CHICAGO (AP)—Short on stars but brimming with young talent, the Arizona Diamondbacks pulled off a sweet playoff sweep and celebrated like October regulars.
For the anguished Chicago Cubs, it’s another cry of `Wait Til Next Year.’
Chris Young homered on the game’s first pitch, Livan Hernandez wriggled out of several serious jams and Arizona beat the Cubs 5-1 Saturday night to complete a three-game sweep of their first-round series.
Next stop for the baby-faced Diamondbacks: a surprising trip to the NLCS.
“Who would have thought that at the beginning of spring training or the season? I’m sure there were a lot of people thinking maybe .500 baseball,” Eric Byrnes said during a wild champagne celebration. “We have guys who are ready to win. We’ve already exceeded expectations so far and we’re going to continue to do so.”
Now, the Diamondbacks get four days to rest before hosting the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the NLCS on Thursday. Colorado beat Philadelphia 2-1 Saturday night to complete a three-game sweep.
Showing no jitters before a raucous crowd at Wrigley Field, the Diamondbacks hit three homers and turned four double plays to back another strong pitching performance from Hernandez and three relievers.
“The young guys are taking us where we’ve gotten. We don’t do it without a concerted effort from everybody on our team,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. “We can’t rely on three or four guys to shoulder the load. We’ve got to get it from multiple guys every day, and our younger guys showed up big.”
Byrnes and Stephen Drew, who finished the series 7-for-14, also homered as Arizona extended the Cubs’ streak of futility without a World Series championship to 99 years.
Even a return to Wrigley Field couldn’t get Chicago’s bats out of a series-long slumber.
“This is just a start, fellas. We’re going to get better with this,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Call it curses or bad luck or whatever, but on this sultry October night the Diamondbacks showed what was obvious since the series began—they were the better team, even though they had only four players on the first-round roster with postseason experience.
“These guys are as talented a young group as I’ve ever seen,” Byrnes said. “It’s been fun to watch the maturation and watch them grow up.”
Chicago’s best chance might have come in the opener, when Piniella made a move that will be questioned for years. He pulled Carlos Zambrano after six innings and only 85 pitches with the score 1-all because he planned to bring his ace back on three days’ rest in Game 4.
The Cubs never got that far.
Chicago went from worst-to-first in Piniella’s first season as manager, and the team’s long-suffering fans were ecstatic after a late surge to the NL Central crown. But just when they began to get excited about ending the championship drought, the Cubs went down in a first-round sweep.
“We’re disappointed, but at the same time I’m really proud of our players. We got off to a slow start this year and put together a good run,” Piniella said.
Over in the visitors’ clubhouse, the Diamondbacks doused managing general partner Ken Kendrick in a beer bath.
“I know who did that!” he yelled, laughing. “Whoa, baby! It’s all for a good cause.”
The NL West champion Diamondbacks were the first team to have a league’s best record and worst batting average since the 1906 Chicago White Sox.
Forget the stats, though, these kids showed they can play under pressure with a sound and thorough thumping of the punchless Cubs—who managed only six runs in the series. Chicago went 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-9 on Saturday night.
“Hard to win that way,” Piniella said. “We just didn’t get the big hit when we needed it. What can I say?”
Hernandez, the 1997 World Series MVP for Florida, gave Arizona another lift. He allowed five hits and a run in six innings, overcoming five walks.
Arizona also got solid starts from Brandon Webb and Doug Davis in the series, and the bullpen wasn’t charged with a run. Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde finished up with stellar relief on Saturday.
“They really played well and they should feel good about what they did,” Piniella said.
Byrnes homered in the sixth off reliever Carlos Marmol and drove in a run with a disputed fielder’s choice when he beat a relay to first on a potential double-play grounder in the fourth. Drew hit his second homer of the series, a solo shot off Kerry Wood in the ninth.
Hernandez walked the bases loaded in the fifth as Wrigley Field became deafening with the crowd on its feet, but Mark DeRosa hit into a double play on a 3-1 pitch to end the inning.
Chicago’s RBI leader, Aramis Ramirez, came up twice in the early innings with two runners on but struck out and hit into a double play, illustrating the Cubs’ offensive woes. He finished the series 0-for-12. Alfonso Soriano also struggled, going 2-for-14.
“I can’t explain it,” Ramirez said.
Young, who hit a three-run homer in Game 2 that put the Diamondbacks ahead, drove Chicago starter Rich Hill’s first pitch into the left-field bleachers, and Arizona was off and running.
“I don’t swing at the first pitch that often, so I took a chance,” Young said.
Drew then doubled to right-center. Hill momentarily regrouped, striking out Byrnes and Conor Jackson. But Mark Reynolds worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch before Justin Upton hit an RBI single for a 2-0 lead.
“We knew that we’d have to try to take them out of it and take the momentum away, and Chris Young’s home run in the first inning went a long way with that,” Melvin said.
Jason Kendall hit an RBI grounder in the fourth for the Cubs, but Hernandez escaped further damage.
“When you don’t score runs and you leave a lot of people on it looks lackluster, but it wasn’t,” Piniella said. “These guys gave effort. They really did.”
This is the Diamondbacks’ fourth postseason appearance. … Ernie Banks threw out the first pitch. … Wrigley Field’s outfield was re-sodded. During the last homestand of the season both the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates had criticized the condition of the grass.