By JOHN MARSHALL, Associated Press
PHOENIX -- The celebration started on the field, moved into the clubhouse, then back onto the field. Eventually, for a few players, it ended in the pool behind the wall in right center for a still-in-uniform swim that never felt so good.
Predicted to be just another also-ran, the Arizona Diamondbacks instead are NL West champions – and loving every second of it.
Completing an improbable run to their first division title in four years, the Diamondbacks rallied to beat the San Francisco Giants 3-1 Friday night when rookie Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run triple off Sergio Romo in the eighth inning.
"A lot of people didn't think we could, but ever since spring training we felt like we could get it done," said Arizona center fielder Chris Young, who squeezed the final out. "I am happy we were able to overcome some things. A couple of guys got hurt, we were able to overcome some obstacles. It has been amazing."
It sure was.
Playing with the never-give-an-inch intensity of their manager, the Diamondbacks made Kirk Gibson a winner in his first full season as skipper.
Arizona completed its worst-to-first turnaround in raucous fashion, rallying to beat the Giants with Chase Field buzzing as it rarely did over the past couple of seasons.
It's no surprise, really.
Arizona has been coming from behind all season, whether it was from early-season predictions of another last-place finish or down a run in the late innings.
And, really, to do it again in the clinching game was the only fitting way for the Diamondbacks to close it out.
Ryan Roberts got the go-ahead burst started with a double off Matt Cain (12-11) and Goldschmidt capped it with his first career triple to the corner in right.
David Hernandez (5-3), as he has all season, did his job in the setup role, striking out two after allowing a one-out single in the eighth. J.J. Putz, the closer and set-the-example veteran in the clubhouse, finished it off with his 44th save, sending the Diamondbacks pouring onto the field and the fans into an uproar.
A year after going 65-97, Arizona is 91-66 and heading to the playoffs.
"I don't care if it's your first year or your 10th year, it's what you set out to do," Gibson said.
The Giants still have a lot of work to do.
With the loss, the defending World Series champions are five games behind Atlanta for the NL wild-card spot with just five games left despite Orlando Cabrera's first homer in 124 at-bats since being traded from Cleveland.
"We are breathing. Five games left, we are still breathing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That is why there is no need to talk. We've still got baseball."
Behind Gibson's attention-to-detail approach and with a roster of players who seemed to take turns coming through in the clutch, Arizona celebrated its first division crown since 2007 by mobbing Putz near the plate. Fireworks shot out of the scoreboard after Young pulled in the final out and the Diamondbacks, after hugging and shaking hands on the field, stopped to acknowledge the fans from just above the dugout.
Champagne flowed inside the clubhouse and out, with a handful of players returning to shower their families, friends and a few people in the front row. A few went for more of a bath route, taking a dip in the only-in-Arizona pool behind the outfield wall.
"This is unbelievable," Roberts said.
It sure was.
After a pair of 90-loss seasons, Arizona started the season on a downturn, already 6 1/2 games out of first by the end of April.
Then something clicked.
Arizona went through a magnificent May, closing the month 15-3 to take the NL West lead, and stayed near the top through July. The Diamondbacks seized control of the division at the end of August and into September, going up by as much as 9 1/2 games before San Francisco came charging back with an eight-game winning streak.
But after winning three of four to start this week, Arizona found itself on the cusp and needing to beat the Giants only once in the weekend series to pop the corks.
Playing with the same fighting spirit they have all season, Arizona finally got to Cain in the seventh inning, when the right-hander walked Goldschmidt with one out and Young followed with a line-drive double to the wall in left-center to tie the game 1-all.
"They are a team that really does play until the end," said Cain, who allowed three runs on five hits in 7 1-3 innings. "They find different guys each night to spark plug the offense."
This time it was Goldschmidt, who started the season in Double-A.
With Roberts on third and Justin Upton on first after an intentional walk, Goldschmidt took and inside-out swing and sent the ball rattling around in the right-field corner. Roberts scored easily and Upton made it home with the ball clambering around off the odd angles.
Chase Field erupted in a roar after Goldschmidt's hit, which was only the prelude to the celebration that would come later – one Arizona fans had been waiting four years for.
"This is what I was hoping to do when I woke up this morning," Putz said.
He and about 42,000 other people.