PHILADELPHIA — Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo peered into the abyss on Aug. 11, 74 days before his team captured the National League pennant in an improbable, month-long ambush of their better-touted foes with a 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The prospect appeared remote only two months ago, when the Diamondbacks lost for the ninth consecutive game. The club had lost its hold on the NL West. A chance at the postseason looked to be fading. “We’ve got to get this thing to turn around,” Lovullo said. “Somehow. Some way.”
The Diamondbacks did not make a miraculous recovery. The club won the next day to end the skid. They won again the day after that. They won more than they lost the rest of the month. They won enough in September to squeak into the postseason, the sixth and final seed. They were an 84-win team with a run differential that suggested they should be worse. But they possessed a ticket to the dance. That was all Lovullo’s team required. Not since the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, an 83-game winner, has a club with this little regular season success reached the World Series.
Yes. It is true. The Diamondbacks are going to the World Series. You can say it again, if the sentence sounds foreign on the tongue. You can read it again, if it looks strange on the page. You can ponder, as many across baseball have, just how Arizona got here.
Ask the Diamondbacks if they care. Ask the 45,397 fans at Citizens Bank Park if they can believe it, not after Philadelphia won the first two games of this series and returned home after Game 5 needing only one more victory. Ask anyone in the sport if they predicted this — that person is probably fibbing.
In completing the comeback, earning its first World Series berth since 2001, Arizona displayed all the grit and hustle that carried them to this stage. Corbin Carroll, their sensational rookie outfielder, recorded three hits, scored twice and supplied a crucial seventh-inning sacrifice fly. Fellow rookie Gabriel Moreno delivered two RBI singles. The relief corps was steely behind a third rookie, starter Brandon Pfaadt, who avoided the barrels of Phillies sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper for four innings. Arizona reliever Kevin Ginkel did the same with Trea Turner and Harper to defuse a seventh-inning jam.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson was well-served in his decision to stick with third baseman Alec Bohm in the cleanup spot. Bohm supplied a home run and scored another run. But little else went right for Philadelphia. The lineup failed to cash in on opportunities in the fourth and the fifth, before Arizona pulled ahead. They put up little fight against Joe Mantiply, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Ginkel and Paul Sewald, a quintet of relievers who can spend the next few days studying the Texas Rangers. Game 1 of the World Series will take place on Friday evening at Globe Life Field.
To see the World Series without Philadelphia will be stunning. When these teams departed Philadelphia after Game 2 last week, this series looked close to decided. The Phillies captured the first two contests, including a 10-0 thrashing in Game 2. Arizona retreated to the desert without a credentialed starting pitcher lined up for the next two games. But Pfaadt turned in a sterling performance in Game 3. A day later, as Lovullo navigated a bullpen game, his hitters capitalized on odd strategic decisions by Thomson.
Thomson opted to pull his own starter, Cristopher Sánchez, midway through the third inning. Rather than use one of his two other starting pitchers, Taijuan Walker and Michael Lorenzen, for an inning or two, Thomson favored his regular relievers. The decision backfired when veteran Craig Kimbrel blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Arizona rallied to even the series. Philadelphia took Game 5 but dropped Game 6 on Monday, losing at Citizens Bank Park for the first time this postseason.
All of this set up something that felt unthinkable last week: The Phillies on the brink of collapse and the Diamondbacks on the brink of a pennant. And it also allowed Lovullo to burrow once more into his bag of receipts, an ongoing compilation of slights from the press and the public. The latest came from SiriusXM host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who vowed to “retire on the spot” if Arizona won.
The wager made Lovullo smile. He said he considers Russo a friend. “But I would love to see him quit if we won today,” Lovullo said. “You know what I mean? There’s nothing better than a wise guy New Yorker saying something and then having to chomp on those words.”
To Lovullo, Russo’s comment fit a pattern of this postseason: “There’s an overriding theme here that we, A, don’t deserve to be here, B, that we’re going to get our butts kicked, and, C, there’s bullies all over the National League that can manhandle us,” he said. “It really excites me to know that we’re playing in Game 7, and we’re right on the verge of doing something that’s unbelievable. And we love proving naysayers wrong.”
Thomson took a different approach. If Lovullo appeared to have his ears open to any national discourse about his club, Thomson appeared determined to avoid any chatter. He insisted he was not listening to complaints on local sports radio institution 94.1 WIP about his refusal to alter his lineup, leaving Bohm in the cleanup spot. “To move people around at this point just doesn’t make much sense to me,” Thomson said.
Arizona stressed the importance of scoring early to quiet the crowd. The team completed that task in Tuesday’s first inning. Rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll hit an infield single. Rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno flicked a single into right field. Carroll raced from first to third, where he scored on a groundout by Christian Walker, who lunged through the bag to beat out a double play.
Bohm brought the crowd back. He clobbered an elevated sinker from Pfaadt. The baseball landed in the left-field seats. It was only Bohm’s second extra-base hit of the series. The timing was exquisite. Harper left the dugout to applaud Bohm. Schwarber leaned over the railing to exhort the crowd.
Schwarber had a chance to keep the fans rolling in the third, after outfielder Brandon Marsh led off with a single and advanced on a bunt by outfielder Johan Rojas. But Pfaadt composed himself and struck out Schwarber for a second time. Pfaadt spotted a 2-2 sinker near the bottom of the zone, close enough for umpire Adam Hamari to ring Schwarber up. The inning ended when shortstop Trea Turner grounded a sweeper into the dirt to strand Marsh.
Bohm sparked the team again in the fourth. He took a one-out walk, passing on a series of errant fastballs, to set the table for Stott. Pfaadt tried a 2-2 sinker. Stott sent a slicing drive into left-center field, a double that scored Bohm to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead. A single by catcher J.T. Realmuto placed runners at the corners. Pfaadt limited the damage. He struck out slumping outfielder Nick Castellanos and Rojas.
The Diamondbacks did not stay down for long. A leadoff single from third baseman Emmanuel Rivera prompted movement in the Phillies bullpen. Jeff Hoffman, Thomson’s right-handed fireman, had been warming, off and on, since the second inning. He was prepared to face Moreno, a right-handed hitter. But before Thomson made a move, Carroll rolled a game-tying, two-out single up the middle for his third hit of the evening.
Carroll proceeded to torment Hoffman. As Hoffman made his first pitch, Carroll jetted into second base, swiping a bag like he did 54 times during the regular season. The extra 90 feet led to a run when Moreno dumped a slider into right field to put Arizona up, 3-2.
Hoffman stuck around into the seventh, when Thomson turned the game over to Jose Alvarado, perhaps his most trustworthy reliever. Alvarado was pitching for the fourth time in the series. The Diamondbacks looked comfortable. Gerardo Perdomo greeted him with a single. Ketel Marte smashed a double. Carroll overcame Alvarado’s platoon advantage to loft a 99.8 mph fastball deep enough into right to score Perdomo to double the advantage.
Lovullo’s bullpen subdued the Phillies in the final frames. Ginkel navigated a thorny patch in the seventh, getting both Turner and Harper to pop out. In the eighth, he struck out the side. In the ninth, Sewald overwhelmed the bottom of Philadelphia’s lineup. The final out nestled into Carroll’s glove in right field, a harmless fly struck by pinch hitter Jake Cave. The crowd shuffled toward the exits as Carroll sprinted toward his teammates.
The Phillies were going home. The Diamondbacks were going to the World Series. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t predict it. Arizona turned this series, and this season, around. Somehow. Some way.
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)