The Diamondbacks couldn't catch the ball, didn't prevent enough runs and finished with the worst record in the Cactus League at 12-25 — not the spring you're looking for coming off back-to-back 90-plus-loss seasons.
So imagine club president Derrick Hall's surprise when manager Kirk Gibson talked to him one spring training day about, "the things we have to do to get to the playoffs."
"I thought, 'Boy, you're crazy,' " Hall said during the Diamondbacks' raucous NL West-clinching celebration. "Gibby displayed a surprising level of confidence."
Or on another occasion this spring, when general manager Kevin Towers told Hall, "We're going to win 90 games this season."
"I said, 'Really?' " Hall said. "Nobody gave us a shot, but that's how we're built — with character. It's been magical. One word — magical."
It all starts with Gibson. He's a virtual certainty for NL Manager of the Year after a worst-to-first turnaround matched only twice previously — by the 1999 Diamondbacks and the 1991 Atlanta Braves.
"He is one of most focused managers I've ever had," Towers said. "From the minute he steps in this clubhouse until the minute he leaves, it's all baseball. The guy is a winner. He was a winner as a player, and now he's proven he's a winner as a manager."
But for everything that has gone right for Gibson and the Diamondbacks this season, it's easy to forget that he entered it with question marks attached, too. After all, the team played to virtually the same .400 winning percentage after Gibson was elevated from bench coach to replace A.J. Hinch last July 1.
The Diamondbacks drilled incessantly each spring morning on holding runners, taking the extra base, pitchers' batting skills, etc. — to the point that Towers recently said players might have been a bit worn out for the Cactus League games.
But it wasn't until mid-May — when the Diamondbacks were struggling along at 15-22 — that things began to click with a 15-2 run that included winning streaks of six and seven games.
"People thought Gibby maybe was a bit crazy in spring training, with all the stuff he was making us do," closer J.J. Putz said. "But after that stretch in May, that's when we started gaining our identity as a team. Guys thought, you know what? Maybe he isn't crazy. He does know what he's doing."
And that's when a long list of positive developments began to mount, led by Charles Nagy's pitching staff:
"The bullpen doesn't matter if the starting rotation doesn't go deep (in games)," Putz said. "It doesn't allow Gibby to match up the way he'd like to with the bullpen guys. We felt that if our starters could keep us in games, we had a chance to be a pretty good club. We knew our offense could bang the ball around a little bit."
The winning continued — escalated, actually — even after star shortstop Stephen Drew went down in July with a fractured leg.
Helped by Towers' in-season acquisitions of reliever Brad Ziegler, second baseman Aaron Hill and defensive whiz infielder John McDonald, the Diamondbacks went on a 16-3 run from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9 to leave the defending World Series champion Giants in their wake.
"I really think we have a special team," Kennedy said. "We've taken on the character of our manager and coaching staff. We think we can keep going — why not? We've (surprised) all year."
Added Gibson: "A lot of people didn't expect us to get here. But you have to become your own 'experts'. If you continue to push, you've got a shot. If you take your hat out of the ring, you've got no shot.
"We had a vision, and we stuck with it. We're in good position now to go further. We're a pretty damn good team; I've got news for you."
NEW YORK (AP) - Yankees fans showed Don Mattingly the love from the moment he took the lineup card to home plate Wednesday. Hiroki Kuroda, though, wasn't feeling nostalgic when facing his old team.
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