‘Scrappy’ D-backs rally again to top Phillies, tie NLCS in Game 4

Jeff PassanESPNOct 21, 2023, 02:07 AM ET5 Minute Read

PHOENIX — First they conquered the champions of the National League Central. Then they vanquished the NL West champions. Among the thrilling triumphs of the Arizona Diamondbacks this October, their remarkable 6-5 comeback victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against Philadelphia showcased the essence of the Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks may not be the most renowned or the most skilled team in baseball, but in the unpredictable realm of postseason play, those qualities are inconsequential.

“When we achieve accomplishments like this,” proclaimed Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, “the baseball world should recognize that the Arizona Diamondbacks are an exceptional baseball team.”

Following the tied series on Friday, there was no denying the Diamondbacks’ greatness. It wasn’t just the electrifying two-run home run by pinch hitter Alek Thomas off Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning that leveled the score, or the subsequent go-ahead RBI single by catcher Gabriel Moreno. Despite the shortage of starting pitchers, the Diamondbacks skillfully navigated a bullpen game, keeping the score close enough for their young core to deliver the crucial plays.

Thomas, Moreno, All-Star outfielder Corbin Carroll, and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo are all just 23 years old – yet each has demonstrated exceptional performance during this postseason, propelling the Diamondbacks from possessing the worst record to being on the cusp of the World Series.

“There is an incredible level of excitement in our clubhouse,” Lovullo gleefully exclaimed. “We have a group of 23-year-olds who consistently perform at a high level, and when the time comes for them to act their age, they certainly do. It is an absolute pleasure for me to witness this outstanding moment for our organization.”

Thomas, who had been demoted to Triple-A in May and spent a month there before returning to become a Gold Glove finalist in center field, had notched a hitless performance in Philadelphia during the first two NLCS games. He was benched for Games 3 and 4 but made an impact by scoring the game-tying run as a pinch-runner in the previous comeback win. In Friday’s game, Kimbrel entered in the eighth inning with the Phillies leading 5-3. After surrendering a leadoff double to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kimbrel faced Thomas, who had been substituted for third baseman Emmanuel Rivera. Lovullo had contemplated reserving Thomas for a later moment and utilizing rookie Jordan Lawlar for a bunt, but ultimately decided to stick with Thomas. Kimbrel threw a series of curveballs and fastballs, but on the sixth pitch, Thomas connected with a 94-mph fastball and drove it 412 feet over the right-center-field fence into the pool area at Chase Field. The crowd of 47,806 erupted, emulating the fervor of the Citizens Bank Park crowd that had bolstered the Phillies throughout October.

“I have complete trust in Torey and the coaching staff,” Thomas affirmed. “So I remain prepared at all times. I won’t hang my head about not being in the lineup, but I knew I would eventually be called upon and I had to be ready.”

“Many doubted that we would make it this far, but ultimately none of that mattered,” Thomas added. “We believed in our clubhouse, our coaching staff, and every member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. It has truly been an extraordinary and unpredictable season, especially in the playoffs.”

The thrilling conclusion marked an extraordinary day of baseball, with the Houston Astros edging closer to the World Series. The Phillies seemed destined to join them, particularly as the Diamondbacks struggled in the middle innings. The starting pitching matchup did not initially seem consequential, with Philadelphia’s Cristopher Sanchez having not started a game in 26 days and Arizona’s Joe Mantiply being a left-handed reliever. Both pitchers managed to keep a clean slate in the first inning before the Diamondbacks secured runs in the second and third, eventually forcing Sanchez out of the game and causing Philadelphia to cycle through eight pitchers. The Diamondbacks matched their opponents, with Kyle Nelson and Miguel Castro conceding runs in the fourth and fifth innings, resulting in a tied score. However, Philadelphia took the lead in the sixth when rookie left-hander Andrew Saalfrank loaded the bases with walks, allowing two runs to score when Rivera made an errant throw to home plate. The Phillies maintained a 4-2 advantage until the teams exchanged runs in the seventh, followed by Philadelphia’s bullpen meltdown in the eighth.

“Belief is an immensely powerful force,” reflected 38-year-old veteran player Evan Longoria. “And I believe this is something we have demonstrated in the first two series, by establishing a rhythm and consistently applying pressure. Now, as we find ourselves in the NLCS, we are rediscovering that rhythm and it is truly formidable.”

Philadelphia must now reckon with the reality that their aura of invincibility has been shattered by a group of precocious youngsters who are oblivious to their own brilliance.

“They possess a higher payroll than us,” commented Perdomo. “They are undoubtedly talented. When you look at our lineup, you see many 23-year-old players. We may be young, but we can compete with them. We are proving that.”

Game 5 on Saturday night will provide another opportunity to showcase their mettle, featuring a tantalizing pitching matchup with Philadelphia’s ace Zack Wheeler squaring off against Arizona’s ace Zac Gallen. In Game 1 of the series, Wheeler pitched six excellent innings, with the only blemish being a two-run homer by Perdomo, while the Phillies exploited Gallen by hitting three home runs in the first two innings.

With both bullpens depleted from the past two days, no game this postseason will rely more heavily on the starting pitchers than Game 5.

“I would be astonished if that game ends with a 6-5 score,” remarked Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald, who recorded three strikeouts in the ninth to secure the save in Game 4. “It will be a challenging day for hitters when facing those two incredible pitchers. A 2-1 finish might decide the outcome.

“And we are just as determined as anyone.”


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