Kirk Gibson sauntered out onto the field in his familiar, half-hunched gait, stopping at a spot on the grass just outside the third base bag.
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With hundreds of fans still lingering long after the final out, Gibson pumped his fist as they pumped him up with a chant of ”Gibby!”
Known as a gritty winner as a player, Gibson had guided Arizona Diamondbacks to a division title in his first full season as manager.
Yes, this was sweet.
Playing with the never-give-an-inch intensity of their manager, the Diamondbacks completed an improbable run to their first NL West crown in four years, beating San Francisco 3-1 on Friday night when rookie Paul Goldschmidt lined a two-run triple off Sergio Romo in the eighth inning.
”I don’t care if it’s your first year or your 10th year, it’s what you set out to do,” Gibson said.
The Diamondbacks completed their worst-to-first turnaround in raucous fashion, rallying to beat the Giants with Chase Field buzzing as it rarely did over the past couple of seasons.
It’s no surprise, really.
Arizona has been coming from behind all season, whether it was from early-season predictions of another last-place finish or down a run in the late innings.
And, really, to do it again in the clinching game was the only fitting way for the Diamondbacks close it out.
Ryan Roberts got the go-ahead burst started with a double off Matt Cain (12-11) and Goldschmidt capped it with his first career triple to the corner in right.
David Hernandez (5-3), as he has all season, did his job in the setup role, striking out two after allowing a one-out single in the eighth. J.J. Putz, the closer and set-the-example veteran in the clubhouse, finished it off with his 44th save, sending the Diamondbacks pouring onto the field and the fans into an uproar.
A year after going 65-97, Arizona is 91-66 and heading to the playoffs.
”These are the moments you live for,” said Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young, who squeezed the last out.
The Giants are still alive, but just barely.
With the loss, the defending World Series champions are five games behind Atlanta for the NL wild-card spot with just five games left despite Orlando Cabrera’s first homer in 124 at-bats since being traded from Cleveland.
”We are breathing. Five games left, we are still breathing,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ”That is why there is no need to talk. We’ve still got baseball.”
Behind Gibson’s attention-to-detail approach and with a roster of players who seemed to take turns coming through in the clutch, Arizona celebrated its first division crown since 2007 by mobbing Putz near the plate. Fireworks shot out of the scoreboard after Young pulled in the final out and the Diamondbacks, after hugging and shaking hands on the field, stopped to acknowledge the fans from just above the dugout.
Champagne flowed inside the clubhouse and out, with a handful of players returning to shower their families, friends, a few people in the front row. Some of the Diamondbacks even went for a celebratory dip, splashing around the only-in-Arizona pool behind the wall in right-center after rounding the stands for high-fives with their fans.
”This is unbelievable,” Roberts said.
It sure was.
Predicted to be another also-ran after a pair of 90-loss seasons, Arizona started the season on a downturn, already 6-1/2 games out of first by the end of April.
Then something clicked.
Arizona went through a magnificent May, closing the month 15-3 to take the NL West lead, and stayed near the top through July. The Diamondbacks seized control of the division at the end of August into September, going up by as much as 9-1/2 games before San Francisco came charging back with an eight-game winning streak.
But after winning three of four to start this week, Arizona found itself on the cusp of its first NL West title since 2007, needing to beat the Giants just once in the weekend series to pop the corks.
As they have all season, the Diamondbacks had to rally to get the clincher.
Arizona starter Joe Saunders was hit hard and often, but gave up just one run — on Cabrera’s solo homer in the fifth — on nine hits in seven innings to keep Arizona close.
Cain was 6-1 with a 2.83 ERA his previous eight starts against the Diamondbacks and again had them baffled early, getting them to swing over his big-breaking curveball or pound it into the ground.
Playing with the same fighting spirit they have all season, Arizona finally got to Cain in the seventh inning, when the right-hander walked Goldschmidt with one out and Young followed with a line-drive double to the wall in left-center to tie the game at 1-all.
”They are a team that really does play until the end,” said Cain, who allowed three runs on five hits in 7-1/3 innings. ”They find different guys each night to spark plug the offense.”
This time it was Goldschmidt, who started the season in Double A.
With Roberts on third and Justin Upton on first after an intentional walk, Goldschmidt took and inside-out swing and sent the ball rattling around in the right-field corner. Roberts scored easily and Upton made it around as the ball clambered around off the odd angles.
Chase Field erupted in a roar after Goldschmidt’s hit, which was only the prelude to the celebration that would come later — one Arizona fans had been waiting four long years for.
”This is what I was hoping to do when I woke up this morning,” Putz said.
He and about 42,000 other people.
NOTES: Giants RF Carlos Beltran had a not-so-glamorous moment in the sixth inning, falling face first in the dirt after stepping on his bat while trying to run out a grounder. … Saturday’s game between the Giants and Diamondbacks is a sellout. … RHP Ian Kennedy will go for win No. 21 against the Giants in the middle game of the series. He’s allowed one run or less in 16 starts this season after matching a career-high with 12 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings against Pittsburgh the last time out. … Rookie LHP Eric Surkamp is expected to pitch for the Giants after having his start pushed back a day to line up Cain to pitch in the season finale.