09/24/11 2:19 AM ET
D-backs take time to savor NL West crown
After finishing last two consecutive years, Arizona in postseason
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
When the D-backs won the National League West in 2007, players like Chris Young, Justin Upton and Miguel Montero were still getting their feet wet in the big leagues.
"It was amazing," Young said of that division-clinching celebration at Coors Field. "But at the same time, this was what was expected of us and this is where we should be and we should win this division every year. You almost take it for granted."
After a three-year absence from the postseason, the D-backs are back after they beat the Giants, 3-1, Friday night at Chase Field.
None of the veterans took this for granted.
Following a brief champagne celebration in the clubhouse, the team returned to the field to celebrate with the fans that remained.
Suddenly they took off running in a group toward the pool just beyond the wall in right-center. They scaled the wall and jumped in.
"Everybody is soaking wet right now," Young said. "Honestly, we're just taking it all in with the fans; they deserve it. To have a [big] crowd tonight, they deserve for us to come out and enjoy the moment with them."
What the core group has gone through since 2007 has changed their perspective on celebrations.
A disappointing second-place finish in 2008 followed by a controversial managerial change and two straight last-place finishes have given the core group a different perspective on things.
"This doesn't come around every day," Young said. "I've learned that. So you don't take it for granted. These are the moments you live for. I've really learned to appreciate these times and I'm just having fun with it right now."
It was the fifth division title for the D-backs in their 14 years of existence. They also won titles in 1999, 2001, '02 and '07.
In 1999 and 2002, the D-backs lost in the NL Division Series to the Mets and Cardinals, respectively, while the '07 team swept the Cubs in the NLDS before getting swept by the Rockies in the NL Championship Series.
The 2001 team beat the Cardinals in a thrilling five-game NLDS, dispatched the Braves in five games in the NLCS and then rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.
The 2001 team was expected to contend, while few felt that way about the '11 version heading into Spring Training. A sloppy month of March did little to ease concerns.
"I did not see it coming," team president/CEO Derrick Hall said. "Before the season, I certainly did not. I thought this would have been a bonus year just trying to bridge us getting some of that young talent up to join some of these veterans."
Arizona started the year 15-22 and its season seemed on the verge of unraveling following five straight one-run losses during a West Coast road swing May 6-13.
The D-backs, however, rallied to beat the Dodgers, 1-0, on May 14 despite collecting just one hit and went on to win 17 of 19 to close out the month of May with a half-game lead over the Giants.
"It took us awhile, but once we got going and got comfortable with each other and saw where we were in the standings, we were like, 'We're better than this,'" starting pitcher Daniel Hudson said.
It was a historic run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the D-backs were the first team in Major League history to enter the month of May with at least a 6 1/2-game deficit in their league (pre-1969) or division (since 1969) and gain sole possession of first place during the month.
"People thought Gibby was probably a little crazy during Spring Training with all the things he was doing with us," closer J.J. Putz said of manager Kirk Gibson's emphasis on the fundamentals. "But like I said, I think that little stretch through May when we started to take our identity as a team, I think that's when guys realized, 'You know what? Maybe he's not crazy. Maybe he knows what he's doing.'"
The D-backs fell back into second place during June and were 4 1/2 games behind the Giants after losing the first game following the All-Star break.
But their season turned when they went to San Francisco and won the first two games of a three-game series to pull even with the Giants. AT&T Park had been a house of horrors for the D-backs in recent years, and to beat Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum on successive nights gave Arizona a confidence boost.
That faith was tested in mid-August, when the D-backs dropped six straight games during an East Coast road swing from Aug. 17-22.
A rare earthquake Aug. 23 that shook the Washington, D.C., area also seemed to bounce the D-backs from their slumber. They beat the Nationals that night and went on a nine-game winning streak to push their advantage over the Giants to six games and all but wrap up the division.
"We had some early success," Young said of the 2011 season. "We came out of some rough patches with some good patches, and after you do that a couple of times, you start to believe in yourselves a little more and your confidence is high."
Putz lifted up Montero after the closer recorded the final out of the game for his 44th save of the year.
"I've always wanted to pick the catcher up when we clinched something," Putz said. "It's what I woke up hoping to do this morning. I told Gibby, I said, 'I don't care what the score is, if we're winning, I want to pitch the ninth inning. I want to be out there.' Fortunately it worked out."