PHOENIX – "My kids," Orlando Hudson calls them.
"My kids" are holding up OK, he says.
"My kids" aren't afraid.
"My kids" blew all of a five-game lead in the NL West over 11 days not that long ago.
And "my kids" can look a little like they're in over their heads, from the otherwise authoritative position of a three-game lead in the NL wild-card standings.
So lays the curiosity that is the Arizona Diamondbacks, granting thousands of at-bats to the Drews and Uptons and Youngs and Reynoldses, at least a year ahead of schedule as far as competing in an entirely soft National League, and 14 games over .500 while being outscored by 36 runs.
They trail along behind Hudson and Tony Clark and Eric Byrnes and a competent pitching staff, wobble in spots, tumble in others, hit .234 (Stephen Drew, Chris Young) or .231 (Justin Upton), and then find their legs again, and hit 28 home runs (Young) and drive in 49 runs (Mark Reynolds) and steal 23 bases (Young).
They lose for a week and win for a week and then arrive in September with something to play for, which is a division title. Or, indeed, something to protect, which is a place in the postseason.
The veterans lift the heavy stuff, the rookies and other young'uns grab a corner when they can. And here they are, Drew, Young, Reynolds and now Upton reaching their star potentials for a moment at a time, ham-and-egging a season that's gone on for longer than anyone believed.
Even the folks in Phoenix appear to be unconvinced; the crowds at Chase Field are small and less than enthusiastic, leaving the impression they're here not for the baseball, but the air conditioning.
Built for tomorrow, the Diamondbacks win often enough today.
Given Greg Maddux, Chris Young and – as of Tuesday afternoon – Jake Peavy in a three-game series against the San Diego Padres, they split the first two, veterans Clark and Byrnes homering off an inexact Young on Tuesday night, young and old stealing five bases off an overmatched Josh Bard and five seemingly unconcerned pitchers.
Given a big September game and an opposing pitcher with the second-lowest ERA in the league, it was the Diamondbacks who were poised and patient. It was Drew who took pitches and reached base twice and scored twice, Drew who started two early double plays. It was Clark who hit his fourth home run this season off Young, who has allowed a total of eight. It was Diamondbacks lefty Doug Davis who was imprecise and uncomfortable himself, but who hung tough and won his eighth game of the second half.
Given another chance to be satisfied with how far they've come and leave it at that, they were not and, maybe, will not.
Given the news Peavy had talked his way into a series-ending start against them on short rest, it was the Diamondbacks who played themselves back into a tie atop the NL West, who held the Los Angeles Dodgers three games back, who guaranteed that if a collapse is coming, this series wouldn't be its genesis.
"Good," Hudson said.
Four hours before game time, a large brown dog wandered the infield with the grounds crew. She paused, circled and a few feet behind the pitchers' mound squatted and relieved herself. These are not the sights of Yankee Stadium.
In the home clubhouse, late afternoon passed for the Diamondbacks. If there was uncertainty, it was drowned out by the salsa music pouring from Livan Hernandez's boom box, covered by the routine, buried by the clock ticking toward another ballgame.
They're a few hours away, when they were supposed to be a year away from anything like it.
"Whatever," Hudson said. "These 15-year-old kids can play. I knew we had a lot of talent."
They don't get to be rookies anymore. Most have done their five-plus months. They've been allowed to be wrong, tired, silly, whatever they've needed to be. Heck, they've already blown their lead.
So, a night after being blown out by the Padres, they blew out the Padres back. They ran aggressively. They made plays. They played through two terrible umpires' calls that went against them.
"It was an important game for us," Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "Our guys were surprisingly really, really loose today in the clubhouse. It's good to see."
And the Padres – the been-there Padres – watched Milton Bradley, their No. 3 hitter, get ejected from a four-run game in the fifth inning because he couldn't help but question a third-strike call. And Clay Hensley balk home a run. And Kevin Kouzmanoff kick another ball at third base.
"We're going to play hard," said Upton, who has had better games, but scored a run and drove in another. "We're not going to back down against anybody. Peavy's begging to pitch against us, we're not going to back down against him, either."
Then Hudson took a long look around the clubhouse, searching for the one fresh Diamondback who'd impressed him the most, before giving up.
"All of them, to be honest with you," he said. "Every last one of them. All my kids."
- Chris Young