PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks rallied on Thursday to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 after scoring seven runs in the seventh inning.
Alek Thomas’ groundout and a two-RBI double by Emmanuel Rivera saw Arizona fully capitalize on a bases-loaded, nobody-out scenario, an improvement after getting only one run out of it the night prior in the ninth inning. After an intentional walk to Josh Rojas and an earned base on balls for Christian Walker, Daulton Varsho cleared all three bases with a double for three RBIs. A Jake McCarthy groundout brought home Varsho for the inning’s seventh and final run.
More importantly, the offensive explosion corrected what would have been an undeserved loss tallied to Merill Kelly’s record.
It was going to take something special for a now 45-67 Pirates ball club to get the better of Kelly, who is in the midst of one of the best stretches by a starter in franchise history.
The something special, though, was a questionable booth review ruling and an odd mixup defensively in the fourth inning.
Kelly came into the afternoon with only eight earned runs allowed in 48.1 innings for his last seven starts. In all of those, Kelly had given up two earned runs or less. And if you add on his four outings prior, Kelly had pitched at least 6.0 innings in all of them.
Both those streaks came to an end. Kelly went 5.0 innings and sacrificed four hits and three walks for three earned runs. It was a below-average outing for him given how great Kelly has been in 2022, and he cited some of his command being off afterward, but it was still enough to get the job done for a win.
The fourth inning is where two of those three runs materialized from and you could argue both are not on Kelly.
At one out with runners on first and second, Pirates second baseman Tucupita Marcano was up to bat and Pittsburgh successfully executed a double steal.
The infield came in, and on the next pitch, Marcano hit a grounder to Walker at first base. Walker went home with it, where a sliding Ke’Bryan Hayes appeared to beat the tag with his right foot to be safe.
Replays, however, showed that Hayes may have never clipped home base with his foot. If that was the case, D-backs catcher Carson Kelly clearly got Hayes before his other leg touched home.
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After a review, the call stood. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said the team’s replay staff thought there wasn’t an angle that showed Hayes’ foot getting down, and you can see why.
Now, with the Pirates’ Greg Allen up and runners on first and third, Allen hit a bloop single to center field that scored Pittsburgh’s Oneil Cruz from third.
Thomas rifled the ball to third base and it would have been close on a sliding-head-first Marcano but shortstop Geraldo Perdomo leaped to intercept and threw to first base in order to catch Allen too far off the bag.
There were three issues with that decision.
The first was that this would initiate a rundown while Marcano was on third base, giving him a really good shot of scoring.
The second was that Walker didn’t check the runner at third to begin with and then proceeded to pump fake the initial throw to second baseman Sergio Alcantara at the start of the rundown, which gave Marcano enough time to break for home and score. Alcantara didn’t even look there initially once he caught the ball but Marcano would have been safe anyway even if he did.
The third issue was no one could back up Walker in the rundown, so Alcantara had no one to throw to and somehow everyone was safe with two runs across the plate.
As far as that part of the play, Lovullo confirmed it was a one in 1,000 situation where Merrill Kelly covered the original throw by Thomas behind third base and Carson Kelly obviously had to stay at the plate, so no one was available to get Walker’s back.
“There’s certain times where you have to sacrifice a base,” Lovullo said. “There’s all hands on deck between home and third. … It’s a very tough play.”
The mistake came on the beginning of the rundown.
“We just need to tighten that down a little bit and do a better job in that rundown to make sure that runner doesn’t advance to home,” Lovullo said.
This followed Wednesday’s baserunning mishap by the D-backs in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Kelly’s pitch count got to 99 through five innings, which is when Lovullo elected to bring in lefty Tyler Holton. Holton, Kevin Ginkel, Joe Mantiply and Mark Melancon made it a scoreless four innings from Arizona’s bullpen.
To go back to how fantastic Kelly has been, let’s establish the precedent after his first average start in over two months.
Looking at the group Kelly could have joined without the D-backs’ defensive gaffe, when tacking on the two earned runs or less plus a minimum of six innings, it would have been Kelly’s eighth outing of that in a row to make him one of four D-backs to achieve that feat. He would have joined Patrick Corbin (2012-13), Dan Haren (’08, ’09) and Randy Johnson (1999, 2000), according to Stathead.
Perhaps Kelly gets to the sixth inning and through it in a cleaner fourth inning as well, and a dozen starts in a row with at least 6.0 innings pitched would have made him the first to do that since Zack Greinke in 2016.
Instead, Kelly’s run of form to that degree is over. With that in mind, though, he’s got some pretty great reference points to go back to and return to what was working.
“Yeah, I’m just gonna try and flush today’s as quickly as I can,” Kelly said. “Body felt good. Like I said, the command was off, location was off. Don’t put too much stock in it and just kind of move on to the next one.”
The D-backs’ other two runs came via a solo homer for Rivera and Carson Kelly RBI single in the fourth inning. Rivera added a second double in the eighth inning for his first three-hit game with Arizona.