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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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,”
And, because of it, they get to keep going.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to