Webb cherishes postseason chance
D-backs confident in handing ball to ace for first playoff start
PHOENIX -- Unlike 2006, there will be no National League Cy Young Award for Brandon Webb this year. San Diego's Jake Peavy all but has his name already engraved on the award.
Yet for Webb, 2007 has been better than last year. Why? Because come Wednesday, he'll be standing on the pitching mound at Chase Field for Game 1 of the National League Division Series in front of a sellout crowd.
"This is the first time I've been able to be in the postseason," Webb said. "I never even made it in the Minor Leagues, so this is something new and special. The team has had a much better year this year than last, so it makes it that much more fun."
And in fact, you could say this has been a better year for Webb individually, as well.
He has more wins (18 to 16) than he did a year ago, a lower ERA (3.01 to 3.10) and more strikeouts (194 to 178).
"The statistics are there to prove it," catcher Chris Snyder said.
Oh, and there was that little 42-inning scoreless streak he had from July 20 to Aug. 22, which was the longest since Orel Hershiser's Major League-record 59 innings in 1988.
That stretch coincided with the D-backs going from third place to first in the NL West, which is no surprise given that Webb is clearly the engine that makes the rotation run.
"He's our ace," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said.
In fact, the D-backs were so confident in Webb that they wanted him on the mound Friday in Colorado when they wrapped up a playoff berth with a win over the Rockies. That was despite the fact that he went into that game winless against the Rockies in five starts with a 6.47 ERA.
The right-hander allowed just two earned runs over seven innings in a 4-2 Arizona win.
"This is the guy we wanted on the mound today," Melvin said following that game with the champagne still dripping off him. "There was a lot of talk about him not being able to beat the Rockies and whatever, but if this was a playoff game, which it ended up being for us, I don't care who the team is, we want Brandon Webb on the mound. He stepped up in a spot where he's had a difficult time with this club."
The experience of pitching that game might benefit Webb come Wednesday. The contest was played in front of nearly 50,000 hostile fans at Coors Field, and there certainly was plenty of pressure with the D-backs' playoff hopes on the line.
"It got pretty loud," Webb said. "It was like a playoff atmosphere. A couple of times, it got supersonic out there with that sold-out crowd. I was trying to keep my emotions in check."
That's something Webb is usually able to do well. A laid-back person, he seemingly takes everything in stride -- a persona that masks his competitive nature.
Named to his first All-Star team in 2006, an honor he also got this year, Webb was excited when pitching coach Jim Hickey told him to get loose because he was going to be facing Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez.
"I was like, 'All right,'" said Webb, who retired the trio in order. "Whenever you can play against better competition, it's only going to make you better. You should always try and challenge yourself against the best."
Webb has always been known for his devastating sinker, a pitch so good that when it's on, he could tell hitters it was coming and they'd still have problems getting it into the air. There were times in past years where he would throw only a handful of offspeed pitches in a game.
Last year, though, he began to use his curveball more often and began to incorporate his changeup, as well. Then in the offseason, he worked hard on the changeup, and he now has full confidence in all three pitches, which makes him more unpredictable.
"We kind of just read the hitters and see how they're taking their swings," Webb said. "We still go right after them with the sinker for the first two innings, but it used to be the first four. So we attack them with the fastball and then see what they're doing off that and then maybe go with the offspeed stuff."
Most pitchers' changeups mimic the movement of their fastball, but Webb's acts almost like a split-finger pitch dropping straight down when it's on.
"It's something that we've added into our arsenal," Snyder said. "He's got three outstanding pitches. If there's any time we really need it, we go to his sinker, but his changeup has become a very good pitch, as well as his curveball. When you have three pitches like that, that's when you put yourself in a class of the dominant pitchers year in and year out."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.