I wrote a lot last year about what I called Arizona’s “voodoo baseball team.” The Diamondbacks rallied so many times to win in late-inning games that it became more than bewildering. It was black magic.
The Dbacks used that magic to win the 2011 NL West championship and had a good run in the playoffs before barely missing out on a trip to the World Series.
I still carry a mental picture of one captured moment that symbolized the ’11 season. Hitting coach Don Baylor and bench coach Alan Trammell were standing in the dugout, leaning casually on the protective barrier, chins resting on hands, as a recent Dbacks call up, Wily Mo Pena, came to bat in a crucial situation.
Pena, true to form, blasted a long home run to change the course of a game I no longer remember. But I do remember an alert TV cameraman homed in on Baylor and Trammell. The two coaches slowly turned their heads and peered into each other’s eyes in disbelief without showing a bit of emotion. One thing. I thought Baylor may have rolled his eyes.
Pena’s short stint with the team produced five dramatic home runs. But soon he was back in the minors and then got another quick shot with Seattle. This year, he is playing in Japan. But this kind of craziness went on from May right up until the last out of the season.
This season the voodoo went away somewhere. Back to Haiti maybe. But it was gone, and the Dbacks finished third in the West, far back of champion San Francisco. Same team, far different results.
Fans, the true believers, took 2011 as real and because they did were of course both disappointed and shocked by a mediocre 2012 team that finished with a record of 81 wins, 81 losses. They seemed to have no clue that 2012 was the real thing, not the 2011 voodoo.
In a recent article in the Arizona Republic, “D-Backs not so clutch this year,” beat writer Nick Piecoro showed the differences in stats, late innings of close games. The team batting average was 81 percentage points lower in ’12. Also way down were on-base percentage, slugging percentage and even plate appearances.
“It’s stunning, really,” Piecoro wrote of the statistics.
Fans wanted heads to roll. At one time they wanted their most talented player, Justin Upton, sent down to the minor leagues. Even the manager, Kirk Gibson, sought answers. He partly blamed himself for not preparing his troops better.
As if you can change Lady Luck.