D-Backs Lean On Longball, Force Game 5 With 10-6 Win

Randy Wolf got clobbered early on, and Arizona never looked back in forcing their series with the Brewers to a decisive fifth game.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers, Game 4: Highlights From The Live-Blog

The Arizona Diamondbacks sent Joe Saunders to the mound on Wednesday needing a win to force Game 5 in their NLDS matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers. To counter, the Brewers sent Randy Wolf to the hill, giving us a good old fashioned shootout. By the time it was over the Diamondbacks had a 10-6 win, thanks to an explosive first inning that feature yet another grand slam.

Here are a few of the highlights from Wednesday's live-blog.

The Brewers struck first, taking a 1-0 lead on a Ryan Braun single that scored Jerry Hairston. But the lead quickly evaporated thanks to what's become the Diamondbacks signature move.

79 miles per hour, thigh-high, over the middle, in a hitter's count. Roberts clobbered that meatball for a grand slam down the left field line - the Diamondbacks' fourth grand slam in four home games. It's like a thing of theirs. You see why they're in the playoffs?

Chris Young followed the grand slam with a homer of his own, and suddenly the Brewers 1-0 lead was a 5-1 deficit. Was it surprising to see Wolf tagged for five runs early? Let's ask Grant Brisbee!

The Diamondbacks are still in command of the game, but something I like to do is play "Is it a headline?" Is it a headline that Randy Wolf got tagged for five earned runs? Nope. Surprising, maybe, but it's not going to lead the sports section of the New York Times.

A pitchers duel this was not. While Wolf was giving up runs in bunches, Joe Saunders was leaking them slowly, like a sinking vessel. Jeff Sullivan had a few ideas why.

Well. People like me might make a little too much fun of Joe Saunders - he does own a career 103 ERA+, after all - but he doesn't throw a lot of strikes and he doesn't miss a lot of bats, and the end result is that he just plum isn't good. He's good relative to you and me, but he's not good relative to his peers. Relative to his peers, he's just a mediocre starting pitcher trying to find his way in the world.

And in the third inning, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson decided to put an end to the Saunders experiment, pinch-hitting for him with runners on second and third. It worked!

With Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young in scoring position, two outs, and the pitcher's spot coming up, Gibson sent up Collin Cowgill, who had exactly 100 at-bats in the regular season and a .239/.300/.304 line. Cowgill singled through the left side, extending the Diamondbacks' lead to 7-3. Good move by Gibson? With the benefit of hindsight, it looks like a great move.

Arizona held its 7-3 lead into the sixth inning, when Carlos Gomez decided to bunt the leadoff man, who was on first base, into scoring position with style -- by diving into first base. If you're not sure whether diving into the bag at first was a good idea, let Rob Neyer explain.

The batter was Carlos Gomez, and he dove at the base and was out by a couple of hairs. He might have been safe if he'd just sprinted like a normal (really fast) person. It would have been closer, for sure.

The run did come around to score, and the Diamondbacks lead was down to 7-4.

In the seventh, Chris Young added his second home run of the game, this time of the two-run variety, to push the Diamondbacks lead to 10-4 -- Arizona had tacked on a run in the inning prior. Of course, Milwaukee answered, but it was too little too late.

...aaaaaand as I was writing this, Carlos Gomez lined a two-run homer in the top of the eighth. 10-6 now. See? Runs! Really fast! Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders can feel just a little bit better about themselves now.

That's where the score stayed, with Arizona closing out the game to force a decisive Game 5 in Milwaukee on Friday. From down 0-2 in the series to knotting it up at two games apiece, the Diamondbacks crawled all the way back, taking care of business in their home park to force Friday's do-or-die matcup.

