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Kirk Gibson is ready to take charge as D'backs' 2011 manager.

Kirk Gibson is ready to take charge as D'backs' 2011 manager.

Kirk Gibson took over as interim manager of the last-place Diamondbacks on July 1 and worked with interim general manager Jerry DiPoto. Now DiPoto is gone, replaced as general manager by Kevin Towers on Sept. 22.

Will Towers retain Gibson? Chances are he will, since Towers has talked extensively with and has been impressed by Gibson, whom he didn’t really know previously. Gibson said, “I think that in the end, if given the opportunity, I can change the environment.”

Starting Aug. 17, the Diamondbacks began a stretch that included playing 32 of their final 44 games against contending teams, a stretch that made Gibson wistful and long to be playing meaningful games against those teams rather than be guiding an also-ran club.

“Ultimately, we want to enjoy this,” Gibson said. “We want to be them. Does everybody on the team understand that? Probably not. We’re getting better at it. I’ll continue to talk about it. When I watch the Giants and I watch the Rockies (before they were eliminated) and we watch Cincinnati, it brings back memories to me of what it was like to be a player and do that. I hear people say in the clubhouse, ‘We just want to have fun.’ That’s (expletive) fun! It fires me up to be able to be in this environment. Ultimately, we want to control our destiny and be that team. That’s my goal.”

Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Gibson, who was the bench coach under fired Arizona manager A.J. Hinch, has faced the most difficult managerial task, taking the helm on the fly. To which Gibson smiled and pointed out that Tracy, the Rockies bench coach who replaced Clint Hurdle as manager May 29, 2009, and guided the team to the wild card, had a lot more success than Gibson in a similar circumstance.

“As I sit and watch the games and watch how we play, and some of the things we need to do better that they just don’t understand, we need to ultimately teach them and get them to understand how to do it,” Gibson said. “I’m hoping I get the opportunity to have a fresh start and to implement things, and have a method to it and see how it works. That part’s challenging. You just can’t change everything overnight.

“But we have a really good nucleus of players here. There are some guys that I think have a similar attitude to mine about what we’re after. We have a nice foundation. So it’s doable.”

Gibson’s managerial foundation can be traced to Jim Leyland and Sparky Anderson. The latter managed Gibson when he came to the majors with Detroit in 1979. After signing with the Tigers in 1978, Gibson played for Leyland at Class A Lakeland in the Florida State League and the following year at Triple-A Evansville in the American Association.

“He had the first influence and impact on me,” Gibson said. He just treated me like everybody else. That was the message. He wanted me to learn how to play the game and do it right.”

Gibson, who is from the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, was an All-America football player at Michigan State, went out to play baseball there just to possibly increase his marketability for the NFL and became an All-America in baseball, too. He remembers Leyland picking him up at the airport in Miami where Lakeland was playing and dispensing with any niceties and small talk.

“So now I’m going down to play 50 games in the Florida State League and then come back and play my senior year in football,” Gibson said. “How much higher can you be? You’re going back to play football. You’re a star there at Michigan State. You’re an All-American in football. You’re an All-American in baseball. You just got drafted by your hometown team, the Tigers. How full of myself was I? Not that I meant anything harmful by it.

“I got in the car, and he laid into me about how he didn’t give a (darn) who I was and what the (expletive) I had accomplished at this point. ‘You got a lot to learn down here, kid. And I’ll tell you one thing — we’re going to be up everyday (on the field) at 8 o’clock. You want to go out and get (messed) up, that’s fine, but you’ll be with me at 8 o’clock. You and me, only you and me.’

“I looked at him and said, ‘Bring it on (expletive)’  We went at it like competitively. Did it all through A ball and the next year in Evansville. I’d work out at 8 o’clock with him and go home and nap and then workout with the team and play a game. He was very committed to me. What he wanted me to know was what I had accomplished meant nothing to this point because there’s other people down here who could play pretty damn good, too.”

Anyone who has ever been around Gibson, 53, knows how utterly intense he was as a player and how borderline approachable he was to those in the media. The seriousness is still there, along with an all-business attitude. It’s not as if he’s mellowed, but he has the wisdom that comes from experience, the ability to reflect and draw from the past, the ability to communicate well and an uncanny way to get right to the heart of the matter. And as for that business of making the transition from a coach one day to the manager and authority figure the next, Gibson said, “I don’t even look at it that way. We’re very adaptive to our situation; if you don’t, you get eaten up. It’s always a challenge.

