No easy task, but Webb earns 20th win
Righty becomes first pitcher in NL to reach plateau since 2005
PHOENIX -- The one that counted for his 20th win of the season on Friday night at Chase Field wasn't really any easier than the three losses Brandon Webb had suffered in his previous three tries at reaching the coveted mark.This time, instead of being yanked from the game with his hopes crushed, the 29-year-old Diamondbacks right-hander worked superbly through eight innings against the Reds and seemed secure with a 3-0 lead, heading into the ninth. That the final was 3-2 after the Reds sent seven men to the plate in the final inning against Brandon Lyon and Chad Qualls, leaving the tying run 90 feet away at third base, hardly mattered in the end. "A win's a win, that's all we're talking about," said D-backs manager Bob Melvin, whose club barely managed to snap a six-game losing streak to remain 3 1/2 games behind the first place Dodgers in the National League West with 16 left to play. Webb (20-7, 3.28 ERA) couldn't agree more. He's been poised since Aug. 26 in San Diego to become the first National League pitcher since 2005 to reach the 20-win plateau. Dontrelle Willis won 22 that year for the Marlins. Since then, the high has been Jake Peavy's 19 for the Padres last season. Webb's the second pitcher in the Majors to win 20 games this season. Cliff Lee of the Indians has already compiled 22. "It's good to get it over with and get that put behind me," Webb said. "Hopefully I can go out now and don't look back." Webb, as well, became the third D-backs hurler to reach the magic 20 mark in their now 11-year history, joining Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Schilling and Johnson -- the latter slated to pitch here on Saturday night against the Reds after missing a start because of a fatigued left shoulder -- did it twice each. Schilling had 22 wins and Johnson 21 in 2001 when the D-backs defeated the Yankees to win their only World Series title. And in 2002, Johnson had 24 wins and Schilling another 23. "Those guys had a lot of tremendous years here," Webb said. "To be up there with them is pretty special." Looking at the numbers, Johnson's 24 wins in 2002 tie him with John Smoltz, Doc Gooden, Steve Carlton and Ron Bryant for the most wins by an NL pitcher during the last 36 years. Carlton notched 27 in 1972. From 1996 to 2005, there had been at least one 20-game winner in the NL every season. During the most recent two-year drought, in 2006, Webb was among six pitchers who lead the league with just 16 victories each. That matched the lowest league-leading total in NL history (Ken Hill and Greg Maddux in 1994), although Webb was awarded the Cy Young for his 16-8 season. So winning 20 this time around is no small thing, especially with a second Cy Young in three seasons hanging in the balance. "Getting 20 wins, that's a pretty big number," Webb said. "That's what many pitchers strive for at the beginning of the year. Twenty wins is kind of a goal. You know, we're here. I've got three starts left. We've got a lot of work to do. We've got to get back on the horse." In his previous three starts, Webb had allowed 22 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 13 2/3 innings for a 12.57 earned run average during that span. His once gaudy 19-4 record and 2.74 ERA had slipped to 19-7 with a 3.41 ERA and he didn't get through the sixth inning in any of those starts. But it was not the struggling Webb who was on the hill Friday night when he allowed no runs on five hits with two walks and a pair of strikeouts in his eight innings. Claiming to have his worst changeup of the season and relying mostly on fastballs, Webb was an economy of motion, never throwing more than 18 pitches in a single inning and 96 in all on the night. As is his trademark when he's right, 11 of the 24 outs were recorded on grounders, including a double play in the first inning that followed a game-opening single. Melvin never wavered when Webb came back to the dugout after the eighth inning, his toughest of the game. Even with Lyon, his closer, struggling mightily. "He was done," Melvin said about Webb. "We take stock in [the way he looks]. He was gassed." Webb could have recorded his second shutout and fourth complete game of the season. Instead, he was mollified with his ninth start of the season, finishing eight innings or more. "That eighth inning kind of drained me out," said Webb, who got Danny Richar to ground out with runners on first and second, ending it. "I worked hard to put the zeroes on the board." Webb actually left for a pinch-hitter to open the bottom of the eighth with a 1-0 lead. A bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch scored the D-backs' final two runs in that inning, giving them just enough runs to survive another ghastly bullpen performance. But it was all good in the end when Qualls, who faced one batter, whiffed pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston Jr. with the tying run on third base. Both Webb and his teammates ended a pair of unsightly streaks. "For Brandon, it's an incredible feat," Melvin said. "Nowadays, 20 wins just doesn't happen much anymore, what with pitch counts and fifth starters and giving guys breaks. Now that it's past him, maybe he won't have that weight to deal with. Each and every start from here on in will be that much better, too."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.