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ARI@MIL Gm5: Kennedy, Gallardo set for Game 5 matchup

PHOENIX -- This National League Division Series has come full circle.

As Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson put it: "You couldn't ask for anything better."

It looked like this series might be a relatively short straight line as opposed to a circle when the Milwaukee Brewers took a 2-0 series lead at Miller Park and appeared to be on the verge of a berth in the NL Championship Series.

But then the D-backs dramatically changed the direction, the tone, and eventually, perhaps even the outcome of the series. When Arizona took two games at Chase Field, it transformed this event, turning two elimination games into a tied series, forcing the decisive Game 5, scheduled for Friday at Miller Park.

But it was high time that people stopped underestimating the D-backs. This series was not supposed to be a walkover. These two teams, measured statistically, are remarkably well-matched. One person who was not in the least surprised by Arizona's comeback was Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke.

"I knew we were going to have a battle going in there," Roenicke said Thursday, regarding the trip to Phoenix. "I'm not surprised that we're back here playing a Game 5."

So what we have now is what defines a postseason matchup: one game determining, in this case, who goes on to play for the NL championship and whose season is over.

"It feels like it's a brand new series," said D-backs center fielder Chris Young, who did his bit with two home runs in a 10-6 Arizona victory Wednesday night.

Just a few days ago, the D-backs' situation seemed to contain very little hope. Now, you can trace a reasonable scenario in which the D-backs would have home-field advantage, all the way through the World Series. An Arizona victory over Milwaukee, combined with a St. Louis victory over Philadelphia would give the D-backs home-field advantage in the NLCS.

But first this NLDS returns to its origins, Miller Park. And it returns to a deciding Game 5 matchup scheduled for Friday with the same matchup of aces that it had in Game 1 -- Ian Kennedy for the D-backs and Yovani Gallardo for the Brewers.

Kennedy was 21-4 during the season, but Gallardo, on a late-season roll, had the better of it in the series opener. The Brewers won, 4-1. Kennedy gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings, the critical blow being a two-run home run in the seventh by Prince Fielder. Gallardo gave up just one run on four hits over eight innings.

Kennedy volunteered to come back on short rest to pitch whenever and wherever the D-backs needed him. But Gibson had enough faith in the rest of the team that he kept his ace fresh for the Game 5 start. But the episode speaks well of both men; Gibson for his faith that the D-backs could win two games when facing elimination, Kennedy for his willingness to do whatever he could to help his team.

"I was willing to do anything, anything possible, just to help out in any possible way," Kennedy said. "I mean, a lot of guys try to come back in three days' rest, and I was going to try to help any possible way I can. Luckily, it worked out and we played well here at home."

Whatever else you say about Friday's matchup, these are two young pitchers who are fully worthy of being placed a crucial postseason start. Kennedy's work made him a Cy Young candidate. Gallardo's season was a tick beneath that, but he is doing his best work at the best possible time. In his last four starts, Gallardo has struck out 36 in 28 1/3 innings, while pitching to an ERA of 1.59.

What next? What do you like better, home-field advantage or momentum? Milwaukee has the former. Arizona has the latter.

The D-backs played two splendid games at Chase Field under the most intense kind of pressure, one loss away from elimination. This tended to underscore everything Gibson has said about the competitive nature of his club.

Momentum is obviously on the side of the D-backs, but Roenicke does not believe that his club will suffer from two extremely discouraging losses in Arizona.

"I think a lot of teams really play off of momentum changes," Roenicke said. "I think our team hasn't really been that way this year. I think we've been in so many ups and downs that they're really good at turning the page. They don't necessarily worry about that bad game that they played the day before. They'll bounce back and have a nice game."

The Brewers could have been taking a few days off from the pressure had they wrapped up this series in Arizona, but they can live with going back to Miller Park for the finale. They had the best home record in the Majors at 57-24. That was also a franchise-best home record.

The Brewers had a choice to make after clinching the NL Central; whether to line up their rotation for the postseason, or keep pushing for home-field advantage in the NLDS by edging the D-backs for the NL's second-best record. They chose to go for the home-field advantage. On Friday, in this classic postseason situation, we will find whether that decision will get them where they want to go. Comments