“There’s probably nobody more critical of me than me; that’s how I was as a player. I’ll continue to do that,” he added. “At the same time, if take an 0-for-5 and make an error and we lose the game, you can only beat your own self up so much. You’ve got another game, for crying out loud. It’s the same as a manager.”

 

 

Ubaldo Jimenez, who is 19-8 with a 2.99 ERA, will have his third and final chance to win his 20th game Saturday when he starts for the Rockies at St. Louis.  At the All-Star break, Jimenez was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA. But in the second half, he has gone 4-7 with a 4.15 ERA.

Jimenez was handed a 4-0 lead before taking the mound at Arizona on Sept. 22 but gave up five hits, four walks and five runs in four innings and took the loss as the Rockies fell 8-4. He gave up two homers in that game, ending a franchise-record string of not allowing more than one homer in 84 consecutive starts. Jimenez hadn’t done that since June 6, 2008.

Jimenez went 9-2 with a 3.19 ERA at Coors Field where he made his final start Monday. He gave up two runs and two hits in the first to the Dodgers, no runs and one hit in his final six innings and lost 3-1.

The day after his poor start at Arizona, when the Rockies had 11 games remaining and were three games behind in both the NL West and wild-card races, Jimenez mused about his situation.

“If I don’t win 20 and we still make the playoffs, I’m going to be happy about it,” he said. “But if we don’t make it and I don’t win 20, I’m going to be disappointed, especially the way I started the season.”

Jimenez has a career-high 204 strikeouts, the second-highest total in club history and needs six in his final start to tie the club record of 210 set by Pedro Astacio in 1999.
 

When the Phillies clinched the NL East with an 8-0 win Monday at Washington behind Roy Halladay, it gave them a 20-5 record in September (the Phillies are now 21-6 in the month). They entered September month trailing the Braves by three games.

The Phillies opted to play an eight-day Division Series starting Oct. 6, which is ideal because it allows them to use Halladay, Cole Hammels and Roy Oswalt, their three dominant starters, on normal rest in a five-game series.

Halladay, who has won his past five starts, is 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA this season and will likely be the winner of the National League Cy Young Award. Hammels is 5-1 with a 1.55 ERA in his past six starts. Oswalt is 7-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 12 starts with the Phillies since being acquired from the Astros.

 

The Dodgers are 78-81 and must sweep their three-game series against Arizona to avoid their first losing season since 2005, when they finished 71-91. Los Angeles has finished below .500 just three times since 1990 — 1992, 1999 and 2005.

“It’s always nice to win,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said, “but unfortunately that’s the best we can do is .500.”

That possibility exists because the Dodgers swept a three-game series at Colorado, winning three games by a total of five runs. The Dodgers went 6-3 at Coors Field this season, where they are 72-60 all-time.

“We’ve had some success here,” Torre said Wednesday after the Dodgers completed their sweep. “It's never comfortable playing here, because you’re never safe. They’re capable of doing things, not only because of the thin air but because of their ability. It’s not easy to sweep, but they had a little air taken out of their sails against the Giants. That was a big series for them, and by the time we came in here, they were fighting this uphill battle, knowing they had to go to St. Louis for four days (to finish the season). And that certainly wouldn’t have been an easy task for them.”

 

The Rockies were one game behind in the National League West entering play Sept. 19. That day, the Rockies jumped out to a 6-1 lead at Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw, who had held the Rockies scoreless for 29 consecutive innings at Dodger Stadium. Colorado ended up losing 7-6 in 11 innings, the start of a 1-9 slide that ended the Rockies’ postseason hopes (they were officially eliminated Tuesday). Eight of those nine losses were by two or fewer runs.

“We’ve been playing an awful lot of catch-up baseball over the last 10 days,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Wednesday after the Dodgers jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third and held on to win 7-6 and complete their sweep, “and that’s not a very good formula for success as our record would indicate.”

 

Before the arrival of the Dodgers, the Rockies dropped two of three to the Giants.

Tim Lincecum held the Rockies to two hits and one run in eight innings and won 2-1 on Friday. Matt Cain pitched a three-hitter and won 3-1 on Sunday.

