D-backs stun Cubs, head to NLCS
Trio of home runs back veteran Hernandez in win
CHICAGO -- The secret is out: The Arizona Diamondbacks are a darn good baseball team.
The D-backs seemed to fly under the radar heading into the postseason, but after they completed a three-game National League Division Series sweep of the Cubs with a 5-1 win Saturday night, they can no longer hide.
Certainly, their opponent in the NL Championship Series, the Colorado Rockies, will know that the NL-best 90 wins the D-backs compiled were no fluke.
"If it stays like that, that's OK, we're comfortable with that," catcher Chris Snyder said of the D-backs' anonymity. "But after these three games, I think we turned some heads."
No doubt about that, as they held the Cubs to just six runs over the three games, while scoring 16 against the team that had the second-best ERA in the NL during the regular season.
Not bad for a team that finished the regular season near the bottom of the league in batting average and was actually outscored overall by its opponents.
"I think it's out now on a national level," outfielder Eric Byrnes said. "I think the people that watched us play all year realized how good of a team we were. Look, we kind of got it done with smoke and mirrors all year, but that's fine. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. That's one of the ways to win ballgames."
The D-backs won Saturday's game in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Wrigley Field the way they did so many times throughout the season. They got a solid outing from their starting pitcher and enough timely hits to turn a lead over to the bullpen, which in turn shut the door.
Chris Young, one of four rookies in the starting lineup, got things started when he hit Rich Hill's first pitch of the game into the left-field bleachers.
"I never swing at the first pitch," said Young, who hit nine leadoff homers during the regular season. "But tonight I actually decided ahead of time I was going to go ahead and try to see if he leaves one over the middle on the first pitch, and he did."
It was just one run, but it seemed to lift the D-backs while deflating the home crowd.
"Chris Young's first-pitch homer gave us a lot of momentum," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said.
Arizona starter Livan Hernandez then went out and did what he has done all year long. The veteran right-hander pitched his way into and then out of trouble.
Hernandez allowed 11 baserunners in his six innings, but he lived up to the Houdini nickname that Melvin gave him by finding a way to allow just one run.
"Livo, I've said before, you've got to be patient with him," Melvin said. "And even though you're in a different situation in the postseason, you still have to be patient with a guy that you've treated a certain way all year. At times, you're going to get burned."
The flames certainly crept high in the fifth, when Hernandez walked the bases loaded with just one out, with Mark DeRosa at the plate and the D-backs clinging to a 3-1 lead. Even by Hernandez's standards, this was a major jam.
"If there's a guy on first, or first and second, we don't really worry about it," third baseman Mark Reynolds said. "But with the bases loaded and DeRosa up there, we were like, 'Oh no.'"
But just as soon as some were ready to take away the NL Manager of the Year Award -- which Melvin almost certainly has coming to him -- for leaving Hernandez in, the hurler got DeRosa to hit into an inning-ending double play.
"When we got the double play from DeRosa there, we kind of sensed something good was going to happen," Melvin said.
A lot of good things happened on the night for the D-backs. Shortstop Stephen Drew, who struggled offensively throughout the regular season, put together another dynamite playoff performance, going 3-for-5 with a double and a home run.
Meanwhile, Byrnes, who was 1-for-10 heading into his sixth-inning at-bat, hit a home run off Carlos Marmol.
And when Alfonso Soriano's fly ball landed in right fielder Jeff Salazar's glove with two outs in the ninth, the celebration began.
Showing the wisdom of their champagne-popping experience in Colorado less than a week ago, several D-backs sported swimmer's goggles courtesy of a quick trip to a local sporting goods store.
The D-backs seemed unfazed by the increased pressure and scrutiny that the postseason brings, even though their everyday lineup is made up almost entirely of rookies or second-year players.
"Like I said, we've already exceeded expectations," Byrnes said. "Even this series, I think that's why everyone was so relaxed heading into it, because we didn't have a whole lot to lose."
Except, of course, for their anonymity.
"I think people are starting to see this is how we play baseball," Snyder said. "We're going to go after it, we're going to be intense and we're going to push the envelope, and that's what we did all three games and that's how we won."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.