While the atmosphere in Chase Field was a festive one Wednesday night, the mood was considerably more somber in the Arizona clubhouse, as players and coaches alike struggled to come to terms with the team's disappointing overall performance during the season.
"It's always in the back of your head," said third-year manager Bob Melvin, who guided the young Diamondbacks to a 90-72 record, of the team's negative run differential. "But you always think, 'okay, we can make this better.' Then all of a sudden it's the end of the year and you still haven't made up any ground. It's a tough pill to swallow.
We thought we were a better team than this."
In baseball circles, the Pythagorean Theorem is a popular equation used to calculate a team's expected won/loss record based on the amount of runs it scores and the amount of runs it gives up. According to this formula, the Diamondbacks should have won just 79 games, the eighth-fewest in the National League and well behind division rivals Colorado and San Diego.
"It really eats at you," said Tony Clark, eyes fixed on the floor of the locker room. "All year long we told ourselves that we had the talent and the heart to stay in the race, but at the end of the day, you can't argue with the numbers. We got smoked, and all I can do is offer my congratulations to the Rockies and the Padres. They were better than us."
Faced with the peculiar circumstance of a team so dramatically overplaying its Pythagorean record - the Diamondbacks' margin of +11 wins was the largest in the league - several analysts have attempted to explain the phenomenon by pointing to anything from the bullpen to timely hitting to a tendency to lose blowouts. These things, they say, make sense of what on the surface looks like an anomaly. But their words come as little consolation to a team that played below its own expectations.
Said closer Jose Valverde as he slammed his locker in frustration, "Crap. It's all crap.
People can dream up all the explanations they want, but it's no different than saying you found a $100 bill on the ground because you walked past a bank. You found a $100 bill on the ground because you were lucky. Next you'll try to tell me that Jordan Bratman has some skill that makes him seem appealing to Christina Aguilera. It's luck. It's nothing but luck. All that matters is that we didn't execute enough."
After wrapping up the regular season with a 4-3 loss to Colorado last Sunday, which forced a one-game playoff between Colorado and San Diego for the Wild Card, Diamondbacks General Manager Josh Byrnes placed a call to the commissioner's office, asking whether it would be possible for Arizona to surrender a playoff spot Byrnes called "undeserved," thereby allowing both of the division opponents to qualify for the postseason. The call was not returned.
"We just felt like continuing to play would make a mockery of the game," said Byrnes. "The playoffs are supposed to be all about figuring out which is the best team in baseball, but if some of the teams that deserve to be there don't even get a chance, then what are we really proving? What's supposed to be a month of suspense and heroics on the road to crowning a champion instead is rendered nothing more than a meaningless exhibition. We didn't want to jeopardize the magic of October by taking up a spot that rightfully belongs to someone else."
Monday night, following the Padres' thirteen-inning loss to the Rockies, Trevor Hoffman received a call from one-time teammate and current Diamondback Jeff Cirillo.
"I tried to cheer him up by pointing out how he deserves to be here more than I do," said Cirillo, "but he hung up without saying a word. I think he took that loss pretty hard."
With the playoffs now underway and commissioner Selig reluctant to step in and put an end to what third baseman Mark Reynolds labeled "a total farce," the Diamondbacks have no choice but to take the field against the Chicago Cubs, who outscored their opponents on the season by 62 runs. This treatment has angered more than a few members of the clubhouse.
"It's unprofessional is what it is," said Brandon Webb following his win in game one of the NLDS. "The guys in this locker room just want to move on with their lives and focus on getting better in 2008, but thanks to the people in charge of this league, we have to go out there and embarrass ourselves on national television against an opponent that actually deserves to be here. It's not fair, and it's really unfortunate to have to be in this situation.
We already played out the string in the regular season. Now we have to do it again in October because the suits don't know what's best for the game. Baseball's in a sorry state, when it allows this to happen. Someone really needs to take a long, hard look at what's going on, because this, right now, this is hurting the sport."
The second game of the Division Series is Thursday night at 7pm.