Never-say-die D-backs won't give in
Attitude instilled in spring by manager Kirk Gibson remains in face of 2-0 deficit
PHOENIX -- It's doubtful that there's ever been a team in baseball history -- make that sports history -- to trail 2-0 in a best-of-five series and publicly admit that the series is over and they're looking forward to a winter of hibernation.
So perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that the Arizona Diamondbacks fell in line on Monday and offered the customary quotes about taking it one pitch at a time and not giving up. Yet there's something unique about this Arizona team. The situation the Diamondbacks find themselves in -- down 2-0, with most sportswriters putting the finishing touches on the team's obituary -- is an us-against-the-world spot where they've spent much of the year thriving.
Thanks in part to the never-say-die mentality of manager Kirk Gibson, the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks led all of baseball with 48 come-from-behind victories this season. In more than half of the team's 94 victories, they trailed. And that doesn't take into account the numerous games where the team mounted a comeback only to eventually lose.
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It's the reason several Diamondbacks stood up in the clubhouse minutes after Sunday's 9-4 Game 2 loss to Milwaukee and told their teammates, "It isn't over." It's why Gibson got in front of his team before Monday afternoon's Chase Field workout and reminded them they won three in a row 12 times this year, including nine in a row after losing six straight.
Sure, under the current best-of-five playoff system, teams that trail 2-0 have come back to win just four of 40 series. And it's never happened in the National League. But that doesn't mean the defiant Diamondbacks are going to just slither off into the desert night.
"I do find it amusing that the series isn't over yet," Gibson said. "There are probably many who wrote us off before the series started and certainly have now. But we don't subscribe to that."
Veteran shortstop Willie Bloomquist agrees.
"It's going to be the toughest test we've had all year long," he said. "But it can be done. We're not going to fold up our tents and leave just yet.
"We've seen a lot of crazy things this year. We know what we're capable of."
Crazy things. Like on Aug. 9, when Arizona trailed Houston 7-1 but wound up winning 11-9. Or just last week in Los Angeles, when they trailed the Dodgers 6-1 in the bottom of the 10th with two outs and nobody on, but won 7-6 after scoring six runs, the last four on a Ryan Roberts walk-off grand slam. Over the course of the season, the Diamondbacks have mounted ninth-inning rallies against Phillies starter Roy Halladay and Padres closer Heath Bell.
So Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee's starter for Game 3?
Brewers closer John Axford?
"It comes from understanding that there's no clock in this game," Bloomquist said. "There's 27 outs and you don't give up on anything. Down five runs in the ninth with two outs, you don't give up. We're going to make them earn it."
Arizona flashed some of that moxie in Game 2, coming back from a 4-1 deficit against Milwaukee to tie the game at 4-4. But then Brad Ziegler unraveled in the sixth, the Brewers went on a hit parade and the next thing you knew it was 9-4. Even then, the Diamondbacks put runners in scoring position in the seventh, eighth and ninth, but couldn't bring any of them home.
For Game 3, Gibson will turn to the most unlikely of candidates to save his team's season -- right-hander Josh Collmenter. Gibson refers to Collmenter as the "Ferris wheel" for his unique, over-the-top delivery. Collmenter began the 2010 season at the Diamondbacks' high Class A affiliate in the California League. Last fall he threw in the Arizona Fall league. This fall he's throwing in Arizona again -- only on baseball's postseason stage.
"I don't think last year I would have ever envisioned this happening," Collmenter said. "Maybe thought about it or dreamed about it. But when it gets down to reality, you don't think this is going to happen."
Gibson and the D-backs believe in the 25-year-old righty. And given his dominance against the Brewers this season, they have good reason. In two starts against Milwaukee, Collmenter hasn't allowed a run in 14 innings. He's struck out 10 while surrendering just six hits. Of additional comfort is the fact that the Diamondbacks will be playing at home, where a sellout crowd of close to 50,000 is expected.
It's going to be the toughest test we've had all year long. But it can be done. We're not going to fold up our tents and leave just” -- Diamondbacks SS Willie Bloomquist
You would think it would be a given that every team would refuse to give up. That they wouldn't give away a single out, never mind a game. But you'd be wrong. Gibson and his All-Star staff of Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Alan Trammel, Eric Young and Charles Nagy have instilled in their players the never-say-die attitude since spring training. The rule is simple -- grind out every at-bat, every pitch. Never give up no matter the score. Or you can go play somewhere else.
"I've been on teams where you're down two runs in the late innings and it's over," Bloomquist said. "You ain't going to find that in this clubhouse. It doesn't matter if we're down two or 10. We feel like we can come back and win."
In exchange for never quitting, Gibson rewards his players with an uncommon trust. It's created a bond that has drawn Gibson criticism in the postseason after a series of questionable managerial decisions in Games 1 and 2. While Gibson said Monday he understands the critiques, Bloomquist finds it, well, ridiculous.
"That's bulls---. Total bulls---," Bloomquist said. "We won our division that way. For a manager who backs his players and has confidence in his players? You're going to criticize him? Anybody who second-guesses or criticizes him ... it's not a smart thing to do around us. Put it that way."
The best way to stop the questions and criticism, of course, is to win. And Arizona has one more chance to do that on Tuesday. Otherwise, its season will be over.
"We know what we need to do and we've done it before," Geoff Blum said.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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