Season rides on Owings' shoulders
Rookie will be called on to keep D-backs alive in Game 4
DENVER -- Micah Owings knows the task ahead of him as well as any of his teammates. They need four wins. But before they can get four, they have to get one.
Owings' response to knowing that the fate of his team's season lies heavily within his arm will determine whether his team will have a chance to go for the other three.
It's a situation that nothing in Owings' brief big league career could have completely prepared him for. But his teammates insist he shouldn't look at it that way.
Look at it as just another game, they would say. Pitch like it's just another day. Do so, and the results will fall into place.
"You don't tell him anything," third baseman Tony Clark said. "He's a special man. I don't expect him to do anything more than what he's capable of doing tomorrow."
Labeling Owings' Game 4 start, which will come at Coors Field on Monday, simply as start No. 28 of his rookie season masks the fact that Arizona has finally reached the must-win point of the season. It will be the first start of Owings' career against the Rockies, and it will be his first career start in the postseason.
That's quite a way to make a debut.
A chance to become just the second Major League team to win four straight after falling into an 0-3 deficit starts with Owings. The hope is that it doesn't end there.
"Don't worry," said center fielder Chris Young. "He's going to go out and battle. He's staying in good spirits, and he's playing his role great right now. That's all you can ask from a player."
Said ace Brandon Webb: "I would tell him, 'Just go out there and don't try to overdo anything. Just do what you've been doing and execute your pitches. Don't think too much out there. Don't look up at the crowd. Don't get caught up in it.'"
Webb will be left to provide the advice prior to Game 4, a game that many have argued should have been put in Webb's hands in the first place.
But having already accumulated a career-high 236 1/3 innings this season, manager Bob Melvin opted against starting Webb on short rest. Had he done so, Webb would potentially have been available to pitch on full rest if a Game 7 becomes necessary.
"I think I'd be fine," said Webb, who threw a bullpen session on Saturday. "I'm sure I'd be fine."
But Melvin's decision not to turn to Webb is as much about his confidence in Owings as it is his hesitancy to send Webb back to the mound on limited rest. And Owings has given Melvin every reason to believe in him and his resiliency lately.
Owings has proven to his team that under any circumstance, he's always ready for the call.
That was no more evident than in the final month of the season during a three-week stretch when Owings' role never was quite defined. After a Sept. 8 start, Owings was the odd-man out of the rotation, pitching when called upon, but not on a normal four days of rest. Not once was he fazed.
"He's a competitor," Young said. "The latter part of the season, he hasn't been in the normal rotation. He's going to go out there and compete when his card is called."
Nothing exemplified that better than Owings' final start of the season. Not expecting to make a start in the D-backs' series in Pittsburgh the final week of the season, Melvin approached Owings the morning of the series finale, asking him to make a spot start.
With an ominous forecast for the day, Melvin didn't want to send scheduled Webb to the mound and risk losing him to a lengthy rain delay.
"When we approached him that morning, you could see him process it for a minute," Melvin recalled. "But he was all about -- I mean, he was all for it. He wanted the ball."
Owings answered with 6 1/3 shutout innings, a game that, at the time, the D-backs desperately needed to stop a three-game skid.
Owings has not pitched for the D-backs since then. His start in Game 4 of the Division Series became irrelevant when Arizona completed a three-game sweep.
The 25-year-old right-hander did throw 75 pitches in an instructional league game last Tuesday, facing live hitters for the first time since that start in Pittsburgh.
"As far as guys on our team with layoffs ... he threw a game in [the] instructional league the other day," Melvin said. "So when you look at the days off, I don't think it really factors into the extent of where he did just pitch."
Up 3-0 in LCS
|Only the 2004 Red Sox have come back from a 3-0 deficit in a League Championship Series. The teams that have gone up 3-0 in an LCS:|
|2007||NLCS||COL||ARI||To be determined|
|2006||ALCS||DET||OAK||Won (DET 4, OAK 0)|
|2004||ALCS||NYY||BOS||Lost (BOS 4, NYY 3)|
|1999||NLCS||ATL||NYM||Won (ATL 4, NYM 2)|
|1998||NLCS||SD||ATL||Won (SD 4, ATL 2)|
|1995||NLCS||ATL||CIN||Won (ATL 4, CIN 0)|
|1990||ALCS||OAK||BOS||Won (OAK 4, BOS 0)|
|1988||ALCS||OAK||BOS||Won (OAK 4, BOS 0)|
And then there's Micah Owings -- the hitter.
"Not only can he pitch, but he rakes," said pitcher Doug Davis, laughing. "He's fun to watch take BP. He's fun to watch at the plate during a game. You always know something is going to happen. He's the real deal."
A standout hitter throughout high school and college, Owings made more national waves during the season for his performances at the plate than he did on the mound.
There was the Aug. 18 game Owings started in Atlanta in which he connected for two home runs and two other base hits on his way to a six-RBI game, the most RBIs in a game by a pitcher in more than five years. He also scored four times in the game.
Then came that start in Pittsburgh, where on top of limiting the Pirates to four base hits, Owings contributed four hits and three RBIs in the winning effort.
"I just enjoy being in the box," said Owings, who finished the season hitting .333 with 15 RBIS in 60 at-bats. "I've been blessed to play the game not only as a pitcher, but to be able to swing it, too. Whenever I get in there, I enjoy it."
Owings' offensive ability is something that could change the dynamic of the game. Owings, who was used as a pinch-hitter in Game 2, undoubtedly gives the D-backs an advantage in the lineup.
"We're in a DH situation, American League situation, when he's in the game," Melvin said. "[He] definitely brings a different dynamic to the game. His numbers aren't just because they're going to lay it in there for a pitcher. They pitch to him like a hitter right away. And he responds."
No bigger response is needed than the one Owings will look to give on Monday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.