Cubs' dream season swept away
Opportunities missed as NLDS goes to Diamondbacks
CHICAGO -- It's now 99 years and counting for the Cubs.
Chris Young ignited Arizona with a leadoff homer on the first pitch of the game, and Eric Byrnes and Stephen Drew added solo shots to power the Diamondbacks to a 5-1 victory over the Cubs on Saturday, completing a sweep of the National League Division Series.
"Losing three straight games and watching them celebrate on our field -- I'm completely stunned," Chicago's Mark DeRosa said.
The Diamondbacks will wait for the winner of the Colorado-Philadelphia NLDS. The Cubs were packing their gear Saturday night, and heading home. Start making plans for next year, and the 100th anniversary of the last time the Cubs won a World Series.
"We've done the best we possibly could," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "The amazing thing about baseball is that unless you win a world championship, you're going to be disappointed. It's sad in a way, but it's reality.
"To go from last place to first, to have a 19-game differential, win a division, I think you should be pleased."
Outfielder Cliff Floyd may hear more about Cubs fans' angst than others. He has family in Chicago.
"You hear people talking, and it's all frustration," Floyd said. "We gave them some great times, but we fell short again, and I feel they know we have a good team and they know what type of guys we are. I think Opening Day next year, the place will be jumping."
It will be a long winter. The capacity crowd of 42,157 jammed into Wrigley Field, plus the hundreds perched on the rooftops surrounding the ballpark, plus the millions watching waited for something to happen. There was bunting everywhere. There just wasn't any offense.
"I think the problem is all three games we tried to do too much," Alfonso Soriano said. "They had very good pitching, but I think everybody tried to do too much. They know they have a very good team. But we're better than that -- we proved that in the regular season."
The Cubs grounded into four double plays on the night, stranded nine baserunners in the game and left 27 on in the three-game series. They finished the NLDS with a .194 average.
"What did we score -- six runs in the three games? Hard to win that way," Piniella said. "I talked about when the series started that we had to hit their pitchers. To me, that was the key."
Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs' regular-season RBI leader, was 0-for-12, and neither he nor Soriano or Derrek Lee drove in a run.
"I never envisioned a sweep," Lee said. "You saw the difference. They played well, and we didn't. It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season. In a short series, you have to play well now."
The key inning may have been the Cubs' fifth. Arizona starter Livan Hernandez (1-0) walked the bases loaded with one out. The crowd was deafening with DeRosa at the plate, but he hit into an inning-ending double play.
"I went from the best moment in sports in my life to the worst -- just whoosh," DeRosa said.
All the pregame buzz and good feelings about being back home disappeared with one swing as Young launched the first pitch of the game from Rich Hill (0-1) into the left-field bleachers for his second postseason homer.
"He's been doing that all year, jumping on that first pitch," Hill said. "He did it again. I've seen him do it a hundred times. I've seen [Soriano] do it a lot. It's something that happens."
Drew then doubled, and Hill settled down, striking out the next two batters. He had a 3-2 count on Mark Reynolds, and the crowd was on its feet. Hill walked Reynolds to set up Justin Upton's RBI single.
Hill needed 31 pitches to get through eight batters in the first, and rookie Kevin Hart was warming up in the bullpen just in case. Facing elimination, everybody was available on the Cubs' roster and would be called upon at the first sign of trouble.
"The game from the first inning on, it seemed like [the D-backs] took control of it," Piniella said.
In the Arizona fourth, Hill was ahead in the count, 0-2, against Miguel Montero, but threw four straight balls and walked the catcher. Hernandez singled to chase Hill, who gave up three runs, six hits and two walks over three innings.
"I felt fine going out there, mentally good, physically great," Hill said. "It was location of the pitches. I got hit around, I didn't execute the way I wanted to execute, and that's that."
After the lefty exited, Michael Wuertz walked Young to load the bases, and struck out Drew. But a run scored on Byrnes' fielder's choice as Young was forced at second and the D-backs left fielder beat the throw in a close play at first. Piniella didn't win his argument with first-base umpire Mike Everitt.
Only one batter in the Cubs' Game 3 starting lineup had an RBI in the NLDS, and that was Ryan Theriot. Add Jason Kendall to the short list. DeRosa singled to lead off the Chicago fourth, reached third on Jacque Jones' double, and scored on Kendall's groundout to make it 3-1. Byrnes notched his homer with two outs in the Arizona sixth off Carlos Marmol, and Drew connected off Kerry Wood in the ninth.
"We just didn't get it done," Ramirez said. "They outpitched us, outplayed us, outhit us."
Was winning the NL Central enough?
"No," Lee said.
"You work so hard to get to where you're at, and to watch the other team celebrating on your field -- you know what it's like to win the division," Hill said. "To see them do it, and go on to the next round, it's a real empty feeling. The time and effort we put in, and to have it end the way it ended doesn't define this team. We worked so hard. It's a tough way to end it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.