ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Diamondbacks show fight late, Phillies ‘ambush’ Zac Gallen to take NLCS lead

Oct 16, 2023, 11:14 PM

PHILADELPHIA — The Arizona Diamondbacks made their series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies a game late after trailing 5-0, but the comeback fell short to open the National League Championship Series on Monday.

The Phillies put up five runs on D-backs ace Zac Gallen in a 5-3 victory, while Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler produced his third-straight quality start.

Philadelphia’s power hitters “ambushed” Gallen, as Kyle Schwarber homered on the first pitch of the right-hander’s outing, getting the sellout home crowd going. Bryce Harper followed with a towering long ball two batters later, and Nick Castellanos shot an opposite-field home run in the second inning.

Wheeler, meanwhile, retired 15 straight Diamondbacks after allowing a broken bat single to Corbin Carroll to lead off the game.

But the D-backs still managed to claw back, starting with a Geraldo Perdomo two-run homer in the sixth inning off Wheeler to end the shutout. They had the tying run at the plate in each of the final three innings, creating some tension after a seemingly comfortable Phillies lead.

In the clubhouse after the game, D-backs players Perdomo and Christian Walker maintained confidence remains high, as Arizona still has a chance to capture home-field advantage Tuesday with Merrill Kelly on the bump. Monday was their first loss of the postseason.

“Tomorrow’s a new day, they were hot tonight, their guys threw well,” Walker said. “Turn the page, flush it and we’re gonna get Merrill some runs tomorrow.”

“We came back, we scored two, we scored one in the seventh, we had a chance to score again,” Perdomo said. “It is what it is, it happens sometimes.”

Manager Torey Lovullo said his dugout was engaged and he hopes the late-game fight will carry over into Tuesday.

What happened with Zac Gallen?

A lack of execution plagued Gallen in his first playoff loss, the pitcher concluded.

Gallen said he yanked his first pitch to Schwarber over the plate, and the powerful lead-off man hit it 117 mph off his bat. Harper also saw a first-pitch fastball over the middle and jumped on it. Both home runs traveled 420 feet.

Schwarber described postgame the Phillies were not looking to take hitters’ pitches.

“I think they came out ready to jump on his fastball. There’s no mystery that Zac fills up the zone,” Lovullo said. “He has an aggressive fastball and aggressive mindset. They just counter-punched him. I don’t think he was trying to throw the pitches where they landed. When Zac gets squared up, it’s usually a couple-inch mistake.”

Gallen did not throw Schwarber another fastball, but he explained that executing was his problem over pitch selection.

When it looked like Gallen started to string outs together in the third inning, Phillies shortstop Trea Turner battled down 0-2 and ripped a double to center. That brought back Harper, who swung at the first pitch again, this time roping an inside cutter into right field.

Gallen worked out of a bases loaded jam and stranded a couple runners in the fourth before allowing an avoidable fifth run. A Harper walk, a wild pitch and a two-out single by catcher J.T. Realmuto extended the lead.

“They strung some good at-bats together. I made some good pitches, they put some good swings on them,” Gallen said. “It’s a good lineup. I kind of felt like they were gonna come out and be aggressive, just tried to use it in my favor. But like I said, didn’t execute.”

The right-hander was done after five innings and 88 pitches.

He similarly allowed two runs in the first inning at the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 of the wild card round. That time, he responded with fiver shutout innings.

Lovullo said Gallen can be better, and that’s his expectation. Gallen’s next outing would be Game 5.

Zack Wheeler deals vs. Diamondbacks

As Lovullo put it, Wheeler had everything going. The D-backs whiffed on 40% of their swings against him. The heart of Arizona’s order was silent, as hitters 3-7 finished a combined 0-for-16.

“Seemed like he was throwing it where he wanted to, the stuff is always there, it’s always elite stuff,” Walker said. “So when he’s locating, it’s tough to settle in and feel like you get a good feel for executing the plan.”

Through four innings, 10 of 13 Diamondbacks hitters faced an 0-2 or 1-2 count, and Wheeler struck out seven of them. He finished with eight punch outs in six two-run innings.

Wheeler threw more fastballs (94-97 mph) than he typically does and was able to split the plate with his sinker-sweeper. He didn’t leave much over the middle, effectively working both edges and upstairs.

Perdomo goes yard

Perdomo hammered one of Wheeler’s mistakes on a fastball, and the switch-hitter knew it was gone right away. He has homered in consecutive games for the first time in MLB after kicking off the four-home run barrage in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.

“It was a really good sign for my teammates like, ‘Hey, we can come back,'” Perdomo said.

Diamondbacks decisions

With a runner on and two outs in the top of the seventh, Lovullo and Phillies manager Rob Thomson played a game.

Lovullo took out Evan Longoria for pinch hitter Pavin Smith with right-hander Seranthony Dominguez pitching. Thomson turned to lefty Jose Alvarado, and Lovullo countered by burning Smith for Emmanuel Rivera.

Thomson won the back-and-forth, as Rivera bounced out and Alvarado threw a scoreless eighth inning.

“There’s two schools of thought,” Lovullo said. “You’ve got a pitcher that’s (15) pitches into his outing, and you can continue having that guy pitch in Seranthony Dominguez.

“I just felt like there was other favorable matchups. … I felt like they were going to push Alvarado into the next inning. Maybe he would lose a little bit of momentum after getting out of the big jam and have a little bit of a natural letdown, but he didn’t.”

Another move Lovullo made was not using typical high-leverage relievers Ryan Thompson or Kevin Ginkel in a two-run game. Kyle Nelson, Miguel Castro and Luis Frias all did their jobs with three shutout frames, anyway.

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