As Sam Sees It

Congratulations go to the Arizona Diamondbacks for winning the National League Western Division pennant.

The team clinched at least a tie for the pennant on Albie Lopez’s 5-0, three-hit shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers early Friday evening. Several hours later the 11-10 Los Angeles Dodgers victory over the San Francisco Giants assured the Diamondbacks would host National League Divisional Play-off games on Tuesday and today (Oct. 10). Their opponent will be the St. Louis Cardinals.

This was the second divisional championship in the short four-year history of the Diamondbacks. It did not come easily. The Giants rode a historic season by Bobby Bonds, who eclipsed Mark McGwire’s home run record with his 71st and 72nd on Friday, and a superb effort from shortstop Rich Aurelia. San Francisco was still in contention as the last series of the year began. The Dodgers had a raft of injuries to overcome, including losing most of their starting pitchers, but manager Jim Tracy worked enough magic to keep them in the race until their last series with Arizona.

The Diamondbacks had plenty of heroes, including some most unlikely ones at the start of the season. Luis Gonzalez had a MVP year. (Bonds will get the award, but Gonzo had rather have the pennant anyway.) No doubt there would be no post season without Gonzo, clearly this team’s most valuable player.

The biggest surprise of all had to be the magnificent play of Craig Counsel, who began the season as a utility player and ended it as arguably the second most important regular. Counsel is so solid that you can truthfully say he almost never makes a mistake.

Reggie Sanders is another player who gave the Diamondbacks far more production than could have been expected and “carried” the team during an important stretch.

Tony Womack and Steve Finley each started poorly, but both bounced back and played their best baseball when the pennant was on the line.

Mark Grace and Matt Williams gave veteran leadership and were key clogs in the Arizona machine. Jay Bell had a sub-par year, but kept his game face on and contributed when given the opportunity.

Damian Miller was more than solid behind the plate and became an offense threat as well as a skilled defensive catcher.

Danny Bautista, David Dellucci, Erubriel Durazo and Junior Spivey gave Arizona one of the best benches in baseball.

The strength of this team, though, is its pitching. It won’t happen, but this writer would like to see co-Cy Young Awards given to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. You can certainly make a case for either. Miguel Batista has become a solid starter and Albie Lopez has had some awesome outings, especially his last two. B.K. Kim, when right, is as good a “closer” as there is.

Then there is manager Bob Brenly, who really deserves to be named as the “Manager of the Year”. He pushed all of the right buttons consistently all year and has the results to prove it.

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