As Sam Sees It<br>

The Arizona Diamondbacks made an absolutely brilliant trade just before the trading deadline expired. The acquisition of pitcher Curt Schilling from Philadelphia could well pay the best of dividends: a pennant and possibly more.

Schilling is a Phoenix native, a Shadow Mountain High School graduate and one of the best pitchers in the game today. More than that, he is a fine athlete who can hit, bunt and field his position well. He knows how to play the game and does so fiercely.

The Diamondbacks made a key trade in 1999 when they acquired closer Matt Mantei for the stretch run. He had a lot to do with the winning of the National League Western Division. Schilling has already won his first three starts, two of them complete games, in impressive fashion and is likely responsible for the team still being near the top of the division. With Randy Johnson, he gives the Diamondbacks the best one-two pitching combination in baseball.

Arizona players have not had the career level years many of them enjoyed last season. Injuries have taken a heavy toll. Yet, this team has stayed at or near the top of its division all season. There is no reason to expect the same type of fantastic finish experienced in '99 (one can hope, though). However, Schilling and Johnson should be enough to insure against total collapse either.

This race will very likely be decided in head to head competition with the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, it would not be surprising to see the three game series at Bank One Ballpark with the Giants on the final weekend of the season be for the pennant.

General Manager Joe Garagiola, Jr. and anyone else involved in arranging for the acquiring of Schilling deserves the highest of praise. It has already paid dividends by keeping an otherwise slipping contender in the race. If some of the D-Back batters can break out of their collective slumps, it could pay a lot more before the final chapter is written.

One prominent columnist, Pedro Gomez of The Arizona Republic, has apparently decided that what is "wrong" with the Diamondbacks is mostly Manager Buck Showalter. He is not only wrong, his musings in public could prove harmful to the team.

One constant of virtually all successful sports programs at any level is stability. Those teams and organizations which change coaches and managers with great frequency can usually be found near the bottom of the standings.

Given the extent of the injuries to and less than spectacular performances by key players, Showalter should be praised for keeping Arizona in contention at all.

You have read some criticism of Showalter's strategy in this column on occasion. However, that doesn't mean that he is wrong or not a good coach. He doesn't have to agree with me to be good. Far from being canned, he should be named "Coach of the Year" instead.

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