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10/07/11 11:35 PM ET

Despite finish, D-backs cherish dream season

MILWAUKEE -- When it was over, Kirk Gibson took a moment to speak to his team.

Minutes before, the D-backs had watched the Brewers celebrate a 3-2 victory in the decisive game of the National League Division Series. Now they sat in front of their lockers in the Miller Park visiting clubhouse and listened to their manager.

"He just said he was proud of us and not to hang our heads over anything," center fielder Chris Young said.

Players were slow to take their uniforms off, because they did not want the special season to end.

"I'm hanging my head a little bit right now because I'm just disappointed," Young said. "I'm not ready to go home yet. I'm not hanging my head because I think we could have done anything different, I'm just hanging my head because I wanted to keep playing. I didn't want the season to be over yet."

Not much was expected of this group heading into Spring Training, and a sloppy March did nothing to change that.

But after a slow start to the season, the D-backs managed to turn things around in mid-May as they climbed to the top of the NL West.

"It's been a lot of fun just to enjoy this," right-hander Ian Kennedy said. "It's just a hard ending, but if you look back and figure out where we started, we started at the bottom and we were way at the top in the division. It's been a lot of fun for the most part."

After back-to-back last-place finishes, Gibson and new GM Kevin Towers went about trying to change the culture of the clubhouse, and they succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

Towers revamped the bullpen, bringing in closer J.J. Putz and setup man David Hernandez, and he improved the team's depth with a bunch of gritty veterans.

Gibson, meanwhile, brought discipline to the clubhouse and spent the spring preaching the value of mental toughness.

The result was a team that led the Majors in come-from-behind wins and played hard for all 27 outs and more when needed.

"The group of guys we have in here, they know what it takes to grind out every day," right fielder Justin Upton said. "That's the mentality we're going to take from here on out as long as we're here. We're looking forward to next season."

One of the reasons the players were so hesitant to have the evening end is they know that they will not all be back when Spring Training opens next February in Scottsdale, Ariz.

There are some moves the D-backs will need to make.

Look for them to decline second baseman Aaron Hill's $8.5 million option but try to re-sign him at a lower price, and they will likely try to add some help at shortstop in case Stephen Drew is slow to recover from a nasty ankle injury he suffered in July.

On the pitching side of things, young guns like Tyler Skaggs, Jarrod Parker and Trevor Bauer will compete for spots in the rotation, which could lead the club to non-tender lefty Joe Saunders.

"It's been a blast," Young said. "This has been a fun season, the most fun I've had in years over here. You would like to know that every single guy will be back here with us next season just because of the way we jelled all year long, but you know the game just doesn't work like that and guys are going to leave and go their separate ways, but it's going to be one of those seasons I never forget."

With their core group of players under contract or team control for next year and a burgeoning farm system about to supply some top-notch pitching, the D-backs appear to be poised for success going forward.

"We've come a long way," Gibson said. "We set goals in the beginning of the year; unfortunately we didn't get all the way there. We talked about changing the culture and what it means to be a Diamondback. And I just told these guys they should be proud because they've set the stage and the standard for how we want to play, and they've done it all year."

They may have snuck up on teams this year, but next year no one will overlook them.

"We had great results this year, but teams aren't going to care about that next year so we're going to have to continue to push and continue to try to get better for next season," Young said. "You just have to show up next year with that same drive and that same chip on your shoulder that we had this year. I don't think anybody will let it go away."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.