For more on this game, check out the rest of the live-blog or Rob Neyer's recap.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers, Game 4: What Happened In Milwaukee, Stayed In Milwaukee

Powered by four home runs -- including Ryan Roberts' grand slam and Chris Young's two blasts -- the Diamondbacks evened their Division Series with a 10-6 victory over the Brewers.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Chris Young Homers Again, Arizona Piles On

In the top of the sixth inning, the Brewers turned a 7-3 game into a 7-4 game, and very narrowly missed turning it into a 7-7 game. Spooked by how quickly runs can appear on the board, the Diamondbacks responded by scoring once in the sixth, and then twice more in the seventh.

Chris Narveson was entrusted to handle the bottom of the seventh, and he got off to a pretty crappy start by walking Paul Goldschmidt on five pitches. Up next was a guy who made an out, but up next after that was Chris Young. Chris Young followed Ryan Roberts' grand slam in the first inning with a solo home run, and in the seventh, he ripped Narveson's fourth pitch of the at bat - an inside fastball - up and over the left field fence for his second dinger of the game.

That extended Arizona's lead to 10-4, and the Brewers have but six outs remaining until they're forced to go home for a Friday Game 5. Which is better than being forced to go somewhere else for a Friday Game 5. Who doesn't love being at home!

...aaaaaand as I was writing this, Carlos Gomez lined a two-run homer in the top of the eighth. 10-6 now. See? Runs! Really fast! Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders can feel just a little bit better about themselves now.

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Game 5 Tickets Scarce In Milwaukee, As Usual

According to Bob Nightengale, the attendance at Chase Field tonight is just upwards of 38,000 ... which is roughly 10,000 below capacity. It could have been a lot worse, though; thanks to a late push that included free t-shirts for everyone, the D'backs sold roughly 10,000 tickets in the 24 hours before the game.

Okay, enough picking on the Diamondbacks. They're who they are, and their fans are who they are. For better or worse. Here's the real point of this entry:

#mlb Oh, just in case you're wondering, the #Brewers game will be sold out for potential Game 5., saying they could sell 100,000 tix if room
Oct 06 via TweetDeckFavoriteRetweetReply

 

I believe it. Where the Diamondbacks drew 2.1 million this season in Major League Baseball's 14th biggest market, the Brewers drew 3.1 million in Major League Baseball's smallest market.

If I were training to run a baseball team, I would study two franchises: the Rays for their performance, and the Brewers for their attendance (and their performance ain't bad, either).

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Milwaukee Inches Closer, Aaron Hill Pushes Them Away

In the great Cold War of 1998 Expansion Teams -- where brother can disown brother over an ill-timed Quinton McCracken joke -- things are taken very, very seriously. So when Tampa Bay brought up their #1 pitching prospect to come along with their playoff ride, there was a phenom gap. That sort of thing could not stand, and Arizona decided to put Jarrod Parker on their postseason roster.

It could have worked out better.

But it certainly could have worked out worse, too. Ty Betancourt led off the inning with a single, and Carlos Gomez was barely out at first on an attempt to bunt for a hit. George Kottaras walked, and Casey McGehee warmed America's heart by getting his first hit since 2010.

The bases were loaded with one out. Thus endeth Jarrod Parker's postseason debut. The difference between Parker and Matt Moore? Moore threw strikes in the minors this year. Parker didn't.

So Bryan Shaw came in with ample playoff experience from his time with the Lakers, trying to shut the door. He allowed a 405-foot sacrifice fly to Corey Hart, and then got Jerry Hairston to ground out. It took a lot of work, a lot of tough at-bats, and some honest-to-goodness perseverance to get that single run. The Brewers were right to be proud.

Then about five minutes later, Aaron Hill got the run back with one swing, hitting a solo home run to left to put the Diamondbacks up 8-4.

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One Play, Two Silly Mistakes

It's a simple thing, really.

Visiting team's down four runs in the top of the sixth. Leadoff man reaches. Next batter has no power but he's really fast.

So he bunts. It's a decent bunt. It's going to be close at first base.

If you're the batter, do you run through the base, which is the fastest way to get there? Or do you dive head-first into the dirt?

And if you're the official scorer and the batter/runner is dumb enough to dive and makes an out, do you debit his batting average? Or do you give him credit for a sacrifice hit in the sixth inning of a 7-3 game?

