CHICAGO A sweet sweep for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Another cry of 'Wait Til Next Year' from the crestfallen Chicago Cubs.
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 playoff series.
Short on stars and attention but not pitching and defense the young Diamondbacks are headed to the NL championship series for the second time in the franchise's 10-year history. The previous time they made it this far they went all the way, beating the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
"Probably shocked a lot of people, but this team's been doing it all year," Eric Byrnes said.
Now, the Diamondbacks get four days to rest before hosting the Rockies in Game 1 of the NLCS on Thursday. Colorado entered Saturday night with a 2-0 lead over Philadelphia in the best-of-five playoff.
As for the Cubs, they're still searching for their first World Series title since 1908. Even a return to Wrigley Field and its raucous fans couldn't get Chicago's bats out of a series-long slumber.
"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," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "Just a great place to play baseball."
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 manager Lou 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.
"This is just a start, fellas. We're going to get better with this," Piniella said.
Byrnes and Stephen Drew also homered for the NL West champion Diamondbacks, 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.
"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. The Diamondbacks' defense turned four double plays, three while Hernandez was pitching.
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. "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 that culminated in getting in the postseason."
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.
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.
Drew then doubled to right-center over Cliff Floyd's head. Hill momentarily regrouped, striking out Eric 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.
Hill was removed in the fourth after giving up a single to Hernandez. Michael Wuertz immediately walked Young, loading the bases, and struck out Drew before Byrnes hit a grounder to third.
First base umpire Mike Everitt ruled that Byrnes beat DeRosa's relay from second as Arizona's third run scored and the crowd booed.
Piniella came out to argue, but replays were inconclusive.
DeRosa singled to start the bottom of the fourth and easily went to third on Jacque Jones' double to right-center. DeRosa scored on Jason Kendall's RBI grounder, but Hernandez escaped further damage.
Hernandez also had a shaky first. He walked Alfonso Soriano before Ryan Theriot hit into a double play. Derrek Lee followed with a sharp single and Hernandez hit Cliff Floyd with a pitch before recovering from a 3-0 count to strike out Ramirez.
Ramirez came up again with two runners on in the third and bounced into a double play.
"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. They wanted to get it done. They caught us for three games where we just didn't swing the bats. Our starting pitching outside of the Zambrano game wasn't really good, so look, just tip your hats to them."