|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
MILWAUKEE -- Before the ball was even in his glove, Chris Young knew. The season was over. He fielded Nyjer Morgan's base hit up the middle anyway. He tried to gun down the speedy Chris Gomez at home plate regardless. But he knew. None of it mattered.
As the Brewers ran onto the field to celebrate and 44,000 Milwaukee fans screamed at the top of their lungs, Young just knelt in shallow center field, his head down. Blue and gold confetti filled the night; his teammates headed for the visitors dugout. But Young didn't move. He just sat there, with one thought filling his head: How can this be the end?
From the moment he woke up Friday morning, he knew his Arizona Diamondbacks were going to beat Milwaukee in Game 5 and advance to the National League Championship Series. Nothing could change that. Not the Brewers taking a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Not the Diamondbacks stranding the bases loaded in the eighth. And certainly not the bottom of Arizona's batting order beginning the ninth against a closer who hadn't coughed up a lead in his previous 44 chances.
Arizona overcame all that to send this instant classic to extra innings. The team that got more than half its 94 wins in come-from-behind fashion this season followed the same script here Friday night. Only this wasn't a movie -- there would be no happy ending. When the drama finally came to an end, when the fans of both teams were able to breathe again, it was the Brewers dumping champagne, sparkling cider and of course Miller products all over themselves after a 3-2 Milwaukee win.
|Before the last play, Chris Young was running down balls all game long.|
When Young finally picked himself off the outfield grass and headed for the Arizona clubhouse, he was left to make sense of a loss he and his teammates never thought possible. After an Arizona television reporter asked Young whether he could stay positive because of all the Diamondbacks had accomplished this year, he shook his head. No.
"I'm hanging my head right now," he said. "It's disappointing. I'm not ready to go home yet. I don't want the season to be over."
Pretty much every Diamondback said the same thing after the loss. This was the most fun they had ever had. The closest team they had ever been on. After falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-five series and clubbing their way to Friday's decisive Game 5, they expected to win. A few feet from where Young tried to explain his emotions, Justin Upton did the same. The more he spoke, the more his eyes welled with tears. It didn't help that every time someone opened the clubhouse door, the noises from the screaming, yelling and celebrating Brewers fans filtered in.
"That's the way the game goes," Upton said. "It's a fun game, but it will beat you down, too."
In time, the pain will subside and Arizona will begin to process what happened here in Game 5. It will be a story of missed opportunity. Eleven runners left on base. Only 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Arizona put runners in scoring position in seven of the 10 innings, pushing a run across only twice.
But it will also be a story of resiliency, of exactly what this Diamondbacks team was all about. Never give up. Don't ever give up. Just like in spring training, when nobody gave the Diamondbacks a chance and yet they went on to win 94 games. Just like Sunday night, when they trailed the Brewers 2-0 in the series and everyone figured they were done and yet here they were having forced a Game 5.
On Friday the story was the ninth inning and Brewers closer John Axford, who had not blown a save since April 11. And leading off the inning for Arizona was of course Gerardo Parra, who was 0-for-17 in the series. Still, everyone believed. In the dugout, Willie Bloomquist said, guys were yelling, "We've done this before. We can do this. We can do this."
"A guy might throw 98 miles an hour on the hill; it doesn't matter," Bloomquist said. "You just know it's going to happen with this team. Why not against their closer to start off the inning?"
Upton agreed, saying, "We don't care who is on the mound. We're just fighting to get that run."
|Gerardo Parra scored the tying run in the ninth after enduring a rough series.|
Before Parra stepped up to home plate, manager Kirk Gibson pulled him aside to say a few words. "I told Parra this is the beautiful thing about the game," Gibson said afterward. "You're going to get your first hit right now. You're going to have a great impact on the game."
And sure enough, Parra did, smacking a double into left-center field. After a Sean Burroughs single pushed Parra to third, Bloomquist laid down a safety squeeze bunt that scored Parra, tying the game at 2-all and turning Miller Park into a library.
"At that point, you think, 'This is it. We got this,'" Bloomquist said. "This is what we do."
But with first and second and nobody out, Axford struck out Aaron Hill, forced Upton into a fielder's choice and coaxed Henry Blanco into a slow roller to short to end the inning. The team that had thrived on the big inning all year had been able to score only one run. It left the Diamondbacks with a combined six runners left on base in the eighth and ninth innings.
They would go down in order in the top of the 10th. And in the bottom of the inning, Milwaukee put together some magic of its own. Carlos Gomez started the inning with a leadoff single and then stole second on a ball that was dropped by Blanco.
"I was trying to be too quick, and the ball came out of my glove," Blanco said. "But I don't think we have a chance anyway if I catch that ball. I was trying to do the impossible."
Three pitches later, Morgan ripped a single to center that Arizona closer J.J. Putz tried to somehow get in the way of -- but failed.
"I dove. If I could have put my head in front of it, I would have," Putz said. "The bottom line is I just didn't make a pitch."
And just like that, the Diamondbacks are heading back to the desert to begin the offseason. There's much to be proud of, and Gibson told his players just that when he gathered them in the clubhouse immediately after the game. The future appears bright with Upton's emergence as a superstar, and with the growth of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Paul Goldschmidt and others. There's also a handful of highly regarded Baby Backs on the way, with Trevor Bauer, Jarrod Parker and Archie Bradley eager to contribute.
But the veterans in the clubhouse, men such as Young, know the feeling will never be the same. They wanted to do the unthinkable. They wanted to win it all with this team.
"It's the most fun I've had in years," Young quietly said. "You'd like to know every single guy will be back here because of the way we jelled. But you know the game doesn't work like that. It will just go down as a season I'll never forget."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Wayne on Twitter @espnWD.