Sports

There’s no place like home: Arizona Diamondbacks Edition

Keury Mella

Keury Mella
Photo: Getty Images

At this point, I’m pretty sure the Arizona Diamondbacks have angered a higher being. Twenty-two straight losses on the road — tied for the longest such streak in MLB history. Starting with a loss to the Miami Marlins on May 4, the Diamondbacks have yet to win a single game away from Chase Field, and Tuesday night was just another piece of evidence pointing to the idea that something supernatural must be stopping the D-backs from winning outside of Arizona.

Picture this: you’re a professional baseball team. You’ve got a World Series title to your name, but the past few seasons haven’t quite gone according to plan. Your recent big-name free agent signings haven’t panned out like you’d hoped, and you’ve dropped 20 straight road games in the middle of a season where you’re 21.5 games out of first place with the worst record in baseball. Things are looking pretty bleak. The best thing that’s happened to you this season is that a couple had a decent second date at one of your games. You just lost the series opener against the first-place San Francisco Giants… but wait! You’ve scored seven runs in the first two innings of Game 2! SEVEN! The Giants are dead in the water, right? Seven runs isn’t insurmountable, but it’s surely a good cushion. Since 2000, there have been 141 games where the visiting team was leading by seven runs going into the bottom of the second. The visiting team has gone on to win 134 of those games. That’s a win percentage of 95.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Giants were trailing 8-5. Even with the bases loaded, Arizona still had an 86 percent chance to win the game.

Stepping up to the plate was Mike Yastrzemski. He was the Giants MVP in 2020. He finished eighth in National League MVP voting during that COVID-shortened season, but 2021 hasn’t been as kind to him. He was hitting .224 coming into Tuesday’s game, which was tied for the second-highest his average had been all season. He hadn’t hit a home run in nearly a month, but was in the middle of a modest 3-game stretch with at least one extra base hit. Prior to Tuesday’s contest, Yastrzemski had 15 at-bats with the bases loaded. He had three hits: two doubles and a single. He’d also struck out seven times.

On the bump was Humberto Castellanos. He’s one of the most recent call-ups for the Diamondbacks, making his first Major League appearance of 2021 on June 4. Coming into Tuesday, the Diamondbacks had lost all three games Castellanos had appeared in since being called up. Those losses haven’t been his fault though. He’d only given up one run in six innings. He’d allowed only three hits and two walks while striking out six all the while. So, throwing Castellanos here was probably a good call.

Castellanos had never faced the Giants before. He came into the game with runners on first and third and promptly walked pinch-hitter Curt Casali on five pitches. The bases were now loaded. The last time Castellanos found himself in this situation was August 22, 2020 against the San Diego Padres. Castellanos was playing for the Astros at this point. His team was already down 7-1 when Jake Cronenworth smashed a slamboni to deep right field. That hurt, but the game was already out of hand. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday. The game was on the line.

Castellanos rushed ahead in the count 1-2. Coming into the at-bat against Yastrzemski, hitters were 3-for-29 with two strikes against Castellanos. Seventeen of those at-bats ended with strikeouts. The three hits were all singles. Specifically in a 1-2 count, hitters were 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts. Everything points toward Castellanos having the advantage.

Arizona catcher Carson Kelly — a long-time backup to Yadier Molina in St. Louis before moving to Phoenix in 2019 — calls for a backdoor slider. It’s supposed to start outside the zone, break in, then hit the outside corner for the strike three call. Castellanos misses his spot. Instead, it starts in the zone, and breaks toward the lefty hitter Yastzemski’s back foot. Still, Yastrzemski’s history indicates that there’s nothing to worry about. He’s struggled against the slider mightily in his career. Per Baseball Savant, Yastrzemski has seen 268 sliders since 2020. He’s whiffed on 85 of them. He’s hitting .122 against that pitch with an abysmal .230 slugging. Low-and-in isn’t exactly Yastrzemski’s hot spot as a hitter either. Of all zones over the plate, low-and-inside has produced the lowest hard-hit rate from Yastrzemski swings during the 2021 season — just seven percent. Prior to Tuesday, he hadn’t put a ball in play in that zone all season long, and he’d whiffed on 13 of 18 pitches placed there.

But Tuesday wasn’t any ordinary night. Yastrzemski threw the scouting reports out the window and launched one into McCovey Cove.

Last night’s game didn’t have any situation as tense as the Yastrzemski grand slam. It was just a standard blowout with the Giants leaping out in front by 11 in the fifth inning and winning by six. The point is that there wasn’t a single shred of data that pointed to the Giants winning that game on Tuesday. Sometimes you’re just destined to win or lose a game because that’s how the baseball gods want it to happen.

The Diamondbacks and Giants play the final game of their 4-game series this afternoon at 3:45 ET. A D-Backs defeat would be road loss number 23 in a row — the most all-time. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, I have no doubt history will be made.

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