The batter was Carlos Gomez, and he dove at the base and was out by a couple of hairs. He might have been safe if he'd just sprinted like a normal (really fast) person. It would have been closer, for sure.

The official scorer was the official scorer, and he credited Gomez with a sacrifice hit in contravention of all logic.

Hey, maybe the scorer will change his mind. It happens. But Gomez isn't getting that plate appearance back. And so the madness only continues...

The Brewers eventually did score but just once, and after the top of the 6th it's Diamondbacks 7, Brewers 4.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Bullpens Enter, Scoring Stops

I don't want to be too mean about Randy Wolf or Joe Saunders. They are perfectly serviceable starting pitchers. They belong in the Major Leagues. But here's the fact of the matter: when Wolf and Saunders were pitching tonight, the score was 7-3 after three innings. They then gave way to relievers Marco Estrada and Micah Owings, respectively, and the score is still 7-3 after five. That makes Wolf and Saunders look really bad. At least if the scoring had continued, they could've pretended it was just one of those nights.

In the top of the fifth, Owings worked around a two-out double by Prince Fielder, which he ripped down the right field line by turning on a high and tight fastball that would've handcuffed almost anybody else.

In the bottom of the fifth, Estrada worked 1-2-3, generating a pair of strikeouts. Interestingly, Owings batted for himself, and was then removed for Jarrod Parker to begin the top of the sixth. Owings, of course, is a pretty good hitter and is known for his Brooks Kieschnickness, but it's still notable on paper.

So anyway, if the Brewers want to end this thing tonight, they have 12 outs to score at least four runs. Against last year's Diamondbacks bullpen, it would be hard not to do that. This year, they have actual pitchers, so it's more of a challenge.

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Don't Expect D'backs Bullpen To Blow This Lead

Kirk Gibson's obviously covering himself in glory after his ill-fated decision to let Ian Kennedy pitch to Prince Fielder in Game 1. Tonight, Collin Cowgill took enough time off from driving that wacky, Mondrian-inspired school bus to deliver a pinch-hit single ... in the third inning! Which pushed the Diamondbacks' lead for 5-3 to 7-3, and their win expectancy from around 75 percent to roughly 90 ...

Winexp_medium

That's via FanGraphs, of course.

Now, just one year ago, Gibson might not have been comfortable asking his bullpen to protect a 7-3 (let alone a 5-3) lead in the fourth inning. Just one year ago, the Diamondbacks' bullpen finished the season with a 5.74 ERA, worst in the National League and a full run worse than the next-worst Cubs.

This season? Their bullpen hasn't been great, but at 3.71 the ERA is two full runs lower. And while the biggest reasons for the Diamondbacks' worst-to-first season are better starting pitchers and better hitters, the revamped bullpen has played a big role as well. And that bullpen is probably going to hold this lead.

After four full innings it's Diamondbacks 7, Brewers 3.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Kirk Gibson Gambles, Arizona Tacks On Two More

Well, the story will be that Kirk Gibson gambled when he pulled Joe Saunders for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the third inning -- that he took some sort of daring risk. But that ignores the Joe Saunders Theorem, which posits:

All things being equal, Joe Saunders is likely to pitch like Joe Saunders

It's transitive gold. But while it wasn't a risk, necessarily, it was the kind of move that a lot of managers wouldn't have made. A lot of managers have odd infatuations with their starters eating innings just to eat them, not really mindful of how they're digested and disposed of.

With Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young in scoring position, two outs, and the pitcher's spot coming up, Gibson sent up Collin Cowgill, who had exactly 100 at-bats in the regular season and a .239/.300/.304 line. Cowgill singled through the left side, extending the Diamondbacks' lead to 7-3. Good move by Gibson? With the benefit of hindsight, it looks like a great move.

Of course, Micah Owings is pitching now, and while he's 8-0 -- not under .500 like that Tim Lincecum clown -- he's not especially reliable either. The scoring in this game probably isn't over. 

