D-backs, Cubs aces clash in desert duel
PHOENIX – Brandon Webb is a quiet Kentuckian, Carlos Zambrano an emotional Venezuelan.
Their common bond is talent, and their duel in the desert on Wednesday night will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the division series between Webb’s Arizona Diamondbacks and Zambrano’s Chicago Cubs.
Chicago second baseman Mark DeRosa called Webb “one of the best pitchers in the game.”
“But they’ve got to face ‘Z’ too, so it’s not going to be easy for them,” DeRosa said Tuesday. “It’s going to be one of those things where the first team to grab the momentum is going to have a nice day.”
Going into Game 1 of the best-of-5 NL division series, both aces are on a roll.
Webb (18-10) is 10-2 since the All-Star break. He allowed two runs in seven innings Friday at Colorado in a 4-2 victory that clinched a playoff berth for the young Diamondbacks. It was the Rockies’ only loss in their last 15 games.
“He’s the most even-keeled guy you could ever meet,” Arizona catcher Chris Snyder said. “He’s not going to get too high, he’s not going to get too down on himself. He’s just going to go about his business, throw his game and whatever happens, happens.”
Zambrano (18-13) didn’t allow a run in his last two outings, six innings in an 8-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 23 and seven innings in a 6-0 win at Cincinnati on Friday night when the Cubs clinched the NL Central title.
“He’s probably the most competitive guy I’ve ever met,” DeRosa said, “just a fiery individual who wants the ball in the big moment, and he’s going to get it.”
Arizona won the season series with the Cubs 4-2 but never faced Zambrano. It could be an eye-opener for the youngsters Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin will have in his lineup.
“We don’t have a lot of postseason experience,” Melvin said. “We’ll see how that plays out. Our guys are pretty excitable. They like to go out there and play.”
Zambrano insists he won’t wear his emotions on his sleeve when he takes the mound.
“I don’t want to be pumped up,” he said. “I just want to be calm and let the moment come, let the game come and pitch my game. I don’t want to be too excited. Sometimes when you are too excited, you’re trying to do too much, that’s when the problem comes, when you don’t have control of yourself.”
This from a player who punched his catcher, Michael Barrett, in the dugout and then continued the fight in the clubhouse earlier this season.
“Let’s talk about the playoffs, man,” Zambrano said. “Whatever happened in the past, let’s leave it there. I don’t like to remember bad things about my life and my career. What I like to remember is the moment where we are now. We are in a good situation.”
Barring a sweep, the Diamondbacks will get another look at Zambrano on Sunday. Cubs manager Lou Piniella confirmed he’d bring the right-hander back on short rest to pitch in Game 4 at Chicago.
The Cubs were a confident bunch when they arrived at Chase Field, although they said all the proper respectful things about an Arizona team that was outscored overall by its opponents and was last in the league in hitting.
“From what I gather from the guys,” DeRosa said, “we really feel we have a shot to do this.”
A World Series title would be the first for the Cubs since 1908 and would bring elation to a legion of long-suffering fans.
“I think we realize if we’re the team to get it done how special it would be,” DeRosa said, “but we can’t worry about all that. We can’t carry the weight of 99 years and family traditions and all of that stuff. We just have to go out and play baseball and if it happens reap the benefits of it.”
While downplaying talk that his team is a favorite, Piniella said “a team with experience probably should have a little bit of an edge, but we have a great deal of respect for Arizona, we really do.”
First, the Cubs must get past Webb, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner whose 3.01 ERA was second to Jake Peavy (2.54) among NL starters. Webb had a string of 42 scoreless innings earlier this season, tied for fifth-longest since 1940.
Success has barely changed the pitcher who likes to begin his day at International House of Pancakes and drove his family home in an RV after last season. His quiet manner doesn’t mean a lack of competitiveness.
“I think I mask it a little bit,” he said. “I think it’s best not to show too much emotion when you’re out there on the field.”
Both pitchers will face power right off the bat from the leadoff spot. Arizona rookie Chris Young has 32 home runs, nine to lead off a game. The Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano has 33 homers, 14 in September.
The Cubs are talking about going all the way, and the Diamondbacks are taking no offense. They’re used to being disregarded, even though they somehow compiled the NL’s best record.
“I think people thought we were going to go away as the season went along,” Melvin said. “The deeper we got and the closer we got to the finish line, I think there was a lot of speculation that the team was going to roll under, and it didn’t. So it’s just something we deal with every day. We’re not opposed to being the underdog.”