After all that sturm und drang about those poor 100-win behemoths who couldn’t make it past the little old Phillies or Diamondbacks, boy, were we ever treated to a pair of fantastic pennant chases! Fortunately for us tonight, those two squads gave us a much more competitive contest than the Rangers did in emphatically sending the Astros home last night. You’ll find all the details below, but in any case, congratulations to Arizona, who are four wins away from a title after prevailing in a tense, but well-fought, Game 7.
NLCS Game 7
Arizona Diamondbacks 4, Philadelphia Phillies 2
(Diamondbacks win series, 4-3)
Both teams traded small blows all game, scoring in quick succession, from the very outset. The visitors scratched one across first, driven by Corbin Carroll, who had an outstanding game at the plate after a mediocre series to that point. Carroll gave Ranger Suárez a lot to think about in the early going, hustling out a single on a ground ball that didn’t make it out of the right side of the infield, then hustling his way over to third base when Gabriel Moreno lined a single to right field. Then, all it took was a ground ball from Christian Walker to open up an early 1-0 lead.
It was the first strike in a banner night for Carroll, who became the second-youngest player to pick up three hits and two stolen bases in a playoff game. The only one to do it younger than his 23 years and 64 days of age? Ty Cobb, all the way back in the 1908 World Series at age 21. Good company!
The Phillies didn’t wait too long to strike back. Fresh off perhaps the best start of his career in Game 3, Brandon Pfaadt sat the top of the Phillies lineup down 1-2-3 to start his night. To start the second, though, Alec Bohm justified his manager’s defense of his spot in the lineup by turning around a high heater for a solo blast to tie things at one.
Tied at one is where things sat through three innings, as both Pfaadt and Suárez navigated through their opponent’s lineup once without much damage beyond the handful of at-bats just described. But the biggest test of Pfaadt’s career came in the fourth inning, as he worked through the heart of the Phillies order a second time. Bryce Harper started the inning by scorching a first-pitch line drive that Tommy Pham managed to run down, and then the streak of outstanding control that saw Pfaadt go without a walk in his previous two starts — and just one in the three before that — came to an end with a five-pitch walk to Alec Bohm. Five pitches later, he was home on Bryson Stott’s first extra-base hit of the series, an opposite-field double on a fastball that Stott managed to get his barrel inside of:
They weren’t finished yet either, with J.T. Realmuto following up Stott by offering at a first-pitch sweeper, rolling over it but getting just enough juice to guide it through the infield, though the runner was held at third. Pfaadt bounced back by striking out Nick Castellanos, making him hitless in his last 24 PAs, and the pitcher’s sixth punchout of the night. Pfaadt’s sweeper was positively filthy tonight; Phillies’ hitters swung at it 14 times, and they only made contact on four of them, a 71 percent whiff rate for those counting. Unfortunately, he had difficulty locating the edges of the plate with his fastball, and after striking out Castellanos, he walked Brandon Marsh to load the bases. With the bullpen getting loose, Torey Lovullo chose to ride out the inning with his young starter, and it paid off, as Pfaadt escaped with just a 2-1 deficit by striking out Johan Rojas to end the threat — and his night, after four innings.
Fortunately for Pfaadt, he wasn’t in position to take the loss for very long. The Diamondbacks bounced back to manufacture a run the old fashioned way and tie the game at two in their half of the fifth. Emmanuel River led off the inning by poking up one the middle, and Geraldo Perdomo successfully bunted him over to second, which isn’t as easy as it sounds, considering Suárez is among the league’s best fielders at his position. Ketel Marte, chasing Steve Finley’s franchise record of 26 postseason hits, struck out, but Corbin Carroll came through, singling through the infield to knot things up:
That was all she wrote for Suárez, who Rob Thomson relieved in favor of Jeff Hoffman after Carrol’s hit. Unfortunately for Hoffman, we’re in Game 7, and the Diamondbacks have seen him three times in the last week. Carroll seized upon Hoffman’s entry to steal his first base of the series, and came around to score moments later, courtesy of Gabriel Moreno:
Hoffman worked out of the inning, but that turned out to be the last lead the Phillies would have this season. Phillies hitters suddenly started looking like a team that was feeling the brink of elimination, failing to string anything together against Joe Mantiply or Ryan Thompson. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks tacked on a run in the top of the seventh inning, when Ketel Marte tied Finley with a double that moved Perdomo, who had welcomed José Alvarado to the game with a single, to third base. Carroll then put one deep enough into right field to make it a 4-2 lead for the Diamondbacks. It was also enough to remove Alvarado from the game. Pulling out all stops, Thomson turned to Zack Wheeler to keep them in the game the rest of the way — and finish the job, if necessary.
The Phillies weren’t totally cowed, though. Make no mistake, they had their chances. Despite two tough outings earlier in the series, Lovullo once again entrusted Andrew Saalfrank with retiring the Phils’ stable of lefties, and for the third time in four outings, Saalfrank just couldn’t find the plate. He struck out Brandon Marsh to open the seventh, but after back-to-back walks to Christian Pache and Kyle Schwarber brought up Trea Turner and Bryce Harper as the go-ahead runs. The energy was rising in Citizen’s Bank Park, and the momentum was shifting. Lovullo took the ball from Saalfrank and went with Kevin Ginkel, who responded with two huge outs to stem the turning tide and take Arizona’s lead to the eighth. By leverage, Ginkel might have been the MVP of the night: Not only did he escape Saalfrank’s jam, he came out for the eighth throwing absolute filth, inducing a bevy of check-swing whiffs on his slider and striking out the side.
Wheeler simply kept doing his thing, working around a walk of Christian Walker in the eighth, and retiring one hitter in the eighth before giving way to Matt Strahm, who finished the frame.
Then, in the ninth, as they say: Sewald Saves.
For the second time in franchise history, the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to the World Series, where they’ll be able to line up their ace Zac Gallen for a Game 1 start on Friday against the Rangers, who should have the luxury of picking between Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi as their man. Of course, Arizona’s first pennant came 22 years ago, when they beat the Yankees in one of the more memorable seven-game championships in recent memory. They had made one other NLCS appearance, a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies in 2007, with their other four October spots failing to advance past the NLDS.
Only one team — the 2006 Cardinals — has ever made the fall classic with fewer wins than the Diamondbacks’ 84 this year. And those Cardinals did at least win the NL Central, and were fresh off back-to-back 100-win seasons. This is certainly on the shortlist for the most unlikely World Series run of our lifetimes, and now, we’ll just have to see if they can finish the job.