PHOENIX -- It didn't matter that Tony Womack and Matt Williams didn't have the kind of seasons they envisioned.
|Tony Womack was the hero for the Diamondbacks Sunday night.
It didn't matter that with the game on the line, Womack couldn't get execute a suicide squeeze or that Williams fly out in the seventh left him 0-for-15 in the series.
None of that mattered because neither of them stopped working. Most of all, those things didn't matter because they never stopped believing in their abilities.
So, Sunday night with the season on the line, Williams started the ninth-inning rally with a clutch double and Womack lined a single into left-center, scoring Danny Bautista to give the Diamondbacks a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS at Bank One Ballpark. With the win, the Diamondbacks advance to the NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves beginning Tuesday night in Arizona.
It seems fitting that the decisive inning was set up by Williams and finished by Womack. Both players struggled during the season and heard their share of boos from Diamondbacks fans.
The 42,810 fans gave Williams a standing ovation as he left for pinch runner Midre Cummings following his leadoff double. In fact, Williams received cheers and chants of "Mat-ty, Mat-ty" all game long, a sharp contrast to the boos he heard during the first two games of the series.
"That was great," Williams said. "We're very appreciative that they showed up and were in it from the first pitch until the final hit."
With runners on the corners and lefty Steve Kline on the mound, Arizona Manager Bob Brenly put the suicide squeeze on. Womack missed the low and away pitch and Cummings was caught running home.
Brenly, who hasn't been afraid to gamble during the season, felt the pressure in the dugout after the out.
"I felt like I left a runner out there in scoring position," the former catcher said. "I just felt awful. God bless Tony Womack, he bailed me out. It was just tremendous."
Womack stepped back into the box and after fouling off a couple pitches, gave his manager a reason to celebrate with the single into left center.
"The guy made a good pitch and I didn't get the bat on it," Womack said. "I tried, but I couldn't get it down. You have to hit with two strikes in this league or you're not going to be successful and I believed in myself. All I wanted to do was put the ball in play and I did and we're going to the next level."
Indeed, the Diamondbacks are going to the next level, advancing with a shortstop that suffered his share of struggles on and off the field in 2001.
After starting off the season well, Womack suffered a personal loss when his father, Thomas C. Womack, passed away April 22. Womack left the team to comfort his family before returning May 3.
Womack then struggled, losing his leadoff spot and eventually the shortstop job to Craig Counsell.
On Father's Day, June 17, Womack hit a grand slam to lead the Diamondbacks to victory. An intensely private man, the emotions spilled over for Womack as he began to cry while rounding the bases. After driving in the winning run Sunday the tears flowed again as he remembered his father.
"I miss my dad right now," said Womack drenched in sparkling cider the team used to celebrate. "I know he's here, 'But I love you dad and I really miss you.'
"My dad was my best friend and at the age of 52, I didn't think it was time for him to go home. But that wasn't my decision and I just tried to focus on the second half, just finish strong. Because my dad stayed around long enough for me to understand what kind of person I need to be, what I had to do. What happened tonight is just a stepping stone for me to be the person I am, not just as a player, but as an overall individual."
Womack worked with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and hit .327 in the second half, as opposed to .232 in the first.
"He never stopped working," Murphy said. "He never quit trying."
Neither did Williams, who suffered through a variety of injuries this season, but always wanted to be in the lineup.
While the boos clearly bothered Williams, what bothered him more was his 0-for-15 performance in the postseason until the ninth-inning hit. Brenly kept writing Williams name in the lineup, betting on the fact that he would come through.
"I'm so happy for both Matt and Tony," Brenly said. "We've always had confidence in them. Some people around town may not have had as much as we did, but I personally couldn't be happy that those two guys were right in the middle of it for us in the clinching game."
Their teammates also were pleased that Williams and Womack played key roles.
"He and Matty both have been important for us all year long," Curt Schilling said. "It was great to see them both play key roles tonight."
Surrounded by his family in the clubhouse, his wife Michelle, wore a big smile.
"I'm just so proud of him," Michelle said. "I'm sure (the crowd's cheering) made him feel good and meant a lot to him."
While he clearly was enjoying the moment with his teammates, Williams was already thinking about Monday's workout day before Tuesday's NLCS opener.
"It's great," he said. "But I've got to come out here tomorrow and get back to work on things to be ready for the next series."
The Diamondbacks have another series to get ready for, thanks in large part to two players who finally got their moment to shine.
Steve Gilbert is the site manager of azdiamondbacks.com