Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 9/30/11
MILWAUKEE The Diamondbacks improbable ride to the NL West title is filled with remarkable stories. Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton captured national attention with their career years; closer J.J. Putz far exceeded expectations with his return to pre-eminence; and the braintrust of Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson have been widely lauded for their culture shift and healing touch. Those are the biggest reasons the Diamondbacks find themselves preparing for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. But it hardly ends there, of course. The D-backs enter their first postseason appearance since 2007 with 48 comeback victories, the most in the majors this season and the most in franchise history, and it seems as if there is a story to go with every one of them. They could not have made their 29-game improvement without passing the baton. While the season is usually considered a marathon, the D-backs made it look as if it were a relay, a hero ready at the next turn. Consider three of the most improbable during a season of improbability: --Willie Bloomquist, the perfect teammate who 10 years into his career found his perfect team. --Ryan Roberts, a heretofore roster filler whose determination to make this "his year" resulted in exactly that. --Sean Burroughs, a faded phenom who fashioned an his inspirational return from the depths of despair. Each did his part. And like the team itself, none was high on the radar when the regular season began. Bloomquist, who lives in the Valley after attending Arizona State, came home in the offseason after signing a free agent contract with the idea of filling the super-sub role he had handled at previous stops in Seattle, Kansas City and Cincinnati. Bloomquist is so valuable as handyman that one of his managers once told him that even if he were the best second baseman on the roster, he would not start there because he was needed all over the field. It did not take for Bloomquist to become a fixture. When Stephen Drew missed the first week of the season with a strained abdominal muscle, Bloomquist took over. He opened the season with a 10-game hitting streak while playing shortstop and left field, and he was the first player in the major leagues to three, four, five and six stolen bases, immediately applying the aggressive approach that Gibson stressed in spring training. Drews season-ending fractured right ankle in late July was not a back-breaker, as some feared, because of the way Bloomquist stepped in. He has five errors, fewest among NL shortstop with at least 55 starts, and is one of three D-backs with at least 20 steals. At the same time, it has been a surreal year in other ways. While driving to Chase Field in June, Bloomquist walked away from a traffic accident in which the smaller car he was driving was rear-ended and totaled by an SUV that was traveling at high speed. The accident tied up the Piestawa Freeway for hours, but Bloomquist walked away with only bumps and bruises. One day later, Bloomquist was hosting 11-year-old hospital patient Abe Speck at a D-backs game as a guest of his foundation. Abe asked Bloomquist, who had a grand total of 14 career home runs, to point to him in the stands if he hit a home run, and sure enough, Bloomquist launched No. 15. He and Abe still exchange emails. Ive been able to kind of recharge my batteries, I guess, for the last nine years of kind of getting thumped on a little bit," Bloomquist said. "Its been great to be back at home and play for a team that has a lot of energy, a lot of talent. To get where we are in the process of proving a lot of people wrong has just been a lot of fun, said Bloomquist, 33, who was with Cincinnati when it clinched a playoff berth last season but was ineligible for the playoff roster because he arrived in September. I was fortunate to experience that, but this certainly feels a lot more gratifying. I feel like obviously this is my team and Im a bigger part of this picture. Its just been a blast. Everything about it has been fun. Couldnt feel more fortunate, more blessed. Call it fate. Call it whatever you will. Its just been an unbelievable ride, and I hope it continues for a while in October. Roberts, who turned 31 two weeks ago, was a long shot to make the team entering spring training after Bloomquist and Geoff Blum were added over the winter. He got the opportunity he needed when Blum suffered a spring training knee injury, and he turned that into a springboard. He hit .500 in spring training to win a roster spot, and played so well as a handyman in the first six weeks that he won the starting third base job in May. He enters the NLDS with 19 home runs, 18 stolen bases and 65 RBIs, all career highs in his first season as a regular. Homer No. 19 was clearly the most mremorable: A walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning on Tuesday to cap a six-run rally and give the D-backs a 7-6 victory. He marked the occasion by doing the 'Gibby pump' while circling the bases, imitating his manager's famous game-winning home run trot in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It was a fitting affirmation for Roberts, who last winter determined that this was his make-or-break year. He dedicated himself to coming into camp in the best shape possible shape after receiving a wakeup call the year before, when he did not make the opening day roster despite a strong 2009. Roberts adopted a regimen that included yoga and cardio work. He changed his diet to eliminate sweets. A new father, he stayed in nights. Everything down to flossing his teeth, and thats the honest-to-God truth, he said in spring. What has this year meant to him? Everything, Roberts said. I could name numerous things, from winning to being close to everybody on the team to seeing everybody taking a liking to playing 100 percent. There are so many things that have been special this year. Nothing is impossible. Burroughs, 31, can attest to that. Son of major league slugger Jeff Burroughs, former Little League World Series star and a first-round draft choice by San Diego in 1998, Burroughs was eating out garbage cans in Las Vegas alleys three years ago. He slid into drug use after walking away from the burden that baseball had become in 2006. After a family intervention in May 2010, Burroughs returned home to Long Beach, lost weight and determined to return to his first love, baseball. Reunited with Towers, who had drafted him out of high school for the Padres, Burroughs signed a minor-league contract a week before Thanksgiving with no guarantees. He had not swung a bat in competition in almost five years. He tore through Class AAA Reno, hitting .386, and was purchased by the D-backs on May 18. Burroughs has developed into one of the most dependable pinch-hitters in the league. His 16 pinch-hits are second in the majors to Philadelphias Ross Gload (18) and is hitting .286 in that role. His biggest blow came as a starter Aug. 23, when his two-run homer his first major league home run since April 30, 2005 provided all the scoring in a 2-0 victory at Washington that broke a six-game losing streak. A case could be made that it was the biggest hit of the season. I cant articulate how much fun the journey this year has been," Burroughs said. "Its been just a 180-degree turn for me. Being part of this team has been an unbelievable experience. Being out of the game for so long, and being so fortunate to come into an organization and coaches and teammates like we have here has been a blast. A cherry on top is how good weve been playing and how good weve done. Oh, yeah, bro, its crazy. Its a huge trip. If you would have told me a year and half ago now that Id be sitting in a locker room getting ready to go to the playoffs, Id have called B.S. Id say, Youre crazy, bro. I could see myself a lot of other places, but not back in here. Oh, God, I dont know, man, hopefully still breathing somewhere. The first few months back home, I was off dope for the time in four years. That was probably the turning moment. I had it in the back of my mind, but to have it come true is a miracle.
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