D-backs sail to 2-0 lead over Cubs
Young hits three-run homer; Arizona one game from NLCS
PHOENIX -- In the span of 48 hours, the D-backs have gone from underdog to one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.
Arizona's 8-4 win over the Cubs on Thursday night gave the D-backs a commanding two games to none lead heading to Chicago for Game 3 on Saturday.
"I'm sure we're probably surprising some people, but we've been doing this all year," outfielder Eric Byrnes said. "We believe in ourselves as a team. There weren't a whole lot of people that believed in us before this series started and maybe even now, but there's 25 guys in here that really believe in themselves, and we're playing that way right now."
Part of the reason the D-backs might have been overlooked coming into the postseason is the fact that they ranked near the bottom of the NL in several key offensive categories.
Yet as they did all season, they found a way to score enough runs to come away with a victory.
"I don't blame those people," Byrnes said. "All the number crunchers out there, sometimes you can't measure a team's heart, and this team seems to have a whole lot of it."
The odds have certainly swung in Arizona's favor. Since Wild Card play began in 1995, 27 teams have held a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five Division Series, and only four wound up losing and 18 went on to sweep the series. All four of the teams that lost were American League teams -- the 1995 Yankees, 1999 Indians and the 2001 and 2003 A's.
No one in the D-backs clubhouse, least of all Byrnes, who was a member of that 2003 Oakland team, is making reservations for the NLCS.
"One game at a time," first baseman Tony Clark said. "That's the way we've done it all year, and that's the way we need to continue to approach it."
This one didn't start out on a good note for the D-backs, as the Cubs grabbed and early advantage on Soto's two-run homer in the second off starter Doug Davis.
The D-backs came right back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring four times to take the lead for good. The big blow was a three-run homer by rookie Chris Young on a 3-2 pitch from Cubs starter Ted Lilly, who was so frustrated by the result that he removed his glove and fired it straight into the ground as the ball cleared the left-field fence.
"That was huge," Conor Jackson said of the home run. "That's got to be the play of the game. It got us back into it and gave us some confidence."
Young hit 32 homers during the regular season, but this was his first time he'd done it on the postseason stage.
"It's exciting to hit a homer any time, but to do it in the playoffs with 48,000 fans out there yelling, you feel like you're floating on air when you're running the bases," Young said. "You see your teammates in the dugout ready to congratulate you. There's no feeling like it."
Things don't always look pretty for Davis, even when he wins, and Thursday was no different. The left-hander battled his way in and out of trouble after the Soto homer, but managed to keep the Cubs off the board until the sixth.
Davis had a particularly good feel for his curveball and used that to get some of his eight strikeouts.
"When he's able to establish that he can throw the curveball for a strike, then he can come back later in the game and bury it down in the dirt and get some putaway swings," D-backs pitching coach Bryan Price said. "It's a pretty special pitch because of the speed differential and he just had it going tonight."
Davis ran into trouble in the sixth when after retiring the first two hitters, he walked Mark DeRosa and Jacque Jones.
Arizona manager Bob Melvin then brought in reliever Juan Cruz, who allowed a two-run double to pinch-hitter Daryle Ward to pull the Cubs within 8-4.
That seemingly comfortable lead got a little dicey in the ninth when the Cubs put a pair of runners on with one out against Arizona closer Jose Valverde.
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Valverde, who led the Majors in saves with 47, settled down to strike out the Cubs' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, to end the game.
"I wasn't nervous," said Valverde, who also picked up a save in Game 1. "I love it like that. I did it today for my teammates and for my fans."
The D-backs boarded their charter aircraft following the game for the all-night flight to Chicago. With a scheduled landing time of nearly 6 a.m. CT, they will not work out Friday and instead will rest up for Saturday's Game 3 in front of what they know will be a fired up sellout crowd at Wrigley Field.
"We put ourselves in a good position today, but you can't look at that," Jackson said. "We're going to go into Chicago, into a hostile environment, hostile crowd and we're going to have to scrap like we always do to try and come out with another 'W.'"
It won't be easy, but if they were to do it, it no longer would be such a surprise.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.