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Joe Saunders Bad, Milwaukee Chipping Away

In the bottom of the first inning, a grand slam and a solo home run gave the Diamondbacks five runs and a lead. Terrific! Surely they could count on Joe Saunders to protect it for a while before giving way to the bullpen, right?

Well. People like me might make a little too much fun of Joe Saunders - he does own a career 103 ERA+, after all - but he doesn't throw a lot of strikes and he doesn't miss a lot of bats, and the end result is that he just plum isn't good. He's good relative to you and me, but he's not good relative to his peers. Relative to his peers, he's just a mediocre starting pitcher trying to find his way in the world.

And mediocre starting pitchers can't be expected to have a ton of success against a lineup like Milwaukee's. Saunders allowed one run in the first. He allowed one run in the second. And he allowed one run in the third. He allowed it quickly, too, when Corey Hart led off with a single, and then flew around third base to score on a subsequent double by Jerry Hairston Jr.

Saunders then walked Ryan Braun, but found a way out of the jam to keep the score 5-3. Still, watching, one gets the sense that there are going to be a lot more runs, and I don't know who's going to score the majority of them.

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Joe Saunders Wishes He Were A Ground-Ball Pitcher

Before Game 4, TBS broadcasters Victor Rojas and Joe Simpson noted the striking statistical similarities between starting pitchers Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf, and Simpson finished his analysis with this:

If there's a difference, Saunders is a ground-ball, double-play guy. He's gotta be good on his control and keep the ball down.

Now, you know I don't like to call bullshit but ...

Aw, who am I kidding? You know I love to call bullshit, and what's so odd about Simpson's bullshit is that there's simply no excuse for it anymore. Not with all the data that's just floating around out there, free for anyone with working fingers and WiFi.

Joe Saunders is not a ground-ball pitcher. Never has been. This season, 45 percent of the batted balls against him were ground balls, which is exactly in line with his whole career. This season, he ranked 29th in ground-ball percentage among the 50 ERA-title qualifiers.

Granted, Wolf is even less of a ground-ball pitcher; his percentage this season was just 37.4, 47th in the National League, and he's got a 38.6 career ground-ball percentage.

But Joe Saunders is a ground-ball pitcher only in comparison to his mound opponent tonight.

Saunders did get 28 double plays turned behind him this season. So there is that.

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Brewers Move One Run Closer, Still Trail 5-2

Randy Wolf wasn't very good in the first inning, and he dug a pretty big hole for the Brewers, who started the second inning behind 5-1.

But Yuniesky Betancourt led off the inning with a double -- don't laugh, he hit 27 this year, including two off Charlie Morton, who is just like Roy Hallday now! A deep fly out from Carlos Gomez allowed Betancourt to tag, and George Kottaras drove in the runner with a weak fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks are still in command of the game, but something I like to do is play "Is it a headline?" Is it a headline that Randy Wolf got tagged for five earned runs? Nope. Surprising, maybe, but it's not going to lead the sports section of the New York Times.

In that vein, "Joe Saunders Coughs Up Three-Run Lead" wouldn't even make the front page of Joe Saunders Quarterly. There's still a lot of baseball left. Some of it might even be well-pitched!

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"You Want Me To Wear What?"

For the record, someone decided that this should not merely be manufactured, but also that real Major League Baseball players should wear them on television. In a home game ...

Dbacksblack_medium

If I was A. Player I would just say no, I cannot do this. There might well be a long and embarrassing tradition of ugly jerseys, but I play my baseball in the 21st century and I've learned from the mistakes of our baseballing forefathers.

Granted, Ryan Roberts looks pretty good in his.

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Ryan Roberts Obliterates Terrible Pitch, Hits Grand Slam

Randy Wolf was so close. He was so close to getting out of a jam. Then he did not get out of the jam. He allowed the jam to achieve its maximum scoring potential, and then some.

Wolf was staked to a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the first. Leading off the bottom of the first, Willie Bloomquist lined a sharp single to center, because Willie Bloomquist is Tony Gwynn now, and Tony Gwynn is in phenomenal shape.

