Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 10/10/11
Kirk Gibson supplied one of the most memorable moments in baseball history with his 1988 World Series pinch-hit walkoff. His team did the same this year. His Diamondbacks were among the feel-good stories in the major leagues. They certainly were the most surprising. What started during a mid-May turnaround became a season-long surge, and the D-backs 79 victories from May 13 until the end of the regular season tied Milwaukee for the most in the majors. The most surprising thing now, at least to some who watched the D-backs play all season, is that the playoffs are continuing without them. A major league-high and franchise-record 48 comeback victories can do that to a psyche. PresidentCEO Derrick Hall used the word magical to describe this season, and it was fitting to a point. Talent, hard work and a grasp of Gibsons team ethic turned it into a special season. The surprise was how the D-backs improved so quickly. Kevin Towers promised a quick turnaround when he was hired as the D-backs general manager 12 12 months ago, but that was really not much of a shock. What was he supposed to say? A ragged spring training seemed to suggest it would be a slow process. I thought it was going to be a challenge, to be honest, because of the way we played in spring training, Miguel Montero admitted. And then the D-backs improved their record by 29 games (to 94-68), won the NL West and came within a timely hit in the ninth inning in Milwaukee last Friday of advancing to the National League Championship Series. By the end of the season, they were on such a roll that it seemed they fell behind just so they could find another way to come back. The punctuation mark the symbol of the 2011 season came in the second-to-last game of the regular season, when Ryan Roberts hit a walkoff grand slam to cap a six-run rally that began with nobody on base and two outs in the last of the 10th inning for a 7-6 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 27. Roberts a guy on the outside looking in when spring training began, a guy who made the team with a strong spring and an injury to Geoff Blum, a guy who forced himself into the lineup as the starting third baseman in May doing the Kirk Gibson arm pump while rounding the bases on his grand slam and gleefully pulling his jersey over his head as he neared home plate. It did not get more surprising, or heart-warming, than that. It certainly was the surprise season in the D-backs 14-year history. In the winter of 1998-99, the D-backs went on a 90 million spending spree designed to distance themselves from the 97-loss expansion season in 1998. It worked. They became the quickest team to reach the playoffs in the expansion era in 1999, and with that group as a nucleus, they won the 2001 World Series and added another NL West title the next year. The 2007 team, the D-backs only other division winner, was built around pitching and young talent that needed years to grow. The 2004 team lost 111 games, and it took a general-manager change and three years to climb the ladder back to respectability. This time, it took 12 months. It is not hard to point to the reasons. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson had career-best years fronting the starting rotation. J.J. Putz provided guidance and a strong right arm to a bullpen that did an about-face. Putz had a career-high 45 saves and helped David Hernandez and Joe Paterson acclimate to their first full seasons in the bullpen. In Patersons case, it was his first season in the majors, period. Justin Upton and Gerardo Parra took their games to the next level, Upton to near-stardom and Parra to solid regular. Willie Bloomquist, signed to help at several spots, proved a worthy replacement for lost shortstop Stephen Drew, who missed the final 2 12 months with a fractured right ankle. In-season additions such as first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, starter Josh Collmenter and reliever Bryan Shaw performed their way into vital 2012 roles. I wish spring training started tomorrow, Hernandez said after the loss in Milwaukee on Friday. We have a bunch of guys ... we dont have very many stars. J-Up (Upton), thats about it ... but we just have a bunch of guys who go out there and battle and compete, and that shows as a team.
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