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Friday, September 28, 2007
Updated: September 29, 5:37 AM ET
Delayed reaction doesn't spoil D-backs' party

By Michael Knisley
ESPN.com

DENVER -- The scoreboard at Coors Field was slow. Anyone watching from the stands -- anyone watching from the Arizona dugout, for that matter -- who thought to pay attention in the closing inning and a half of the Diamondbacks' 4-2 win over the Rockies on Friday night knew only that Florida had taken a 7-4 lead over the Mets into the bottom of the ninth in New York.

PENNANT PULSE
ESPN.com top NL pennant race stories from Friday night:
• Wojciechowski: Cubs believe
• Stark: Something good in Philly
• Arangure: Wright challenges Mets
• Knisley: D-backs' delayed reaction
• Nelson: Brewers stunned
For more on the pennant races, see Hunt for October.

For a good, long 15 minutes, maybe longer, there was no update from Shea. That's what the scoreboard read -- 7-4 Marlins, bottom of the ninth -- as Arizona's Jose Valverde closed out Colorado for his major league-leading 47th save. So the Diamondbacks did what teams always do when they win. They filed out onto the field for postgame handshakes.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin knew, though. Melvin caught up with his team just behind second base, screaming, "We're in! We're in!" And the celebration scrum began just beyond the infield dirt in center field -- to boos, interestingly enough, from a Coors Field sellout crowd that apparently was as much in the dark about what had just happened as the Diamondbacks were.

At Shea, the game had gone final, and a piece of the Rubik's Cube that is the National League playoff scenario clicked into place. The Mets' loss coupled with Arizona's win clinched at least a wild-card berth for the Diamondbacks.

Who knew? Not even the team that clinched, apparently. Some of the Diamondbacks, at least, weren't prepared for it.

Brandon Webb
Brandon Webb pitched eight innings for his 18th win, and he'll be set to start the team's playoff opener next week.

"You know what? We were looking at the scoreboard and we couldn't see what was happening with the Mets," said Melvin. "We were still a little skeptical. A few of us thought the Mets had to lose and the Phillies had to lose. I'm glad it's right, though. That would have been quite embarrassing to be celebrating like this if it hadn't worked out for us."

Arizona still has the NL West to win (the Padres won in Milwaukee and trail by a game with two to play -- that final had been posted), but whether they go in as division champs or the wild-card winner is inconsequential to a team that put together the National League's best record with what at times this season appeared to be little more than smoke, mirrors and Brandon Webb. Unless they go on a run-shopping spree in the last two games, the Diamondbacks will have accomplished one of those fascinating baseball oddities: They'll have the best record in the league, but will have been outscored by their opponents. After Friday, they've scored 708 runs and allowed 717.

Webb, the 2006 Cy Young Award winner and a candidate again this season, won his 18th game on Friday by solving the team that has given him more consistent trouble than any other in the league. He went seven innings and allowed two runs, easily the best of his six starts against the Rockies this year.

He hadn't won against Colorado in his five earlier starts -- 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA until Friday. He'd experienced precious little success at Coors Field at any time in his five-year career -- 3-5, 4.40, in 12 games. And he was facing the hottest team in baseball -- Colorado brought an 11-game winning streak into the game, the longest streak in the majors this year.

For some reason, Melvin decided those were strong enough reasons to hold Webb back on Thursday in Pittsburgh and save him for the series opener in Colorado.

"It was probably the biggest game of my career, I'd say" Webb said. "I knew the way they'd been playing, the way they've been tough on me all year. I knew I had to have my best stuff; and in the bullpen, it really didn't show up. Not at all. I had no confidence in the bullpen. My bullpen was terrible."

Did I say this was the biggest game of my career? I should say, 'so far.' So far, it was the most important game I've pitched. I'm ready. It worked out perfect.

--Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb

The Diamondbacks moved the celebration that started on the field into the clubhouse and kept it going loud and long -- Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut was the bubbly of choice, mixed with a generous helping of Coors Light -- but Webb, for the most part, stayed away from it as he iced his shoulder. Every now and then, he stuck his head out of the trainer's room and smiled.

That might be because he was one of the few Diamondbacks with an awareness of the possibilities in Friday's web of outcomes.

"I knew before the day started that if we won and either the Mets or Phillies lost, we were in," he said. "But during the game, I didn't really know what was happening."

The rest of them -- with a few exceptions, of course -- might be too young to know how these things are supposed to work. They started a third baseman, Mark Reynolds, whose major league debut was in May. The shortstop, Stephen Drew, started the season with 79 days of major league service. Chris Young, the center fielder, is a rookie.

"And you have to remember: Three years ago, we lost 111 games," said a smiling Ken Kendrick, the managing general partner. "We were the worst team in baseball."

So wise old Webb, who turned 28 in May, apparently didn't feel the champagne-spraying need that his teammates did. As he watched the clubhouse celebration from a hallway, he caught himself in an earlier mis-statement as he looked forward to starting Game 1 of a playoff series next week.

"Did I say this was the biggest game of my career?" he said. "I should say, 'so far.' So far, it was the most important game I've pitched. I'm ready. It worked out perfect."

Michael Knisley is a senior deputy editor for ESPN.com