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MLB Playoff Roundup: Diamondbacks force Game 7

This captivating series will come down to a winner-take-all Game 7 in Philly.

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

What an incredible League Championship Series round we’re witnessing! Yesterday was already the first time since 2004 that a Game 6 and Game 7 in the LCS occurred on the same day, and now that the Diamondbacks kept their season alive with a 5-1 victory over the Phillies, we have a pair of Game 7’s for the first time since 2020.

As Josh recounted a little while ago, the Rangers punched their ticket to the Fall Classic following this game last night, where they will await the winner of the sudden death Game 7 tonight in Philly.

NLCS Game 6

Arizona Diamondbacks 5, Philadelphia Phillies 1

(Series tied, 3-3)

The Diamondbacks always had an uphill task after falling behind 2-0 in the series and even more so having to face Aaron Nola in a must-win Game 6 to force Game 7. The Phillies’ co-ace might’ve experienced a down regular season by his lofty standards, with a 4.46 ERA and fWAR falling short of four wins for the first full season since 2019. However, he had been absolute nails this postseason, tossing seven shutout against the Marlins, 5.2 innings of two-run ball against Atlanta, and six shutout in Game 2 this series. That all added up to a 0.96 ERA with 19 strikeouts against two walks in three starts entering today, but the Arizona hitters had different plans on this particular afternoon.

Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. exploded this game into life, leading off the second with back-to-back home runs. Both were hit over 106 mph and both traveled over 400 feet to give the Diamondbacks an early 2-0 lead.

They weren’t finished in the frame, as Alek Thomas drew a walk before an Evan Longoria double drove him home. Nola managed to bear down at this point, retiring the next three batters to strand Longoria at third, but he found himself in the unfamiliar position of having put his team in a 3-0 hole through two.

Philadelphia managed to claw some of that back in the bottom-half, a Brandon Marsh single driving home J.T. Realmuto after the latter’s leadoff double. However, that is all the damage Arizona starter Merrill Kelly would surrender, as he’d go on to turn in arguably the biggest pitching performance of his life. The 35-year-old righty pitched in KBO for four seasons after spending five years in the Rays’ minor league system and has become a stalwart of the Arizona rotation since he signed in 2019. He started this postseason off strong, tossing 6.1 scoreless against the Dodgers. However, after giving up four runs including three home runs in his team’s 10-0 Game 2 loss, there had to be some nerves around the D-back fanbase handing him the ball with the season on the line.

In fact, after that second inning, all five Arizona pitchers to take the field pretty much stonewalled the opposition batting order. The Phillies would never manage more than a lone baserunner in each of the final seven innings. Most importantly, Kelly and the quartet of relievers to follow him held the vaunted trio atop the Phillies lineup at bay. Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Bryce Harper entered the contest with OPS’ well in excess of 1.000 and a combined 13 home runs this postseason, however they went a combined 0-for-9 today with three walks and four strikeouts.

Kelly finished his outing giving up the one run on three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in five innings, while Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Kevin Ginkel, and Paul Sewald combined to toss four scoreless to ice the contest.

The Diamondbacks continued to create separation from their opponents, this time by chipping away in the middle innings rather that rely on the big blow. They added one in the fifth on a Ketel Marte triple to drive in Corbin Carroll after his one-out single. Marte drove in another in the seventh, his single bringing home Geraldo Perdomo after shortstop led off with a single and stole second. It continues a red-hot postseason for Marte, whose 2-for-5 day raised his 2023 postseason average to .375 with a pair of home runs, seven RBI, 1.025 OPS and 214 wRC+ in 11 games.

And so we will be treated to a historic Game 7 between these two teams. The Phillies have somehow never played in a Game 7 in their entire 141-year history, while the Diamondbacks last did it in 2001 (as we know all too well).

It’ll be a matchup of two pitchers coming off brilliant performances in Game 3, with Arizona rookie Brandon Pfaadt having pitched 5.2 scoreless with nine strikeouts in Game 3 to out-duel Ranger Suárez and his 5.1 scoreless with seven strikeouts. It should be a brilliant contest to determine the NL’s entrant into the World Series, so buckle up.