Most of the pitches that cost the Diamondbacks the game on Saturday night, the ones fired or flipped from the right hand of closer Mark Melancon, were not especially bad. And yet, one after another, they were redirected in places where the Diamondbacks were not.
There were two curveballs dug out of the dirt, two others placed at the bottom of the zone. All four went for hits. The pitches, it could be argued, might have caught too much of the plate, but far worse pitches over the course of the previous eight innings had been met with far more leniency; that Melancon was punished so severely — coughing up a one-run lead in a game the Diamondbacks lost, 4-1, at Chase Field — left him at something of a loss for words after the game.
“It’s one of those head-scratchers, you know?” Melancon said.
Right-hander Zach Davies fired 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, working into the seventh inning and building his pitch count beyond 90 for the first time this season. Jordan Luplow stole a pair of bags then scored what at the time was the game’s lone run in the eighth, coming home on a double by Christian Walker.
It put the Diamondbacks in position to extend their win streak to five games and pull to two games over .500. Instead, with their streak over and their record back even at 14-14, they were left to rue the few opportunities they had make a victory more palatable on Saturday night.
A day earlier, Melancon recorded the final out of a 4-1 win, sealing a victory for Merrill Kelly. It was his first outing following an eight-day absence on the COVID injured list, a stint required by baseball’s health and safety protocols despite Melancon, who tested positive, not experiencing any symptoms.
Melancon said he didn’t think he needed to be out as long as he was but didn’t care to elaborate on the rules. He was able to throw regularly during his time away, and he said he did not feel rusty in his return.
Despite the results on Saturday — four runs (three earned) on five hits in two-thirds of an inning — he did not look all that rusty, either. The ninth inning began for him on an ominous note. Facing C.J. Cron, he jumped ahead in the count, 1-2, before going to his curveball for a third consecutive time.
The pitch was down, well out of the strike zone. Catcher Daulton Varsho prepared to smother it. Instead, Cron reached down and smacked it into left for a leadoff single.
Ryan McMahon followed with another two-strike single, perhaps the only hit Melancon allowed in the inning on a pitch that was clearly mislocated. That put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Melancon retired the next two batters but gave up the game-tying single to Yonathan Daza, the go-ahead hit to Jose Iglesias and one last single to Connor Joe, all coming on breaking balls that either induced soft contact or were not so badly located.
“A hit is a hit in the big leagues, right?” manager Torey Lovullo said. “(But) there were some very unorthodox hits. I don’t want to take anything away from the ones they got, but when I’m seeing those types of swings, I’ll take my chances on executing and getting outs on those types of swings every single time.”
Melancon was posed a philosophical question. For a closer, what is easier to process: Giving up a lead on good pitches or giving it up on mistakes?
“It’s never easy,” Melancon said. “We played a great game. Guys score a run there in the eighth. It’s just the way you draw it up.”
Well, not exactly. The Diamondbacks’ offense was largely quiet, generating just six hits, only one of which went for extra bases.
The Rockies had already sort of gifted a run in the eighth — McMahon missed a tag at third on Luplow’s second steal of the inning — when the Diamondbacks had the bases loaded and one out. But instead of building on the 1-0 lead, Nick Ahmed hit a bouncer to short, where Iglesias began a home-to-first, inning-ending double play.
“I feel like we could have extended that lead a little bit and put ourselves a little bit better position,” Lovullo said. “Mark had to be very fine. But, look, it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to finalize a couple of other details and get it done and close the deal. When you’re one out away you want to win the baseball game. And we didn’t.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.