This could have been the week of reckoning for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and at about 7:30 p.m. last Tuesday night, it certainly felt like it.
After losing two of three to the woeful Dodgers and looking awful in the process - it took a home run by career minor-leaguer Cody Ransom off All-Star ace Clayton Kershaw to avoid a sweep - Arizona was manhandled Monday by the guys currently wearing uniforms that say "Astros" on them.
Those same guys - a 35-win collection of prospects and veterans who lost their best player, Hunter Pence to Philadelphia at the trade deadline - were in the midst of thumping the D-Backs again on Tuesday. Apparently, the combination of sticky heat, an indoor stadium and a crowd of 15,000 had them feeling right at home. If not for a similarly, simultaneously awful run by the Giants, Arizona could have been back to its familiar four-game deficit.
Despite the D-Backs refusing to score in the first five innings, some lousy starting pitching and unforgivably sloppy defense for a team in their position - by all rights, Justin Upton should be playing for the Brewers with that big bat and Manny Ramirez's glove - this team ... refuses ... to quit ... ever.
They wiped out a 7-1 deficit on Tuesday. They were down 5-0 Thursday and won. Some of it is a testament to the Astros' simple inability to win games this year, the other side is about a magical, mystical feel that's building as this Diamondbacks season wears on; the kind of feeling that sometimes makes a good team on paper impossible to beat on the field.
Fox Sports Arizona is re-living the 2001 world championship season with a series of specials all year. While everyone remembers the World Series and that ninth inning against the Yankees, the videos remind how many wins that team pulled out of the fire with unlikely heroes (Midre Cummings, Junior Spivey, Bret Prinz) in key roles.
Now, in the last week, the Diamondbacks have won huge games thanks to three huge home runs in clutch situations. They came from Ransom, Paul Goldschmidt (two outs, two strikes, bottom of the ninth and a 450-foot shot from a .200 hitter) and the seriously slumping Chris Young, who had a .260 on-base percentage over the last month and hadn't hit a home run during that span.
That's the stuff that makes your arm hair stand up. The kind of stuff that makes you wonder what you're watching. The kind of stuff that carries 80-win teams to greater heights.
You don't want to go to that well too often, and Kirk Gibson's team is sending a bucket down every other day right now.
Hopefully, against a Mets team that raised the white flag and is injured to boot, dramatic heroics won't be needed. Stretches of steady and consistent baseball don't hurt either.
Thursday's preseason opener provided about what you'd expect from a Cardinals team a week into training camp - lots of ugly football capped by a reprise from "Mr. August," Max Hall. All of that will shake out by Sept. 11, including Hall, who is No. 4 on the depth chart and probably headed to the practice squad.
But here are the important takeaways on offense from the first quarter of the first game:
• Kevin Kolb can move in the pocket to both buy time and make something out of broken plays and he can put the ball where Larry Fitzgerald can go get it. He doesn't have the pinpoint timing of Kurt Warner, but it's not the carpet bombing of Derek Anderson. Kolb is going to give Fitzgerald a ball he can work with. A fighting chance. That's a huge upgrade.
• Earth to Beanie Wells: This is it. This is your year. No more whining about lack of carries or having to fight with Tim Hightower for time. No more blaming minor injuries. No more excuses about being young. His work around the goal line in the first quarter Thursday looked a lot a guy who hasn't learned very much.
• The Cardinals still need a No. 2 receiver. Lee Evans would have looked good in red, but he went to Baltimore. The Cardinals have good slot guys who will make third-down plays, but no threat to take pressure off Fitzgerald. You can't go from Anquan Boldin to Steve Breaston to "Who's that?"
• Football analysts pimp their games like no other, but enough with all the "Gads, it's great to have football back!" nonsense. What did fans miss? OTAs? Weight lifting sessions? The Hall of Fame game? We had a draft. We had a combine. We have the entire preseason (something I know I could do without). What was the big deal?
We didn't miss anything. You guys covered every negotiation session and posturing tactic.
Luckily for you, it's over. We were doing yard work and throwing a football on the beach.
• While we're at it, can we cut out putting the word "football" in every sentence? He's a great (football) player. He makes things happen on the (football) field. The New York (football) Giants.
The New York "baseball" Giants left town in 1957. We know who you're talking about.
• I'm not going to tell Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict that he has to talk to the media, but when you let other people talk for you, you get the kind of circus ASU dealt with after whatever happened between him and a teammate on the practice field and then the locker room.
I don't believe the SPORTSbyBROOKS account of the events. They are looking for attention on a saturated Internet.
I don't buy ASU's sports information account either. They are looking to sell tickets.
All you ASU alums who have "the inside story" on what really went down have your own agendas as well.
Unless you were actually there, on the field or in the locker room, your version has its own coat of varnish.
Burfict is the best player on a team that is supposed to be pretty good. He deserves attention for his positive play but invites more because of his style.
If Burfict steps up and either apologizes or explains what went down last week, the issue is put to rest.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org