D-backs defy odds to make playoffs

D-backs defy odds to make playoffs

DENVER -- The first time is always the best time for a group of athletes and on Friday night, when the Diamondbacks finally realized they had secured at least one of the four National League playoff spots, they celebrated like there was no tomorrow.

There were fireworks long after the game, and an impromptu party in the visiting clubhouse, where no one was spared at least some drop of cold liquid, be it player, manager, general manager, managing general partner, limited partner, broadcaster or reporter.

This particular bunch, maligned as being too young and too anemic offensively, defeated the hard-charging Rockies, 4-2, in a jam-packed Coors Field, placing an exclamation point on as unlikely a season as anyone could have imagined.

"I think this club has been as resilient as any I've ever seen," said owner Jeff Moorad, who took over running the club in 2004, when its finances were copious and it lost 111 games. "We've come back when it was least expected. Now we've delivered when the furthest thing on anyone's mind going into the season outside the organization was us winning."

The D-backs, wet and a tad delirious, now can be certain of one thing: They'll open their first NL Division Series since 2002 next Wednesday somewhere against somebody, although there are still too many determining factors to be resolved this weekend to be precise about that. With Friday night's loss by the Mets to the Marlins in New York, Arizona at least claimed the league's Wild Card berth.

They eliminated the Rockies, whose 11-game winning streak ended, from contention in the division race. The 90-70 D-backs still lead the Padres by one game in the West and by winning one of their final two games here, would secure the division title, the best record in the NL and home-field advantage in the first two postseason rounds no matter what the Padres do.

The Rockies and Mets are both hanging by a thread, two games behind the Padres in the Wild Card race, although the Mets are still very much alive in the East, a game behind the Phillies.

Considering their fall from grace as a National League power and the still recent ouster of the man who built the 2001 World Series champions -- Jerry Colangelo -- this current edition of the D-backs has excelled beyond all reasonable bounds. At .251, they have the next-to-worst team batting average in the NL, one tick ahead of the Padres. And, at the end of action on Friday night, have still allowed nine more runs than they've scored.

"What a gallant group of guys," said Ken Kendrick, who replaced the deposed Colangelo as managing general partner in late 2004. "When you look at what this team did, it's unbelievable. I'm sitting there going around the field and your third baseman started the season in Double-A. Your second baseman [who replaced the injured Orlando Hudson] is a Triple-A guy. You've got a couple of veterans at first base, your catcher is a third-year guy. There's a 20-year-old right fielder and a rookie in center. This is pretty special."

The glue, of course, is Webb, who, at 28, is not among the babies. The defending NL Cy Young Award-winner worked seven strong innings on Friday night, when his club most needed them, and improved his record to a very solid season-ending 18-10, with a 3.01 ERA.

Manager Bob Melvin, who was a coach on the 2001 team that defeated the Yankees on the final swing of the seventh game of that World Series, and was drenched to the bone by a combination of bubbly, beer and water, said he couldn't imagine a better pitcher than Webb to work a big game.

"Talk about coming up big, this is the guy we wanted on the mound today," Melvin said. "There was a lot of talk about him not being able to beat the Rockies, but this turned out to be a playoff game for us. And I don't care who we're playing, we want that guy pitching for us. And he stepped up in a spot where we've had a difficult time with this club in the past."

Coming in, Webb was 3-5 with a 4.40 ERA in 12 starts against the Rockies at Coors Field. But no matter, against a Rockies team that leads the league in hitting, Webb bent, but did not break, allowing both runs on eight base hits. And with his customary sinker breaking low, he recorded 12 outs on the ground, including a pair of crucial double plays.

It's the kind of composure that the right-hander's going to need, particularly when he opens the playoffs for the D-backs next Wednesday.

"It gives me all the confidence in the world to know that my manager feels that way about me," the soft-spoken Webb said. "I'm happy to take the ball in any situation and on any day. I'm up for it. You bet. I'm ready."

So are the Diamondbacks, evidently. Even without veterans Hudson, Randy Johnson, and Chad Tracy, who are all out. Even with a player payroll of $53 million, about $13 million of that allocated to players who are no longer on the team. Bring on the Cubs, the Mets or the Phillies.

"[General manager] Josh Byrnes has done as good a job as you can do putting this club together," Moorad said. "Here we are, a bottom-five payroll club, and yet we're down to the postseason. We did it with the resources we had. We were disciplined and strategic about those resources. And now, it's obviously turned into a terrific result. It couldn't get any better."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.