PHOENIX -- Stephen Drew, who is neither by temperament nor ability anything like his big brother J. D., was a one-man wrecking crew last night as the Cubs lost game one of the Division Series to the Diamondbacks 3-1.
Drew's monstrous home run (432 feet, OVER the swimming pool) gave Arizona the lead 1-0 in the fourth inning; it was the only mistake Carlos Zambrano made in throwing six strong innings.
"I said, 'Let me pitch one more,"' Zambrano said. "And he said, 'That's enough.' He's the manager."
Yes, I am well aware that each win, each loss, is magnified in a short series, more so in these five-game division series, and perhaps Lou made a mistake by "looking ahead". But at the time, I agreed with the move. Carlos Marmol has been pretty much lights-out all season. If he'd have been so again last night, not a single one of you would have complained about this move. Instead, Marmol gave up a HR to D'backs 3B Mark Reynolds, the first batter he faced, then issued a walk, a double to Augie Ojeda, of all people, and the third run scored on a sacrifice fly (give Jacque Jones credit, he made a pretty good throw, although he had little chance of getting Chris Snyder).
All of this doesn't mean much, because the Cubs' offense went back to its bad old early-season ways -- leaving eight men on base in the first six innings, including leaving the bases loaded when Z batted with two out and the tying run having just scored... and that, in fact, was where Drew had robbed the Cubs again. He made a nice reach to stop Ryan Theriot's ball from going through the infield. He didn't have a play, but if that ball goes through, the Cubs have a 2-1 lead -- and maybe then, Lou would have batted for Z, although Z had already doubled off Brandon Webb. (Webb, although he gave up only one run, did get hit by the Cubs -- Aramis Ramirez hit two fly balls to the warning track in right field that briefly gave us the thought that "Hey! Maybe!" But they were not to be.)
Drew also made a terrific grab off a line drive by Z that appeared headed for left field in the fifth inning.
And that, really, was that. When Arizona gets a late-inning lead, they're tough to come back against, as their late-inning relief stacks up well against just about anyone, and it was no different last night; Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde shut the Cubs down, with only a brief blip of hope when Daryle Ward drew a two-out walk. With Alfonso Soriano due up, we thought again, "Hey! Maybe!"
Not last night. Soriano looked terrible all night -- not surprising, as pitchers like Webb who throw mostly breaking stuff drive him nuts -- and he bounced into a force play to end the game.
I should have known it wasn't going to be the Cubs' night when my scoring pencil broke in the second inning. I managed to peel off enough of the wood to use the remains of the lead for the remains of the evening, but somehow I knew that couldn't be a good sign.
As we expected, blue jerseys and caps were everywhere at Chase Field, though perhaps not quite as many as we thought; it might have been about 20% of the crowd, loud enough to hear "Let's Go Cubbies!" chants often throughout; the D'backs fans returned fire with "Let's Go D'backs!", alternating with ours. For the most part, Arizona fans seemed friendly and accomodating, unlike fans in certain other cities. There are so many former Chicagoans living here, and the Cubs have been here for spring training for so long, the locals seem almost used to us. I've been to this ballpark before and wrote about it in April 2005, including this one with a photo, as well as this one from Opening Day 2005, where Z didn't pitch very well; in fact, the Cubs historically have not fared well in whatever they're calling Bank Holding Company Ballpark these days.
As is common for areas around ballparks during the postseason, certain prices are jacked up -- street parking lots that charge $10 or $15 during the regular season were charging $30. Fortunately, the garage one block from the park was still $10 -- and it wasn't that difficult to exit after the game, which is sometimes the case with parking garages. Food at this ballpark is decent, nothing special, as I wrote about in one of the links above. During the game the atmosphere was loud, but oddly enough, not as loud as I have heard it in other playoff games in other cities. It was almost as if the D'backs fans were still a bit amazed that they were even there. As I noted above, there were no incidents, at least not near my seat down the LF line -- the only goofiness was, apparently, caused by a CUB fan who was stirring up trouble behind the plate, briefly delaying the game when 2B umpire Greg Gibson ran in to discuss the distraction with plate umpire Ed Montague. Another unwelcome distraction was He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, who plunked himself down about ten rows in front of me and started howling. Who flew him out here, anyway? Whoever it is should be sentenced to be chained to a chair while H-W-S-N-B-N yells in his ear for an hour. Incidentally, when a montage of highlights from the 2007 season was shown on the scoreboard between innings, everyone -- Cub and D'back fans alike -- booed when Barry Bonds' 756th HR was shown.
A few thoughts: while you don't want to lose any game in a playoff series, and it may sound odd to say this, last night was the one game the Cubs could afford to lose, given that Webb was on the mound and it was likely to be a tough one, as it turned out to be. With Arizona's starting pitching quality taking a marked turn downward starting tonight, Ted Lilly's task is clear: do what Z did, and if the offense can get jumpstarted again to do what it did most of September, this series should return to Chicago tied 1-1.
You need not look very far into recent baseball history to find teams that won the first game of a Division Series, then lost three straight: last year's Yankees, who did exactly what the D'backs did: won the first game at home, then lost three in a row. The 2003 Marlins and the 2002 Angels reversed this; they lost the first game on the road, then won the Division Series, and both those clubs went on to win the World Series. The 2000 Mets made the World Series after losing their first Division Series game at home, although they lost the WS to the Yankees. For the Yankees' part, their 2004 edition lost the first game at home, then won three in a row. So did the 2003 Yankees; both of those wins were over the same team, the Twins -- one of whose players, Jacque Jones, is now a Cub.
So for those of you who are in "sky-is-falling" mode, there is plenty of baseball left to be played. Onward and let's win tonight.
For those who had mentioned getting together before tonight's game, and even if you hadn't participated in this diary discussing that possibility the other day, the current plan is for any BCB'ers attending the game to meet at a place called "3rd & Jackson", which is (you'll never guess!) at the corner of 3rd & Jackson, just across the street from the western entrance to Chase Field. I'll be wearing my gray 2007 game-worn Scott Moore jersey.
Keep the faith; GO CUBS!