Youth is served for Diamondbacks
Arizona club capable of playing deep into October
PHOENIX -- Any of the four remaining postseason teams could win the National League pennant. Why not the Arizona Diamondbacks?
Oh, they're too young? Who says? They're old enough to drive a car. They're old enough to vote. They're old enough to play baseball for good money in the Great American semi-desert.
True, the vast majority of them are not old enough to run for President of the United States. But you look at the people who actually are running for President of the United States, from both parties, and I'd take my chances with D-backs first baseman Tony Clark. His teammates all respect him. He's known to be intelligent. There is no record of him ever taking illicit money from a lobbyist. It looks like a write-in campaign from here.
The Diamondbacks opened the postseason and, with any justice, some eyes, on Wednesday night, defeating the Chicago Cubs, 3-1, at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks, far from appearing to be too young, seemed to be completely capable of competing and winning, even here in the rarified atmosphere of a Division Series.
The Diamondbacks, as they appeared on Wednesday night, are very competent in the two basic components that lead to victory in October baseball: pitching and defense. It does not matter that they did not lead the National League in scoring, or total bases, or on-base percentage, or doubles in the gap on Tuesday nights.
It also does not matter when statistical experts tell you that no team that was outscored over the course of the season can possibly have won. So the D-backs violated every law of statistics by having the league's best record despite being outscored? Imagine the nerve. Let's have all of them arrested.
They played 162 games. They won more than any other NL team. And then everybody says, well, it isn't their time yet. Why not?
All you knew for sure on Wednesday night was that you had an October classic pitchers' duel, two aces on the hill, Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs, Brandon Webb for the Diamondbacks.
Webb got the better of it, narrowly, and as good as Zambrano is, this should not be a surprising result. Webb was the best starting pitcher in the NL last year, and the Cy Young Award voters got the picture. This year, giving Jake Peavy his due, Webb is the second-best starter in the league.
His statement inning appeared to be the third, after he gave up a very sharply struck, leadoff opposite-field double to, oops, Zambrano. This appeared merely to motivate Webb. He struck out Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones and Derrek Lee in order and the Cubs didn't get on the board until the sixth.
Zambrano, meanwhile, was not exactly chopped liver himself. But shortstop Stephen Drew interrupted his dominance with a fourth-inning, 432-foot rocket. Drew is 24, obviously too young to be doing this, and yet, the run counted.
Zambrano departed after the sixth, despite throwing only 85 pitches. Cubs manager Lou Piniella wants to bring Zambrano back on short rest for a possible Game 4 on Sunday in Chicago. Piniella may have violated a fundamental baseball precept here, which says: Never try to win Sunday afternoon's game on Wednesday night.
Carlos Marmol entered for the Cubs in the seventh. Third baseman Mark Reynolds led off for Arizona. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but here was another home run by a 24-year-old Diamondbacks player.
Marmol had a brilliant regular season after being converted to relief pitching. He is also 24. Somewhere, someone is saying that he is too young.
Webb pitched seven innings, and qualified for the victory. Jose Valverde, who led the Major Leagues in saves this season, got this save, too. Valverde and Webb are both 28. Based on that age, and the facial hair, it appears that some of the D-backs have actually been shaving at least portions of their faces for some time.
This game is about talent and will, head and heart, and it is not automatically subject to arbitrary demographic groupings. What the Arizona Diamondbacks seem to lack at this point, is more like name recognition than any of the really valuable baseball skills.
Two young D-backs did the damage in this critical opener, Drew, in his first full season, getting his team on the board first; Reynolds, just 111 games into his big league career, getting the game-winner. This may have been a shock to some segments of the public, but it was not to Arizona manager Bob Melvin.
"We've relied on younger guys all year and they've come through for us," Melvin said.
"Even though they're young and rookies, they don't play like rookies," Webb said.
What made this performance more impressive was the fact that, as Melvin noted, there may have been more pressure on the D-backs than on the Cubs in this game. The Diamondbacks were playing at home, and they had Webb starting. Whatever the expectations of the outside world, the young Diamondbacks expected to win this game. They took those expectations and that pressure and simply did exactly what they needed to do.
Melvin said that he did not see his young players folding under this pressure, or even bending to this pressure.
"I didn't sense a whole lot of timidness or being in awe of the situation," Melvin said. "It was nice to see a group that is so young go out there and be pretty level-headed the better part of the game."
What there was instead of nerves was a winning performance. The Arizona Diamondbacks, in what was for many of them their first postseason exposure, did not exactly look like a group of fawns frozen in the glare of headlights. They looked like young Major Leaguers with a legitimate chance to win in October.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.