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Must C Clutch: Pennington ends it in the 16th inning

PHOENIX -- Five hours and 32 minutes after Brandon McCarthy threw his first pitch of the night, Cliff Pennington smacked a Fernando Salas changeup up the middle and into center field, driving home the game-winning run and ending the longest game in Chase Field history.

By the time his teammates finished mugging him, the veteran shortstop stood in a puddle of chewing gum as he wiped away the mud from his face following an impromptu shower of water, dirt and Double Bubble.

And yet despite the end result of the celebration leaving Pennington resembling a beat up piñata, the 28-year-old wore a smile spanning from ear to ear.

Behind Pennington's walk-off single and a standout pitching effort in relief from Josh Collmenter, the D-backs finally dispatched the Cardinals, 10-9, in 16 innings Thursday morning to win their opening series of the 2013 season.

"All the innings weren't fun, but the party at the end sure was," Pennington said. "I was just trying to get something I could hit hard and I got a pitch I thought was good enough and fortunately I hit it up the middle and not at somebody. It was pretty awesome."

Speaking to how long Wednesday's game went into the evening, Pennington actually entered extra innings without a hit in 11 at-bats to start the year. But by the time the night concluded, the shortstop had collected three base hits.

"I didn't think I was going to get a hit all year," he said. "But to get a big one like that, it's good."

In all, there were seven lead changes and three ties in the back-and-forth battle.

What helped the D-backs extend the game to allow Pennington's walk-off to happen was a superb performance by Collmenter, who tossed the final five innings Wednesday just hours after pitching 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday.

"It was definitely a first for me, I've gone back-to-back before, but not like this," he said. "I felt good though. It was part adrenaline and I wanted to go as long as I could. In that situation, you don't want to let your guys down, you want to battle for them."

Without Collmenter being able to extend himself, the D-backs would've been forced to bring in another starter or Heath Bell, their only pitcher left in the bullpen, who gave up three runs in 1/3 of an inning on Tuesday.

"That was impressive, he's special," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said of Collmenter. "What did he throw, seven innings? 'Cause I felt like it. That was a quality start."

Collmenter allowed Pete Kozma to give the Cardinals a lead in the 12th inning with an RBI single, but Martin Prado kept the game going in the bottom half of the frame with a sacrifice fly. D-backs manager Kirk Gibson credited Collmenter with limiting the damage in that inning to give the offense a chance.

"The kid never gets rattled, he gave up a run, but we didn't give up two, he cut it off," Gibson said. "He actually threw the ball better as he went along. You could see the ball coming out of his hand better. It's just unreal."

On the offensive side, Gerardo Parra continued his torrid start to 2013, collecting three more hits and finishing just a double shy of the cycle. Through three games, the outfielder is 8-for-16 with five extra-base hits.

Like Parra, Prado and Paul Goldschmidt each homered and tallied three hits against Cardinals pitching as part of the D-backs' 17-hit slugfest.

Making his National League debut, McCarthy struggled in his five-plus innings, allowing six runs on nine hits. The outing marked the right-hander's first appearance in a regular-season game since being hit in the head with a line drive while playing for Oakland last September.

"It's one of the weirder starts I've had, I felt really good, I threw a lot of strikes, I just couldn't throw any good strikes," he said. "I really thought I'd hit another gear, I felt like the ball was going to go wherever I wanted it to, but it just didn't get there."

Down a run in the bottom of the eighth after Brad Ziegler served up a solo shot to Yadier Molina in the seventh, Aaron Hill drove home Parra to tie the game, 8-8, and set up the battle in which the D-backs used all of their bench players and all but one of their bullpen arms. If the game would've continued much further, Gibson said Saturday's starting pitcher, Patrick Corbin, would've entered the game to play in the outfield and Prado would've come in to pitch.

Instead, the D-backs walked off the field winners before any of those scenarios could play out. The club now heads to Milwaukee riding the type of victory that could serve as a reference down the road.

"This is the kind of win you remember as the season goes," Pennington said. "Two weeks from now if we find ourselves down four in the sixth, we can say we've done this before. A lot of this game is in your head, so it's good to have that memory."

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