D-backs use resolve to win NL West title

Back in spring training, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager

Kevin Towers told Derrick Hall he thought the team could win 85

games. Manager Kirk Gibson took it a step further, saying he

thought they could get to the playoffs.

After consecutive 90-loss seasons and another round of dire

predictions for baseball in the desert, there was no reason to

think the proclamations were anything more than optimism fueled by

the hope of spring.

“I doubted it,” said Hall, the team’s president and CEO.

He shouldn’t have.

With a roster built by Towers and guided by the fiercely intense

Gibson, the Diamondbacks completed an unexpected

90-losses-to-90-wins turnaround this season by capturing their

first NL West title in four years with a 3-1 win over San Francisco

Friday night.

Considered an afterthought to start the season, Arizona used

quality pitching from the front end of its rotation, a lights-out

bullpen, opportunistic hitting and an everybody-gets-a-turn

approach to win a division title few outside the organization –

along with a few inside it, too – didn’t think was possible.

Not a bad first full season under the tandem of Towers and

Gibson.

“You kind of have to become your own experts,” Gibson said as

the champagne continued to flow, more than 30 minutes after

Friday’s victory. “I feel like maybe a lot of people didn’t expect

us to get here. We had a vision and we stuck with it.”

It started with Towers’ foresight.

A successful roster-builder in 13 years as the Padres GM, he was

brought in at the end of last season to turn around a team that had

taken a precipitous fall after winning its last division title in

2007.

Towers spent the offseason retooling Arizona’s roster, ditching

high-strikeout players – the Diamondbacks smashed the majors’

all-time record with 1,529 whiffs last season – and bringing in

ones who made contact and had high on-base percentages. He revamped

the bullpen, turning one of the worst in baseball to one of the

best, anchored by closer J.J. Putz and sometimes-unhittable David

Hernandez.

He also brought in veterans, players such as Putz, Micah Owings

and Willie Bloomquist, hard-working, high-character guys who have

been through the battles before.

In just one season, Towers turned a lovable loser into a

champion.

“He’s got such a great feel for the game and pitching,” Giants

manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s such a great evaluator.”

One of Towers’ first moves was to keep Gibson, the gritty former

player who had been Arizona’s bench coach since 2007.

Gibson was moved up as interim manager when A.J. Hinch was fired

in July, and Towers, after some lengthy conversations with him,

made “Gibby” Arizona’s full-time skipper in October.

Known as a fiery player who wouldn’t accept mediocrity, from

himself or his teammates, Gibson molded the Diamondbacks in his own

image, demanding they always play hard and never back down from any

challenge, no matter how tough. He also instilled a team-first

mentality, keeping everyone on their toes by tweaking his lineup

almost daily to make sure everyone was ready to play every day.

“He has done an unbelievable job of – I don’t know if

transforming is the right word – into the team concept and what it

takes to be a championship team,” Detroit Tigers manager Jim

Leyland said. “He’s done a fantastic job, unbelievable job. For a

first-year manager, that’s mind boggling. Usually it takes you a

year or so to figure some things out and all the personalities and

everything, but he’s done a terrific job.”

The team built by Towers and molded by Gibson has been resilient

all season.

After a ho-hum April, the Diamondbacks charged back with one of

the best months in team history in May. Arizona fought through some

tough stretches, a few injuries and lingered near the top of the NL

West before charging to the crown.

The Diamondbacks latched onto Gibson’s team-first mentality,

seeming to come at opponents like a 25-man tag-team wrestling

squad, a different player coming through almost every day.

The clincher was a perfect example.

It started with Chris Young.

An All-Star in 2010, he’s struggled much of the season, putting

up another 20-20 season, but hitting just .235 – more than 30

points below his career average. With the Diamondbacks being shut

down by Giants right-hander Matt Cain, Young confidently strode to

the plate in the seventh inning and calmly lined a run-scoring

double to left-center to tie the game.

Then it was Paul Goldschmidt’s turn.

An eighth-round draft pick in 2009, he was called up from

Double-A Mobile midseason to help Arizona at first base.

Goldschmidt hit some prodigious home runs, but also struck out

quite a bit when he first came up.

He started to put better at-bats together over the last few

weeks of the season, though, and came through with the biggest hit

of the season, lining his first career triple off Sergio Romo in

the eighth inning to drive in two runs.

A title on the line, the Diamondbacks came through with another

comeback with another everybody-contributes win.

“It’s pitch to pitch, out to out; we play 27 outs, but if we

have to play more than that, we stay focused and we keep at it,”

Towers said.

And, because of it, they get to keep going.

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to

this story.