D-backs' improbable run continues
Young club opening eyes with roster of talented players
CHICAGO -- It's a new century in baseball, a new dawn in competitive balance for the grand old game.
You can win without outspending the other 29 franchises. You can win with shrewd scouting and with astute player development and you can win with young, young, young players if these players have the talent and heart to make it happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks.
These fellows just swept the Chicago Cubs in a National League Division Series, and there was nothing resembling a fluke about it. The people who said the Cubs were the favorites apparently did not know enough about the D-backs to know better.
The Cubs scored six runs in these three games. Arizona's starting pitching was solid, and its bullpen was extraordinary. But that's how the D-backs had achieved the National League's best record in the first place.
Those people who waited for the young D-backs to evaporate under the glare of the postseason spotlight are still waiting. The Diamondbacks came to Wrigley Field on Saturday, and they were just as much in control as they had been at Chase Field.
The Diamondbacks were the better team, and as you watched the three games unfold, they became even better than that. This is a team that has the basics covered.
"It was about pitching and defense," manager Bob Melvin said, and then added with a smile: "Stephen Drew was pretty good, too."
You like a manager who deals in the cogent understatement as a way of life. Drew hit .500 in the series, with two homers, four RBIs and 16 total bases. And he played a superior shortstop, too.
"I'll tell you what, you want to talk about their team, start talking about their shortstop, what a job he did," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "The Drew kid."
The Drew kid was not the only Arizona "kid" to play winning baseball. Chris Young set the tone in the finale with a first-pitch home run and was a force throughout this series. Each of these young players Arizona had in the lineup made contributions. You could even say that their performance, taken as a whole, was mature.
"Yeah, by a lot of young players," Melvin said. "We have our veteran influence, but our young guys are taking us where we've gone. We don't do it without a concerted effort from everybody on our team. We can't rely on three or four guys to shoulder the load. We have to get it from multiple guys every day, and our younger guys showed up big.
"To watch Chris Young's walk after [being down in the count] 0-2, [in the fourth, leading to a run] slider, slider, slider that he'd been struggling with, that was a pretty courageous at-bat right there. You can see it's almost day-to-day, you see some of these guys get experience and grow and mature as players in a short period of time."
If the young D-backs showed poise beyond their years, they also demonstrated the team approach that is necessary for victory at this level. This is a team superior to the veteran Cubs in being able to move runners and manufacture runs.
And at the end, the one surprising statistic was that the D-backs had six home runs to one for the Cubs. This illustrates how well Arizona's pitching contained the Cubs' potentially dangerous lineup. But it also tells you that the Diamondbacks were getting some very good and timely swings under some highly pressurized circumstances.
They made a lasting impression on the Cubs, as individuals and as a team.
"They play the game together," said Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot. "They play the game hard. They play the right way.
"They're a young, hungry team. It doesn't really surprise me that they were able to win in this scenario and in this format for the simple fact that right now it's more intensity and these young players on the Diamondbacks are playing hard. They're playing to win."
The world opens up to the Diamondbacks now; or maybe the World Series. There is not a National League team that is clearly their superior.
If they were going to stumble, their inexperience suggested that they would have stumbled here, in their first postseason exposure, in this Division Series. The opposite occurred.
They had the pitching. They had the defense. They had the timely hitting. They were better than the Cubs in every phase of the game. They looked as though they were supposed to win three straight. And that's what they did.
And in a way, the 5-1 victory on Saturday night was the best of all, and not just because it was the clincher. Wrigley Field is a tough place for visitors, and many people in Chicago thought that this would be a huge pitfall for the young Diamondbacks. But the D-backs were every bit as good on the shores of Lake Michigan as they were in the Valley of the Sun.
This is a very good baseball team. And the way it is succeeding is also very good for baseball.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.