Familiar matchup for Webb in Game 1
D-backs ace is only pitcher with recent win over Rockies
PHOENIX -- It's no secret that the Rockies have won 17 of their last 18 games. It has been well-documented, and justifiably so.
But on the eve of the National League Championship Series, it was the one game Colorado didn't win that was suddenly getting some buzz. It's that one game that the D-backs are looking back on, pointing to and ready to duplicate.
Sandwiched between win streaks of 11 and six was a Sept. 28 game between the D-backs and the Rockies. The starting matchup: Arizona's Brandon Webb and Colorado's Jeff Francis.
Sound familiar? It should, because the two will face each other on Thursday, 13 days later, in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Webb bettered Francis in that 4-2 Arizona win on Sept. 28 at Coors Field, making him the only pitcher in the last 24 days to earn a win against the Rockies. Yes, 24 days.
As a result, that distinction could prove to be critical for a handful of reasons. The immediate effect was evident, as the win on that last Friday of September clinched a postseason berth for the D-backs. But with the Rockies' surprising run to the NLCS, Webb's win could be crucial when it comes to a mental advantage, as he prepares to face Colorado for the seventh time this year.
"It was one of the biggest games I've ever pitched, so I knew I had to be pretty sharp," Webb said. "They haven't lost since I've pitched against them, so I mean, it gives me a little bit of confidence to know that was me that beat them."
Webb knows that it's no secret he hasn't had the best success against the Rockies this season. But knowing that he changed that frustrating pattern of results at least for a day is the only result now on his mind.
On the other side of the field, the Rockies saw how difficult a pitcher Webb can be when his devastating sinker is following its intended path. And the players haven't forgotten.
"He was even better than I remember," Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe said of Webb, recalling that late September game. "I was always facing him 86-89 [mph], somewhere in there, but when we faced him the other day, he was throwing 93, and it was running a little bit more than it was sinking and he had excellent command of it. Then he had his good offspeed pitches going. He was just tough."
Nor has Rockies manager Clint Hurdle forgotten.
"It was by far and away, I think, the nastiest stuff we'd seen from him in some time," Hurdle recalled. "He got better as the game went on."
Before snapping Colorado's winning streak with a victory, Webb had been 0-3 with a 6.49 ERA in five starts against the Rockies this season. The results weren't pretty, but that's not to say that Webb believes the Rockies have him solved.
"[I] probably didn't have my best stuff at the beginning of the year," said Webb, who made four of his six starts against the Rockies before the end of May. "I don't think the linescore really dictated what it could have been or what it was because of the two at-bats or whatever in the game.
"You can say that with any game you want, one or two at-bats it comes down to, but that's just how I felt about it. I feel comfortable going against them."
Webb lasted seven innings in four of his six starts against the Rockies this season, but it wasn't until that final meeting that he managed to allow fewer than four runs to the potent Colorado offense.
Webb's success will likely come down to two factors. First, the number of ground balls Webb can induce will be an indicator of how well his sinker is working, a pitch that the right-hander relies on heavily for success. He had 16 groundball outs in that recent win against Colorado.
Secondly, he will have to find a way to mix up his pitch selection enough to prevent the low-ball, left-handed hitters in the Rockies lineup from having the same sort of success that they enjoyed off him during the season.
Most notably, there's Hawpe, who went 9-for-15 with three homers and 11 RBIs against Webb, to deal with, along with the switch-hitting Kaz Matsui, who finished with eight hits in 17 at-bats against Webb. Even the right-handed Matt Holliday went an impressive 6-for-19 against the Arizona ace this year.
"They've got a couple of guys that match up pretty well against me," said Webb, who has been hit at a .287 clip by Colorado this year. "They're pretty patient at the plate and very selective of the pitches they swing at."
But the poker-faced right-hander isn't fazed. And really, he has little reason to be. Webb went 10-2 to close out the regular season, which included his well-noted streak of 42 consecutive scoreless innings. Then he had another gem of a performance in the NL Division Series, which Webb hopes to be just the first of many postseason starts.
What was an unchartered postseason start a week ago is now viewed as just another in the 163 starts of Webb's five-year Major League career. And that's the same attitude Webb is going to take with him to the mound at Chase Field on Thursday night.
And really, why shouldn't he? There's no doubting that it's worked thus far.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.