Arizona’s ‘motley bunch’ forces Game 5
PHOENIX – It must be osmosis. All that playing experience, all those accolades and accomplishments somehow ooze from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ star-studded coaches office and into the clubhouse, soaking a roster of youthful and ordinary ballplayers in pure savvy.
How else to explain the Diamondbacks stunning the Milwaukee Brewers for a second straight night and forcing a National League Division Series Game 5 by again getting contributions from rookies, castoffs and overachievers in a 10-6 victory Wednesday night.
Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Eric Young(notes) and Charles Nagy combined for nearly 10,000 hits, more than 1,000 home runs, 1,000 stolen bases and 100 pitching victories. They earned eight Gold Gloves, made 16 All-Star appearances and won five World Series titles.
They’ve all been retired for quite some time.
Now they preside over a rag-tag Arizona roster that includes the likes of Collin Cowgill(notes), who had all of 92 big league at-bats before he drilled a two-run single in the third inning that extended a two-run lead to four, and Bryan Shaw, who had pitched all of 28 1/3 big league innings before bailing the Diamondbacks out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth and retiring the side in order in the seventh.
Shaw is a veritable Methuselah compared to the pitcher he replaced, Jarrod Parker(notes), who had made only a single big league appearance before Gibson tabbed him to begin the sixth inning. The moment proved too much for the 22-year-old first-round pick, but the fact that he is even on the playoff roster speaks volumes about the Diamondbacks’ approach.
“It’s been one of our organizational philosophies since Day One,” said Gibson, the team’s first-year manager. “We brought [the rookies] into the mix, into the environment, tried to get them to understand what our aspirations were, what our goals were and how we were going to approach it.”
Then throw them into the fire and expect results. A day earlier in Game 3 the heroes were other rookies: Paul Goldschmidt(notes) hit a grand slam and Josh Collmenter(notes) pitched seven strong innings.
And beyond the first-year players, the Diamondbacks’ lineup is laden with recent additions, journeymen and guys for whom struggle has been a constant.
Third baseman Ryan Roberts(notes), an everyday player for the first time this season, belted a grand slam in the first inning, marking only the second time in postseason history a team has hit grand slams in consecutive games (the 1977 Dodgers are the other).
Second baseman Aaron Hill(notes), unloaded by Toronto in late August because early career promise had dissipated into back-to-back disappointing seasons, homered in the sixth. And longtime center fielder Chris Young – he of diminished expectations after batting .240 in six seasons – homered twice despite being dropped to seventh in the batting order.
Shortstop Willie Bloomquist(notes), playing only because Stephen Drew(notes) is injured, bats leadoff despite a career .317 on-base percentage. Thick-legged catcher Miguel Montero(notes) bats cleanup. Gerardo Parra(notes) has little power and questionable base-stealing ability yet plays every day in left field. The team’s only true star is right fielder Justin Upton(notes), one of the best players in baseball.
He’s surrounded by the unproven and unheralded. Yet they are headed for a Game 5 showdown in Milwaukee on Friday and a chance to advance to the NLCS.
“You don’t put on a big league uniform unless you are good,” Roberts said. “That’s not a joke. It does start with our front office and coaching staff. It’s easy to perform when you know the people making decisions believe in you.”
General manager Kevin Towers and Gibson agreed early on that for the Diamondbacks to turn around the 65-97 record they posted in 2010, young players would need to develop quickly. The exemplary coaching staff set a calm, assured tone, ladling positive reinforcement on products of the farm system and newcomers alike.
The result is players performing at levels unknown in their careers. Arizona ran away with the NL West and now has rebounded from two losses in the NLDS. All the nobodies have really been something.
“Overall you try to put people in situations where they can succeed and try to motivate them to believe in themselves and fight through the negative things, maybe some of the labels and stereotypes,” Gibson said. “The sky is the limit. They’ve got good stuff, good abilities. And they are getting a chance to prove that they have the character to utilize their abilities and be great team players.”
Every time a player came up from the minors or was acquired in a trade, his first contact was with Towers. Next came a conversation with Gibson. Finally, he was handed off to a coach with a wealth of experience – big league playing experience.
Baylor hit 338 home runs. Williams hit 378. Trammell played shortstop for 20 seasons and amassed 2,365 hits. Young stole 465 bases. Nagy won 129 games. And, of course, Gibson was the guy pumping his fist as he rounded first after hitting a historic homer in the 1988 World Series.
“We might be a motley bunch,” Bloomquist said. “But these coaches give us confidence. They’ve done everything we are doing. They understand every situation we are in. They know what to say, how to calm us when we’re amped up and how to light a fire when that’s necessary.”
The coaches are in uniform but, great as they were, can’t play the game anymore. It’ll be up to the Cowgills and Shaws, the Bloomquists and Roberts, the Goldschmidts and Monteros, to get it done in Game 5.
No names, but a lot of game.
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