Commentary

Wrigley endures another celebration at Cubs' expense

Updated: October 7, 2007, 1:25 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Well, Chicago Cubs, look at the bright side: At least Carlos Zambrano will be totally rested for the season opener March 31.

NL DIVISION SERIES

Cubs-Diamondbacks
series page

Oh, boy. Is there anything that went right for the Cubs in their NL Division Series? Other than its merciful end Saturday evening, Chicago's very brief and very quiet appearance in the 2007 postseason will be remembered for, well, not much. It doesn't deserve an asterisk as much as a yawn.

The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the favored Cubs. Again. The score was 5-1, but the only numbers that really matter are "3-0," as in brisk broom series sweep. The D-backs are on their way to the NL Championship Series. The Cubs are on their way to a fans/players therapy session for group depression.

"We're shocked right now," said second baseman Mark DeRosa. "I don't think there's a guy in here who expected this to happen."

And this from Chicago outfielder Cliff Floyd on the prospect of an actual Arizona sweep: "You couldn't tell me that. You couldn't tell me that."

Felix Pie
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIt was a lonely feeling for Felix Pie and the favored Cubs as they watched the Diamondbacks finish them off at Wrigley Field.

You can tell him now. Those were the Diamondbacks players jumping up and down in the infield grass at game's end. And those were Cubs slinking back to the dugout, boos following them the whole way there.

"They beat us at every facet of the game," said Floyd.

What happened? Well, starting Arizona pitchers Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and Brandon Webb happened. Shortstop Stephen Drew happened. Chicago forgetting how to score runs happened.

The Cubs left a combined 27 runners on base for the series. Nine on Saturday. Nine on Thursday. Nine on Wednesday. They had exactly one full-time starting position player -- Ryan Theriot -- drive in a run during the three games.

"Aw, man, that's what's so frustrating," DeRosa said. "Our lineup is too good to perform the way we did these last three games."

Wrigley Field was not the happiest place on earth Saturday night. These fans have just about had it with watching other teams celebrate their playoff victories here. In 2003 -- the last time the Cubs reached the postseason -- they witnessed a Florida Marlins hugfest. Now, the D-backs had their baseball Mardi Gras at the Friendly Confines. Painful.

One glum fan walking down the concourse held a sign that read, "It's Gonna Happen." Not this year, it isn't. The Cubs are now at 99 years and counting for World Series championships to happen. Even before Alfonso Soriano stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, some Cubs followers had suffered enough.

"I can't see the last one," said a Cubs fan as he peeled away from the stands behind the third-base line. "I can't handle the last one."

He was halfway down the stairs when Soriano lofted a fly ball to right field for the final out. Before the ball was even caught, the boos rang through the stadium.

The reasons for the frustration were obvious. The Cubs supposedly had the better pitching, the better hitting, the better managing and the better experience. The problem is, the Diamondbacks had the better timing.

Arizona hit and held tight when it mattered most. In fact, it isn't very complicated. The Diamondbacks simply outplayed the Cubs in almost every way imaginable. To pretend otherwise is silly. Soriano took the oh-fer, misplayed a catchable ball off the ivy in left field and was booed after his groundout to short to lead off the seventh inning. For the series, he was 2-for-14 with four strikeouts and a grand total of zero RBIs.

"We don't have that big hit in the whole series," he said.

Chicago's leading run producer, Aramis Ramirez, finished the series 0-for-12 with five strikeouts and hit into one of the four double plays recorded by the Cubs on Saturday night.

"The most deflating play in baseball," said DeRosa, who hit into his own double play in the fifth with the bases loaded.

Derrek Lee had two singles in Game 3 but also an inning-ending double play in the seventh. He got booed, mostly for the DP but also for a no-RBIs series.

A lot of Cubs were booed here, including starting pitcher Rich Hill. Hill is the guy who a day earlier said of the Cubs' 2-0 deficit: "We're in a good position. This isn't something to look negatively on."

It's just so demoralizing right now. It will hang with me for a while.

--Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa

You have to admire Hill's optimism, however ridiculous. If only he had lasted longer than three-plus innings and not given up three runs (including a leadoff, first-pitch dinger to Chris Young). The Diamondbacks took the lead and, in the process, took the Wrigley crowd out of the game for huge chunks of time. And when the Cubs would threaten ... double-play ball.

"To have it the way it ended doesn't really define this team," Hill said.

It sort of does. The Cubs were exasperating because you never quite knew what you'd get. They were consistently inconsistent.

This time, they were trying to overcome a two-game hole, MLB history and their own long, infamous array of postseason meltdowns. This latest one won't challenge 2003's grotesque collapse against the Marlins, but it's not exactly a franchise highlight.

Only four teams in the past 12 years had worked themselves out of a 2-0 division series mess. But none of them was a National League team. The streak remains intact. So does the Cubs' not appearing in a World Series since 1945 and not winning one of the things since 1908.

"But on the upswing," said Hill, aka Mr. Glass Completely Full, "there is a lot to look forward to next year."

Hill is back. So is Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and presumably the rest of a solid pitching staff and bullpen. The everyday lineup should return mostly intact. And this is a team that went from last to first in the NL Central in a year's time.

But that's next season. For now, the Cubs have to live with the hurt of a sweep and the knowledge that the Diamondbacks popped champagne corks at Wrigley Field.

"It's just so demoralizing right now," DeRosa said. "It will hang with me for a while."

It will hang just like the blue flag that flew from the Wrigley Field flagpole after the game. "L," for loss. A fitting symbol for a lost series.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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