PHOENIX – Talk, talk, and more talk. That's all the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks did Tuesday, a day before Game 1 of their National League division series. Yeah, the teams took batting practice and tossed the ball around Chase Field, but there was mostly chatter. Hey, banter, banter.
Several themes recurred, including:
• The contrast in managing styles: the shock therapy of Cubs curmudgeon Lou Piniella and the gentle hand of the Diamondbacks munificent Bob Melvin.
• The legions of Chicago transplants who live in the greater Phoenix area yet remain diehard Cubs fans. Could Chase Field become Wrigley under a roof?
Let's listen in …
Webb vs. Zambrano
Zambrano on why he is a better pitcher than in 2003, when at 22 he gave up 25 hits and 10 runs in 16 2/3 postseason innings: "I got a taste then, but I've faced a lot of batters since 2003. Back then I didn’t have my cutter and didn't have a fast slider and a slow slider. I'm older and hopefully wiser."
Webb on hiding his emotions, a stark contrast to the emotional Zambrano (18-13, 3.95 ERA): "I mask it a little bit. I think it's best not to show too much emotion when you are on the field. If I do get a big out I'll give a fist pump. Other than that, I try to keep it bottled until the game is totally in our control."
Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot on facing Webb (18-10, 3.01): "You think you have a game plan on him, then you are 0-for-3. His sinker is deadly. There aren't many guys who can throw one pitch and win a ballgame, and he's one of them."
Piniella on his team's approach against Webb: "You've got to make him bring the ball up in the strike zone. That's easier said than done. His sinker can get a lot of double plays, so we'll try to hit-and-run more than usual, put the game in motion."
Melvin on facing Zambrano, who hasn't pitched against the Diamondbacks all season: "He has electric stuff. Just looking at it, you feel like it would be one of those low-scoring games. He's their guy for a reason."
Zambrano: "I don't want to be pumped up. I want to be calm and let the moment come. When I get too excited, I try to do too much and problems come."
Cubs' clubs vs. Baby Snakes
Alfonso Soriano, who belted 14 home runs in September, temporarily silencing whispers that he might never live up to the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed last off-season: "I finished strong and that's the important thing to me. I'm feeling very comfortable. I've been hitting a lot of fastballs, but I can hit the breaking ball too."
Webb, who has struck out Soriano four times not with his trademark sinker, but with his curveball: "You just try not to throw one into his happy zone. … And when you get down to Lee and Ramirez, you definitely have to execute pitches. If not, you are going to get hurt."
Third baseman Mark Reynolds, who will be one of four first- or second-year players in Wednesday's Diamondbacks lineup: "We're so young we don't know what we're doing, so we don't feel pressure. We just play ball, the same as we have our whole lives."
Piniella: "We're basically a power-hitting team. We hit a lot of home runs in September and played well. We are also an aggressive-swinging team. Arizona is a lot the same way."
Melvin: "There was a lot of speculation that we would roll over as we got to the finish line, and that didn't happen. We do have a lot of inexperience, but going through a pennant race has given guys a crash course. They don't seem like rookies so much any more."
Piniella vs. Melvin
Cubs infielder Mark DeRosa on Piniella, whose fiery reputation preceded him: "It took me until mid-July to understand what was expected by him. He has a mellower presence than what I anticipated. But he's not going to sugarcoat things. All you can ask of a manager is that he has your back. And he has ours."
Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes on Melvin, whose team was 29th in baseball with a .250 batting average, was outscored, 732-712, yet led the NL with 90 victories: "He's kept everything positive and he knows that young players need their confidence boosted. And we've won a lot of close games, so he's making the right moves during games."
Chicago transplants vs. the Phoenix faithful
Theriot, on the prospect of thousands of Cubs fans flocking to Chase Field: "It's like that everywhere we go. Our fans travel. And we do notice it."
Diamondbacks first baseman Tony Clark – who lives in Phoenix year around – on the hometown fans: "People here know baseball. They get to see a lot of teams in spring training, and the climate means it's always baseball weather. There might be Cubs fans, people who came here from Chicago, but there are a lot of Diamondbacks fans too."
DeRosa, on Cubs fans everywhere knowing the team hasn't won a World Series since 1908: "We can't carry the weight of 99 years. We can just play good baseball. But we really feel like we have a shot to do this, and that's a good feeling. It would make it that much sweeter to know we were the team to get it done."
- Lou Piniella