World Series 2023

PHOENIX — The Chase Field crowd stood and roared as the first World Series game since 2001 unfolded in front of them. Their cheers echoed the support Phillies fans had shown for a struggling Trea Turner. This time, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ fans getting behind Christian Walker, the team’s longest-tenured player and a player batting just .167 in the postseason. As the second inning began in Game 3, Walker stepped up to the plate in a scoreless game.

The Texas Rangers’ Max Scherzer delivered a first-pitch fastball, and much to everyone’s surprise, Walker connected for a double. It was his first extra-base hit in Arizona’s playoff games and only his fourth in total. Two pitches later, Tommy Pham hit a line drive toward Rangers right fielder Adolis García with incredible force.

Walker hesitated, unsure if the ball hit at 101.8 mph would be caught. When he realized it was going to drop, he made a sprint for home plate.

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In the next few seconds that followed, the Diamondbacks experienced a gut-wrenching turn of events. Trying to compensate for his slow reaction, Walker focused on making a tight turn around third base. He didn’t notice third-base coach Tony Perezchica’s stop sign and instead proceeded to run. García, known for his throwing skills, sent a precise throw to home plate, resulting in an easy out for the catcher Jonah Heim. Instead of having runners on the corners with no outs, the Diamondbacks now only had Pham on second with one out, and their momentum was gone.

In the very next inning, the Rangers secured the three runs they needed for a 3-1 victory. A Marcus Semien RBI single and a powerful Corey Seager homer sealed Arizona’s fate. The chance to gain an advantage in the World Series slipped through their fingers.

“That was a huge momentum swing,” said Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. “You’re looking at first and third potentially, and no outs. We can only imagine what could have happened. The timing would have been different. We might have scored multiple runs. You never know.”

Walker, the 32-year-old first baseman who proved his worth after the Paul Goldschmidt trade, took immediate responsibility, admitting it was an honest mistake.

“I was probably trying to do too much there,” he said. “I should have been more aware.”

Aggressive baserunning has been a key characteristic of the Diamondbacks this season. Bolstered by fast players like Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas, Arizona stole 166 bases, which ranked second in the league. Their success rate of 86% was also among the best. They were also one of the top teams in taking extra bases, like scoring from second on a single, similar to what Walker attempted to do.

Perezchica, the third-base coach, recently mentioned that he had been sending more runners home this season. This approach led to more runners getting thrown out but also increased pressure on the defense and resulted in more close-scoring plays.

Walker undoubtedly expected to reach home plate successfully. This season, whenever there was a single hit with Walker on second, he scored 14 times and only stayed at third twice. This was a significant improvement from previous seasons, where it was around a 50/50 chance.

Before the World Series began, Walker discussed the team’s emphasis on running. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy but rather part of their identity. The Diamondbacks’ “contagious” enthusiasm inspired Walker to steal a career-high 11 bases without being caught.

“It’s not like we go into the game thinking, ‘Hey, guys, remember to run fast today.’ It’s more like, ‘No, this is just who we are.’ You can’t slow us down,” Walker explained before Game 1.

However, the Rangers managed to halt their speed. Perhaps it was a case of the Diamondbacks undermining themselves, feeling deflated after Walker’s mistake and struggling to regain their momentum after Jon Gray replaced the injured Scherzer. Lovullo mentioned that his team felt flat for a few innings, and by the time they attempted a comeback against the Texas bullpen, it was too late.

Despite the loss, there was a silver lining for Walker. His postseason slump showed signs of improvement in Game 3, which could have significant implications. In the regular season, he hit 33 home runs with a 123 OPS+, making him a key run-producer for Arizona. In addition to his double, he had two other well-hit balls, indicating a return to form.

Reflecting on the loss that put them at a 2-1 disadvantage in the World Series, Walker pondered the limits of effort and willpower in a game that relies on timing and unforeseen circumstances.

“I think less is more for me,” he said. “You know, it’s the World Series, and we want to win so bad, but we also need to let the game come to us. I think that’s what makes us dangerous.”

The Diamondbacks’ mantra of “embrace the chaos” mainly serves as marketing, but it accurately captures their lightning-fast speed and their ability to defy expectations in the playoffs. Walker acknowledges that it can be misleading and understands why there might be confusion. However, he doesn’t want one mistake to overshadow their entire approach.

“The chaos implies playing with wild abandon,” he said. “And I think that’s a bit misleading. We’re really good at seizing opportunities when they arise. And I believe that’s how we will win.”


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