HOUSTON -- The D-backs entered Friday's game with an 8.45 ERA in September. They picked the perfect time to prevent that number from increasing.
Three Arizona relievers absorbed the final 3 2/3 innings of the D-backs' 4-2 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, allowing them to pull within three games of the Cardinals and Dodgers in the National League Wild Card race, and 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Rockies in the NL West, after Colorado lost to San Francisco, 2-0.
Pinch-hitter Jonathan Jay delivered a go-ahead RBI triple in a two-run eighth before Yoshihisa Hirano navigated a tricky ninth inning to record his second Major League save.
"They never quit," manager Torey Lovullo said. "They give everything they can on a nightly basis. I know that we've been dealing with some frustrating circumstances. For us to come out against the world champs and play the way we did, I was really proud of these guys."
The D-backs have the unenviable task of attempting to stay afloat as playoff contenders without a designated closer -- though Lovullo did say after the game Hirano can expect to see the majority of those opportunities in the immediate future -- and with a bullpen that has been largely ineffective down the stretch, with little in the way of outside reinforcements available to help out.
• Buchholz shut down for remainder of season
They leaned on several old reliables in Friday's win.
Archie Bradley recorded 1 1/3 scoreless frames, allowing one hit -- a double to Tyler White that led off the seventh. Pinch-runner Jake Marisnick moved to third on a Marwin Gonzalez groundout, but Brad Ziegler froze George Springer with a curveball on the outside corner, ending the inning.
Ziegler said that with a runner on third, he was trying to get "bad contact" from Springer -- a jam shot or dribbler that wouldn't lead to catastrophe.
"Fortunately, I was able to get the called strike three," Ziegler said. "I thought it was a pretty good pitch. He obviously didn't like it. I didn't look at a replay or anything. I threw it right where I wanted to, I knew that."
Ziegler nailed down eighth as well, stranding two baserunners while facing the meat of the Astros' order. Hirano also pitched through some traffic on the basepaths in the ninth, yielding a leadoff single to Gonzalez and a walk to Brian McCann. The game ended with a double play from Josh Reddick, and a groundout by J.D. Davis.
Three relievers, six baserunners, no runs.
"That's a little push of momentum, and that's what we want to build on," Lovullo said. "The bullpen did a great job. There were some sticky moments, but Ziegler did a great job making pitches to Springer, Archie wiggled a little bit out of a mess as well. Hirano made some great pitches to get that double play. It was a great effort all the way around. We made pitches and good things happened."
Offensively, the difference-maker came off the bat of Jay in the eighth. With the entire outfield shifted toward the left side -- right fielder Reddick was closer to center than right -- Jay broke his bat while connecting on an inside fastball from Hector Rondon that seemed to hit the bat twice before landing few feet inside the line in shallow right.
By the time Reddick retrieved the ball, Nick Ahmed, who doubled with one out, had scored easily from second, and Jay was almost to third.
"I thought it was going to be a foul ball," Jay said. "It kind of hooked back. That's when I realized what had happened. It was just random. It fell through, and that was pretty big right there."
Jay wasn't the only one who thought the ball was foul. First-base coach Dave McKay, with perhaps the best vantage point, was surprised when it landed in fair territory.
"He hit it and cut it like this, and away it went," McKay said. "I've never seen that before. And Reddick in the right field, he was standing still and all of a sudden, 'Oh, gosh.' It was crazy. I couldn't figure out what happened."
Jay said he wasn't surprised by the positioning of the Astros' outfielders, and Astros manager AJ Hinch said Reddick was playing "right where he was supposed to be."
"Jay's the guy you play hard off of, you can't cover every bit of the field," Hinch said. "When he jams them and hits the ball twice down the line, whether he's at second or whether he's at third, is pretty arbitrary at that point. He's not going to play on the line 20 feet beyond the base."
A.J. Pollock then drove Jay in with a bloop single to center for what proved to be the final margin. Springer sustained a shoulder injury while diving for the ball and exited after the inning, but he is listed as day to day.
"We haven't had that type of break or two, that's helped us win," Lovullo said. "A.J.'s base hit obviously was a similar type of hit. But we could care less. We won the game, and I'm proud of these guys."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Robbie Ray allowed two runs and faced six batters in the first inning but held steady for the remainder of his 5 1/3 innings of work, yielding only a walk and one hit batsman.
"It was really just self-inflicted that first inning, with the two walks," he said. "They put up some really good at-bats. I felt like I made really good pitches. They laid off some good pitches. It's a credit to them. But we were able to come back and get this one."
Ray has held opponents to three or fewer runs in eight consecutive outings, and 12 straight road starts, dating back to last season.
"Robbie did a tremendous job," Lovullo said. "I know he gave up some runs in the first inning, but after that he went on lockdown. To hold this team to two runs on five hits, you're doing something right on the mound."
Ketel Marte is the only player in the Major Leagues to have reached double-digit figures in doubles (24), triples (11) and home runs (10) this season.
HE SAID IT
"That's just the nature of September baseball. Some guys are getting to experience that for the first time. I've been through it a couple times where you play meaningful games at the end of the year. That heightened adrenaline sometimes carries you a lot more than what you may have in the middle of June as far as your usage goes. It's a lot easier to dig deep right now." -- Ziegler, on the intensity of pennant-race baseball
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
In the crucial eighth inning, right fielder Steven Souza Jr. made a diving catch to his left on a ball hit by Alex Bregman. Statcast™ rated Souza's catch as a four-star play, with a catch probability of 27 percent as Souza had to run 48 feet in 3.3 seconds to get to the ball. The Astros challenged that the ball was not caught, but after a replay of 1 minute, 25 seconds, the play stood for the second out.
The D-backs continue their long stretch of games against contending teams with the second of three against the Astros on Saturday, beginning at 4:10 p.m. MST. Right-hander Zack Godley (14-9, 4.67 ERA) will take the mound for the D-backs seeking his 15th win. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in six of his past nine road starts since June 10. This will be his first career outing vs. Houston, which will counter with right-hander Charlie Morton (14-3, 3.15).