Two batters later, Justin Upton walked, and then Miguel Montero grounded a single into right to load the bases with one out. One out, and Paul Goldschmidt at the plate. Paul Goldschmidt, who hit a grand slam just Tuesday night. There was the threat of a repeat performance.

But Wolf actually retired Goldschmidt with a called strikeout on a questionable pitch inside, just off the plate. Suddenly Wolf was an out away from escaping unscathed, and all he had to do was pitch to Ryan Roberts.

Robertswolf_medium

79 miles per hour, thigh-high, over the middle, in a hitter's count. Roberts clobbered that meatball for a grand slam down the left field line - the Diamondbacks' fourth grand slam in four home games. It's like a thing of theirs. You see why they're in the playoffs?

Oh, but that so wasn't it. After Roberts came Chris Young, and after Young worked his way to a 3-1 count, Wolf gave him an 89-m.p.h. fastball over the outer edge that Young blasted out to left-center for a solo shot. Two batters, two homers, five runs.

The Brewers had an early lead. That was just a few minutes ago. Now they are trailing by four times the magnitude of that lead. Funny!

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Diamondbacks vs. Brewers: Milwaukee Strikes First

If you needed an extra-base hit, and you could choose any hitter/pitcher match-up you wanted, wouldn't Ryan Braun/Joe Saunders be near the top of your list? That's not to say that Saunders had anything but a good season, but it's just the idea. Braun is a strong, smart hitter with a controlled swing. Saunders is a lefty who thrives on getting hitters to do weak, dumb things with a wild swing.

In the first inning, Jerry Hairston singled up the middle to set up the Braun/Saunders showdown, and Braun did exactly what you'd expect -- he hit a double in the left-center gap, and Hairston scored without a throw to make it 1-0, Brewers.

Now Braun stealing third? Probably didn't see that one coming. That put a runner on third with one out. But after a walk to Prince Fielder -- who did a completely charming and not-annoying "beast-mode" pantomime that we will in no way be sick of before the end of the playoffs -- Rickie Weeks grounded into an inning-ending double play.

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Huge Game 4 Not A Sellout?

Nothing official yet, but here's the early word on the attendance tonight in Phoenix:

#MLB Plenty of seats still available at game time. Will be no sellout tonight at #dbacks and #Brewers
Oct 06 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

 

This, despite all the free (and granted, undoubtedly ugly) t-shirts.

We killed the Rays when they didn't sell out Game 4 of their series, but this is just as bad, isn't it? That was a day game; this is a night game. The Tampa-St. Petersburg market ranks 19th among MLB's 26 markets; Phoenix ranks 14th, with a huge population difference between 14th and 19th.

The Diamondbacks drew 2.1 million this season, even though they played well nearly all season. I guess we'll see what they've got next season, in the afterglow of this division-winning season.

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Arizona Diamondbacks NLDS Game 4 Starting Lineup

In the first game of their NLDS against the Brewers, the Diamondbacks faced the right-handed Yovani Gallardo. In the second game, the Diamondbacks faced the right-handed Zack Greinke. In the third game, the Diamondbacks faced the right-handed Shaun Marcum. But in the fourth game, the Diamondbacks will face the left-handed Randy Wolf. What sweeping changes does Kirk Gibson have in store for the starting lineup?

Willie Bloomquist, SS
Aaron Hill, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Miguel Montero, C
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Ryan Roberts, 3B
Chris Young, CF
Gerardo Parra, LF
Joe Saunders, SP

PItcher aside, the difference between this lineup and the Game 2 and Game 3 lineups is that Roberts and Young have swapped places. Not positions in the field. Places in the lineup. And they're both right-handed hitters so there isn't even much of interest to dig into there.

Kirk Gibson has his regulars, and he's going to stick with his regulars, because his regulars are pretty good, and his depth behind them is pretty bad. Another way to put that: laugh about Willie Bloomquist all you want, but better Willie Bloomquist than Geoff Blum or John McDonald

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All 3.69s Are Not Created Equal

As Grant pointed out, tonight's Game 4 starters have exactly the same ERAs: 3.69.

