Diamondbacks Win The NL West!

By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished in last place a year ago with 97 losses, completed their stunning ascent atop the National League West mountaintop Friday by clinching the division title with a 3-1 victory over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, who dared his team to win this year by saying in spring training, “We want to dethrone their ass,” watched his team stun the baseball world by winning their first division title since 2007.

The Diamondbacks (91-66) now will likely play the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves in the first round of the playoffs. They trail the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers by one game for the second-best record in the league. The team with the better record will face Atlanta, if it holds onto its three-game wild-card lead, with the loser heading to the road to face Philadelphia.

“We want that home-field,” Gibson said. “We’re not done yet. This is just the beginning.

“We plan on going a lot further than this.”

The Diamondbacks’ victory typified their season’s success. They got a brilliant seven-inning performance from starter Joe Saunders, their bullpen closed the door on the Giants, and they won on rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt’s tiebreaking two-run triple in the eighth inning.

“We’re dangerous late,” said Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, who won his fifth division title, the previous four in San Diego. “We lull them to sleep early, and then attack.”

Indeed, it was the Diamondbacks’ 46th major-league leading comeback victory of the season, the most in club history.

“Our players took on Gibby’s personality,” Towers said. “He was a winner as a player. And now he’s a winner as a manager too.

“I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The Diamondbacks, a team filled mostly with kids and players who had never been to the playoffs, partied like it was 2007. They mobbed one another on the field, and half the team even took off to right-center field fence, and jumped into the pool. The clubhouse floor was a sea of champagne and beer.

“A couple of days ago, I said, ‘If we clinch, I want to get in that pool,’ ” said reliever David Hernandez, the winning pitcher with his scoreless eighth inning. “It was the first time I got in that pool. I didn’t know it was heated. It was a far run, too.

“I won’t be doing that again, unless we win the World Series.”

Who’d ever have imagined that a team with back-to-back seasons of 90 or more defeats would now be champions of the NL West?

“I thought we could do it sometime,” said Ken Kendrick, managing general partner, “but I didn’t think it was going to be this year, to be honest.

“Our motto was, “Why not us? My God, it is us.”

And, yes, it was perfect, the Diamondbacks say, that the team they beat to win the title was the Giants.

“It makes it even more special that we beat the Giants,” said ace Ian Kennedy. “They were the champs. It just felt right beating them.

“It’s been fun all year, and this team just took on our manager’s character.”

This is a team that was dreadful in spring training, with most experts predicting the Diamondbacks to finish no higher than fourth. Yet, after losing 15 of their first 26 games, they climbed into first place on Aug. 10, and never looked back, culminating with catcher Miguel Montero jumping into closer J.J. Putz’s arms.

“I always wanted to pick up a catcher,” Putz said. “It was a struggle, and I probably pulled a back muscle, but I got through it.”

It was Putz’s 44th save of the season, and 23rd consecutive save. He has pitched 13 2/3 scoreless innings dating back to Aug. 15, spanning 15 games.

“People probably thought Gibby was crazy in spring training,” Putz said. “You know what, maybe he wants crazy. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.”

Said Gibson: “I feel like a lot of people didn’t expect us to get here. Well, you got to believe you’re your own expectations. You got to have vision.

“It’s a special moment.”

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