PHOENIX – The Diamondbacks were playing two teams Friday, the Cardinals and the Cubs, and only the Cardinals refused to cooperate. By the time the D-backs took the field, they were eight runs down.
Two time zones east, St. Louis removed what little suspense remained from the final week of the regular season by scoring nine runs in the first two innings against Washington, using that start to nail down the final NL wild-card berth and eliminate the defending NL West champion D-backs while they batted in the last of the fifth inning.
Moments later, Aaron Hill doubled in a run and Justin Upton followed with a two-run home run and a 5-2 lead, lifting Ian Kennedy to his 15th victory in an 8-3 win over the Cubs at Chase Field.
The D-backs entered their final homestand with an almost impossible hill to climb, six games behind the Cardinals with six games to play, but that did not make it any easier to confront an offseason that begins Thursday.
“When it is all said and done, the best teams are going to go to the playoffs. I have no problem saying that,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
“We weren’t good enough to be one of those teams this year. It wasn’t from a lack of effort. You can dissect it a million different ways. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. I think we did it the right way. I wish we were the second wild card, but we’re not. You have to earn it. We weren’t good enough. They were better than us. They will go.
“We’ll watch, we’ll learn and we’ll reload.”
After running away with the NL West last season, the D-backs (79-78) were as many as four games over .500 only four times this season, and three of those were in the first two weeks, before Chris Young’s debilitating shoulder injury and Daniel Hudson’s season-ending elbow injury.
“We’ve had our opportunities to put ourselves in a better position. The reality is, we’ve put ourselves in a very poor position. That’s disappointing, and we’ll analyze why and what we can do,” Gibson said.
“I felt a hell of a lot better at this time last year than I do now.”
The players believe they were done in by a general lack of consistency.
“We knew we were a good team all year. We’re a very talented team. We just never put it together. Sometimes that happens. We never put together that really strong run. You go out there and battle every night. Sometimes the chips don’t fall your way. We learn from it,” Upton said.
“We went through some hot streaks and some cold streaks. There were times when we hit but we didn’t pitch, and times when we pitched but didn’t hit,” Kennedy said.
“We weren’t in synch. But then there were some times we were hot and we could battle through those times. It didn’t feel like we were as consistent as in the past, pitching and hitting. It is all of us to blame for that.”
Kennedy, fighting the flu that he felt on every delivery, went 5 2/3 innings on adrenaline to become the fourth pitcher in D-backs’ history to win at least 15 games in two straight seasons. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb are the others. Kennedy walked six, but relievers Matt Albers, Matt Lindstrom, David Hernandez and J.J. Putz shut the Cubs down.
“He’s gassed. Threw his heart out. You have to appreciate that. He’s the guy taking the hill, setting the tone for us. He wants it. How can we not want it?” Gibson said.
The Cardinals’ clinching did not affect the D-backs’ play on the field. Hill’s double off Chicago starter Travis Wood drove in Kennedy, who walked twice, for a 3-2 lead. Upton’s homer, his 16th made it 5-2. Adam Eaton had three hits, Hill and Upton had two, and Cody Ransom homered.
“You don’t go out there and give up. We’re not going to roll over these last five games. We know that we’re done on Wednesday, but we’ll go out and play the game right every time. You play the game until the end of the season,” Upton said.
The D-backs consider the final five geams of the season a sign of character.
“We are all disappointed, OK? But the game is supposed to be fun. Let’s go out there and have fun and play the way it is supposed to be played,” Gibson said.
“We’re going to try to win as many games as we can. That’s how you’re supposed to do it. You have a push to see how good you were this year. It’s not, ‘You’re eliminated and now we just throw it in.’ We don’t operate it that way.” Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter