D-backs celebrate postseason berth after historic turnaround

Sep 30, 2023, 11:15 PM

PHOENIX — Two years ago from Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks lost their 109th game of the 2021 season in which they finished 52-110.

At the time, the Houston Astros in 2015 were the only MLB club to climb out from 110 losses to the postseason within three years, according to MLB researcher Sarah Langs.

Now the D-backs have joined the list — along with this year’s Baltimore Orioles.

First baseman Christian Walker — who has been on the team since its last playoff appearance in 2017 — looked up at the scoreboard while on defense during Arizona’s game against the Houston Astros. He saw that the Cincinnati Reds had lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, locking Arizona into an NL Wild Card spot.

For those in the organization who survived the 2021 “disaster,” to experience the champagne and chlorine-covered celebration after they jumped into the Chase Field pool was all the more rewarding.

“A lot of these guys were here for the last few years and we feel like we really earned this, we pulled ourselves out of a funny situation and turned ourselves into some winners,” Walker said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”

“I think it makes it a little more special considering where we were and where we came from,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We lost 110 games two years ago, we just punched a ticket into the postseason. We’re one of the top teams in the National League. That didn’t happen by luck, it happened because we’re trustworthy group and we are ready to compete every single night.”

Lovullo said after signing a one-year extension in June that he still thinks about 2021 a lot as a motivator. He said that was a dark time for him internally, but he knew the young talent in the pipeline was coming.

Arizona’s postseason-clinching squad is a combination of youth, such as Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno, along with a corps of veterans, many of whom pushed through the 2021 campaign. They all celebrated together in the pool, chanting for whomever was next to jump in.

“The growth of the guys who we’ve had here since then and now obviously was a big part of it, as well,” starter Merrill Kelly said. “I think in this game, you guys have seen the big leagues for a long time, stuff happens fast. I don’t ever count us out. It’s exciting to see from where we were then and where we are now.”

The Diamondbacks ended up losing Saturday’s game to the Astros, 1-0. Houston clinched a playoff berth with the result, creating a rare situation in which both clubhouses celebrated, although the Astros stuck to a toast with the AL West in reach in Sunday’s season finale.

In that sense, they backed in, not the way the D-backs wanted to punch their ticket. But general manager Mike Hazen pointed out that the club’s play since the middle of August put them in position for this to happen.

The D-backs went on a 27-15 run to climb out from two games under .500 and back into the playoff picture.

“It’s been frustrating that we haven’t scored on offense, but our starting pitching has been phenomenal, our bullpen has been fantastic,” Hazen said. “Those are things that win in the playoffs, so I’m encouraged by that. The offense is gonna come and go and come back around, but we put ourselves in the position for other teams to lose out because the wins we picked up over the last two weeks. We made them have to play perfect and they didn’t.”

The Diamondbacks dominated their fellow wild card competitors in September, winning three out of four from the Reds, six of seven against the Cubs and swept a two-game series vs. the San Francisco Giants.

They’ve lost three games in a row going into No. 162. Starter Zac Gallen added that everyone starts 0-0 in the postseason and highlighted some other teams who scraped their way in and made noise.

He singled out the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies, who turned an 87-win wild card season into a National League pennant. Gallen grew up a St. Louis fan, so he remembers 2011 well when the Cardinals erased a 10.5-game deficit in the wild card race to make the playoffs and then won the World Series.

“We’re in, the pressure if off of us now, we’re the team with the least amount of pressure,” Gallen said. “We got here, we did what we had to do. Let’s see what we got.”

The postseason starts on Tuesday, but which team the D-backs will face has yet to be determined. It will either be the Milwaukee Brewers or Philadelphia Phillies.

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