History on side of worst-to-first D-Backs - East Valley Tribune: Fox Sports Arizona

History on side of worst-to-first D-Backs

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Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 2:26 pm | Updated: 2:38 pm, Thu Sep 29, 2011.

The Diamondbacks entered the season so far under the radar that you could pick them up on sonar, and despite abiding evidence to the contrary, they are likely to continue to play the underdog/Cinderella card going forward.

"Sounds like you have inside information," manager Kirk Gibson said slyly the other day. It doesn't matter to me personally. I think it's a good position to be in. You guys know how I approach us being our own experts. If you would ask me who was going to win any game, I would have a feeling. It doesn't mean it's right. It's all speculation."

History a has different view. If anything, the D-backs enter the postseason not only with skills but with the recent past as an ally.

The message the past paints is encouraging: Look out, because the D-backs could make some noise here.

The D-backs are the ninth team since 1979, Gibson's first season with the Detroit Tigers, to have gone from last place to first place in their division in successive seasons. For our purposes, that group includes Colorado, which was last in the NL West in 2006 but joined the D-backs in the 2007 postseason by winning the NL wild card.

And those teams were just getting started. Six of the previous eight made it all the way to the World Series, and one won it - the 1991 Minnesota Twins, who rode Gene Larkin's walkoff single and Jack Morris' 10 shutout innings to a 1-0 victory over Atlanta in Game 7 in the rocking Metrodome. A worst-to-first team had to win that one, of course, since Atlanta had done exactly the same thing in the NL West (Atlanta was in the West then).

So the postseason is hardly an impediment to leap-frogging.

It is hard to put a finger on the cause. Maybe it is because those teams, used to failure the previous season, grew taller and more determined with each step up the ladder. Maybe it is because the process, which includes proving people wrong, forged a belief that was sustained and grew as the season went along and the successes mounted.

All of those teams seemed to have a particularly strong faith, and after a franchise-record and major league-high 48 comeback victories, the D-backs know what that feels like.

"You have that feeling that we are going to win every game," shortstop John McDonald said.

"This team has been playing the last half of the season with one goal, and that was to get to the postseason and do damage in it. When you have that collective mindset of doing for the guy next to you, what better way to go into a postseason, believing that you can do anything if you all do it together."

Minnesota gained 21 games in the standings from 1990 to 1991, and Atlanta gained 29 games in the same year. The Padres, under Kevin Towers, gained 22 games in '98. Tampa Bay in '08 had a 31-game swing. The D-backs had the greatest jump, when they went from 65-97 to 100-62 in 1999, although they are one of two worst-to-firsts that did not make the World Series. San Francisco did not make it in 1997 after a 22-game improvement.

"To be able to go from worst to first, you don't do that without making a wholesale change in the attitude and culture of the team," rookie right-hander Josh Collmenter said. "And I think when you are around that, it becomes fun to come to the ballpark and you are excited to be there every day. The attitude and the excitement and comfortability you get coming in helps.

"I don't think there is that emotional rollercoaster. The closest you can get to that attitude, without extrapolating too far ... I think that really helps."

Gibson believes his team will keep playing the way it always has this season.

"We're not going to get all freaky all of a sudden. We're just going to go about it the same way. We'll make frustrating mistakes," Gibson said. "We'll battle all the way, and we'll hope for miracles when we need them."

The D-backs are over the naysayers by now.

"I don't want respect. I want a ring," McDonald said. "I don't care what anybody says about me; I want to be part of 35 guys or so that's jumping around acting like we are 10 years old."



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