Those two wins were sandwiched around San Francisco’s 10-9 loss in 10 innings Saturday, which ended a streak of 18 consecutive games in which the Giants allowed three runs or fewer. That was tied for the third-longest streak of all-time and longest since 1917, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and the longest since the end of the Dead Ball Era in 1919.

The 1917 White Sox allowed three or fewer runs in 20 consecutive games and the 1916 Giants did it in 19 consecutive games.

Cain held the Rockies hitless for 7.1 innings, the fifth time in his career he has carried a no-hitter to the seventh inning. His low-hit complete games are two one-hitters, including one this season May 28 against the Diamondbacks. Against the Rockies, Cain gathered steam as the game went on. He retired the Rockies in order through four innings without any strikeouts, but fanned eight in the final five innings.
Cain, Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez give the Giants a formidable trio of starters for the postseason.

In 14 starts since the All-Star break, Cain is 7-2 with a 2.38 ERA (26 earned runs, 98 innings). Cain is 3-0 with a 1.95 ERA and four walks and 29 strikeouts in 37 innings over five starts in September, which has been a stunning turnaround month for Lincecum.

He went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA in five August starts with 13 walks, 27 strikeouts and 27 hits allowed in 25.1 innings. In six starts in September, Lincecum is 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA and has eight walks and 52 strikeouts in 41.2 innings with 31 hits allowed.

As for Sanchez, he's 3-1 with a 1.17 ERA in five starts in September. He has 200 strikeouts in 188.1 to become just the fourth left-handed pitcher in the long history of the Giants franchise to reach 200 strikeouts. Ray Sadecki, 206 strikeouts in 1968, is the only other lefthander to accomplish that feat in San Francisco When the franchise was in New York, Cy Seymour had 239 strikeouts in 1898 and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard had 237 strikeouts in 1911.

 

Sanchez isn’t the only lefthander making strikeouts history with his club. Kershaw, who will not make his final scheduled start and whose season ended Sept. 24, finished the season 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 201.1 innings. The only two left-handed pitchers in franchise history with more strikeouts are Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax from 1961-1966 — he ran off strikeout totals of 269, 216, 306, 223, 382 and 317 in those six seasons — and Fernando Valenzuela with 240 strikeouts in 1984 and 242 in 1986.

 

The Padres have gone 12-21 dating to Aug. 26 when they lost the first of 10 straight games and have seen their lead of 6½ games over the Giants become a two-game deficit with four games remaining in the season, the final three at San Francisco. The Padres are 1½ games behind in the wild card.

Mat Latos, 22, has hit a wall, going 0-4 with a 10.13 ERA in his past four starts and allowing 29 hits and 20 runs, 18 earned, in 16 innings. Latos was on the 15-day disabled list about the outset of the All-Star break but has still logged 178.2 innings.

 

The Pirates finished 40-41 at home but are a ghastly 16-61 on the road with four games remaining at Florida, where the Marlins are 38-39 and went 3-6 on their last homestand against the Phillies, Cubs and Cardinals. Pittsburgh is assured of losing more road games in franchise history for any team that played an 81-game road schedule. The Pirates have won five road games since the All-Star break — July 27-28 at Colorado, Aug. 31 at Chicago, Sept. 12 at Cincinnati and Tuesday at St. Louis.

The Pirates also have a run differential of minus 276, which far and away is the worst in the majors. The Orioles (minus 176) have the worst run differential in the American League. And in the National League, the Diamondbacks are a very distant second to the Pirates with a minus 119 run differential.

The Pirates have 102 losses, not necessarily surprising for a team mired in its 18th consecutive losing season, a professional sports record. But this is just the second time in that dismal stretch that the Pirates have lost 100 games. When they opened PNC Park in 2001, the Pirates lost 100 games. They haven’t endured this many defeats since 1985 (104). The Pirates modern-day franchise record for losses is 112 in 1952.

 

Carlos Zambrano has gone 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Cubs in 10 starts since returning to their rotation Aug. 9. After his blowup in the dugout June 25, Zambrano was put on the restricted list, participated in anger management therapy and made three relief appearances upon rejoining the team. During his 10-start stretch, Zambrano has allowed 41 hits and nine earned runs in 64 innings with 37 walks and 45 strikeouts.

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Jack Etkin