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D-backs manager resilient, accountable in face of early season criticism

PHOENIX — When Kirk Gibson arrived at Chase Field Friday, he entered a ballpark that his team had played to a 1-9 record in thus far this season. “Home” — meant to be a welcome sight — was instead an albatross for the skipper.

If the venue trends continued, many speculated, Gibson may not finish the homestand as the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“When you get in situations like we’re in, you’re going to have comments from different people with different perspectives,” he told the media with a sterner tone than usual prior to Friday’s series opener versus the Philadelphia Phillies.

And despite a winning streak which was stretched to three on Friday, the situation the Diamondbacks are in still bears a semblance of direness.

At 8-18, the team remains 10 games sideways of the trajectory of its previous two seasons — .500 — with the National League’s worst record. Their run differential is a hideous -56 and they’re already 6.5 games back of the San Francisco Giants in their division.

At one point during a recent seven-game road trip to Los Angeles and Chicago, Gibson’s team found themselves 5-18 on the season and 1-4 on the jaunt, mired in a 1-10 slump after getting swept in both series of its previous homestand. Naturally, the volume level of those calling for the manager’s termination was rising as the company of such grew.

Their cry hardly missed a beat Thursday, when the Diamondbacks won their second straight game at Wrigley Field to split the series. The tune just changed, writing off the wins as irrelevant, as they were earned against the perennially lowly Cubs.

But it wouldn’t drown out the always-optimistic, blue-collared Gibson nor a vocal few of his veteran players.

“The kind of start we got off to, I don’t know if you can explain it other than we have just played horribly,” infielder Eric Chavez said prior to the Diamondbacks’ 5-4 win Friday. “It’s completely on the players. We take full responsibility for our lack of production on the field. We have to get it done in here, in this clubhouse.”

Chavez was the second player over the last week to voluntarily throw himself in front of the fiery criticisms being heaved at his manager. Catcher Miguel Montero preceded him in the act Thursday in Chicago while talking with reporters.

And he did so yet again Friday, calling the media to his locker to reiterate his comments about both Gibson and another subject of censure — general manager Kevin Towers.

“I feel really uncomfortable seeing all the comments about their jobs,” Montero said.

“They’ve been doing their job. It’s up to us to go out and do our jobs. They don’t play the game for us.”

The oft-long-winded Montero didn’t stop there.

“The blame is on us. We all think the same. So, we go out and win 10 games (in a row) — now what? So they’re doing better? No, we are playing better.”

When asked what it meant for his players to vocalize their support, Gibson was quick to shoo away the topic altogether, though saying he respected the gesture. He also took a moment to jab back at platformed critics.

“It’s obviously appreciated, yet, that doesn’t get us a win,” he said. “I’m focused on trying to prepare these guys to be able to be successful.

“I know, from the media, there’s guys from both sides of the aisle. Sometimes you get stories that are pre-made in one way and pre-made in the other way and they go find the quotes to support their story. I’m pretty open right now. You know, we’re pretty susceptible — take your shot.”

The show of resilience, confidence and optimism didn’t come in a vacuum, but harmonized with a pitch which could be heard from Gibson throughout his managerial career with the Diamondbacks. He has long been known not to loom nor entertain negative topics.

Such was the case pregame Friday when questions about his job security kept on rolling in.

“I’m just going to tell you guys — don’t ask me about this every day because I won’t respond to it,” he said, cutting off a reporter. “I come out here and bust my ass and I’m a believer that we can fix the position we’re in and I’ll push that one way or the other. That’s as simple as it is.”

On Friday night, for just the second time this season, post-game music was playing in the Diamondbacks home clubhouse.

The first song heard by the media entering the clubhouse was — shockingly and randomly — Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.”

It was all too fitting.

“Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?” the chorus begs.

Indeed, Gibson’s team nearly blew a 4-0 lead in the last three innings, hanging on to win by a thread with the game-tying run standing on second and the go-ahead run on first — yet another bullpen collapse apparently afoot. With a loss, the Diamondbacks would have fallen to 1-12 at home.

“Nothing’s ever easy, is it?” the manager was asked at the end of his post-game press conference.

“It’s not supposed to be,” he replied with a smirk.