Does this mean that Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders are exactly the same pitchers?

Hardly.

While both pitchers walked 2.8 batters per nine innings, Wolf struck out 5.7 per nine innings.

That is a low figure, relative to most National League pitchers.

But Saunders struck out 4.6 batters per nine innings, which is really low; the lowest, in fact, among the 50 National League pitchers with at least 162 innings this season (Wolf ranked 40th).

You might guess that Saunders doesn't throw hard, and you would be correct. But he does throw slightly harder than Wolf, whose fastball averages just 88.4 miles an hour. Nevertheless, Wolf's fastball is more effective than Saunders. Here's a great look at their respective pitches, including frequency and effectiveness:

It's probably not appropriate for us to tell Saunders to stop throwing so many damned fastballs, because it's hard to argue with a 3.69 ERA. But he throws a lot of fastballs and they're really not working all that well for him. While you watch Game 4 tonight, see if you can figure out why Saunders' fastballs aren't as effective as Wolf's, even though they're faster.

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Milwaukee Brewers' Lineup For Game 4

The Brewers get another chance to eliminate the Diamondbacks, and here's who they'll send out there:

Corey Hart RF
Jerry Hairston 3B
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Carlos Gomez CF
George Kottaras C
Randy Wolf P

This is the anti-lefty deployment, then. Hairston's moved up, and Carlos Gomez is in for Nyjer Morgan. If there's a surprise, then, it's that backup catcher George Kottaras is in for Jonathan Lucroy. Kottaras is a pretty good hitter as far as backup catchers go -- heck, as far as starting catchers go -- but he's also a left-handed hitter. Saunders traditionally does much better against left-handed hitters:

I Split PA SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
vs RHB as LHP 3235 1.50 .282 .340 .456 .796
vs LHB as LHP 946 2.84 .251 .304 .353 .657
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/5/2011.


So while resting Lucroy isn't a bad idea, it sets up a lefty-on-lefty match-up that favors Saunders and the Diamondbacks. The reason? Brew Crew Ball has it:

Wolf won't pitch to Lucroy.

It's not that he hates Lucroy. I mean, not really. But he has his reasons:

"He's a great kid and works his tail off," said Wolf (about Lucroy). "He's trying to do the best he can. It was a matter of trying to find what I needed to throw to get outs. I think we both knew I wasn't very sharp. It was one of those times where you're trying to find ways to get guys out. That brought on a few more conferences.

When veterans get a pet catcher, they keep that pet catcher, lefty-on-lefty action be damned.

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Diamondbacks Want Fans To 'Blackout' Chase Field

For a time, it didn’t look like the Diamondbacks were going to sell out tonight’s Game 4 of the NLDS. But the team’s official Twitter account says tickets sold briskly after Arizona beat Milwaukee Tuesday night:

Over 5,000 #Dbacks fans purchased tickets overnight for tonight’s #NLDS Game 4. Join the #blackout movement! http://t.co/WCexha6v
Oct 05 via Social Marketing HubFavoriteRetweetReply

And what’s this “blackout” they’re talking about? The Diamondbacks have many different uniform color combinations (something many of us who are uniform purists don’t care for), and tonight they will be wearing their black jerseys. So:

In case you missed the memo, wear black #Dbacks gear tonight! Don’t have anything? We’ll give you a black shirt when you get here! #blackout
Oct 05 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

And in case you don’t have any such gear, they’re going to help you:

We’re giving out plain black t-shirts to the first 35,000 fans that need ‘em for tonight’s Game 4 at Chase Field. #blackout
Oct 05 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

This has been done before, by another team that has black as one of its colors; the Chicago White Sox did it for their 2008 AL Central tiebreaker game against the Twins. Here’s some video from that game:

Like or hate the D’backs and/or their uniforms, an entire stadium dressed in black should look pretty cool. Game time is 9:37 p.m. ET.

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