of talent from his players as they won the National League Western Division. They were a running, gunning bunch who were relentless and never gave up.
Opposite them in the Central Division, the winner by six games over the St. Louis Cardinals, stood the Milwaukee Brewers. They built their ballclub in one of the smallest baseball markets in America, through solid drafting and superb trades for major pitching talent. In all, the fun-loving Brew Crew had an unusual collection of hero’s and anti-hero’s. They had a MVP All-Star left fielder (Ryan Braun), a thunderously powerful All-Star first baseman (Prince Fielder), an All-Star second baseman (Rickie Weeks), an All-Star right fielder (Cory Hart), an All-Star closer (John Axford), an All-Star pitching staff (Yovani Gallardo & Zach Greinke), great set up man (Francisco Rodriguez or K-Rod for short) and one of the craziest characters in all of baseball (Nyjer Morgan aka Tony Plush, T-Plush among the cast of characters).
These two teams played a fantastic playoff series in 2011. The Brewers beat the D’Backs in a thrilling finish.
So it wasn’t too strange to see these two teams face off for the first time since the past October at Salt River Flats @ Talking Stick in Scottsdale, AZ, on Tuesday. In this magnificent setting on a gorgeous spring day, the two battled each other to a scoreless tie. Granted they were different from last season. No Fielder (signed as a free agent with Detroit) or Braun (tight groin kept him out), no Hart (recovering from knee surgery) or Justin Upton for the ‘Zona team. But, there was Daniel Hudson pitching a great game for the D’Backs and Yovani Gallardo doing the same for the Crew.
Unsatisfying you say? Not really. The real story in this game was the extended effort all the players put forward throughout the contest. Tough pitching on both sides produced little hitting. There were wonderful fielding plays all over the place. Adam Eaton, starting in right field for Arizona, made a terrific sliding catch in foul territory early in the game ending up against he cement foundation for the right field box seats. A.J. Pollack, who moved over to center field later in the game, did like wise, into a glaring sun, reaching down, back handed, around his knees going to his left.
Point was, this was high level baseball in front of a packed house, in a meaningless spring training game. To back that up, in the bottom of the second, Hudson drew a walk off of Gallardo who never walks an opposing pitcher. He tried in vain to get Hudson to swing at a couple of high hard fast balls. But this was more like playoff baseball rather than spring training.
12,579 patrons watch the game on another glorious day of spring. They can attest to the high level of play between these two clubs on this day. Perhaps this is a view of another October to remember. Wish it to be. Wish it to be.