September 24, 2011
One year removed from a disappointing 65-97 campaign where the finish dead last in the National League West — 27 games behind the San Francisco Giants — the Arizona Diamondbacks completed their surprising surge to the top of the division, unseating those Giants with a 3-1 victory on Friday night.
The division championship is the fifth for Arizona in their 14-year history, and their first since 2007.
To be honest, I thought the 2007 season was the beginning of a West Coast dynasty for Arizona, with its young nucleus of Justin Upton(notes), Chris Young, Brandon Webb(notes), among others, in place. Unfortunately, injuries and other unforeseen drops in production knocked them off track for awhile.
But they're clearly back on track now thanks to the tireless efforts of Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, who worked together to retool a roster, and rehab an ailing state of mind in the clubhouse.
Friday's clincher was a perfect illustration of how far the team has come in that one year with Gibson and Towers in charge. Rather than fold late, or watch a lead slip away, the never-say-Die-mondbacks rallied from a 1-0 deficit to tie the score in the seventh. In the eighth, rookie Paul Goldschmidt(notes) broke the tie with a two-run triple off Sergio Romo(notes).
Closer J.J. Putz(notes) notched his 23rd consecutive save in the ninth, getting Aubrey Huff(notes) to fly out for the final out. That set off quite a celebration that moved from the middle of the diamond, to the clubhouse, and later, all the way to the Chase Field pool area where several players took a celebratory dip. Watch:
That's a one-of-a-kind pool party right there.
Getting back to Putz, one can't overlook how important an addition he was, along with David Herrnandez (Friday's winner), to Arizona's bullpen. In 2010, their 5.74 bullpen ERA was the highest for a National League team since 1969. That disturbing number accompanied 24 blown saves and 32 losses. In 2011, the Diamondbacks are a perfect 82-0 when leading after eight innings.
Putz and Hernandez are the arms most responsible for that improvement. Now, to get where they want to go, those two arms will have to remain dependable and dominant in October.
That covers the happy side of this outcome. Meanwhile, the Giants two-lane road to a championship repeat is down to one lane, and that lane is headed toward a deadend. One more loss for them, or win by the Atlanta Braves, officially ends their dream.