Ketel Marte, Brandon Pfaadt heroics keep Diamondbacks competitive with Phillies in NLCS

Oct 19, 2023, 8:39 PM | Updated: Oct 20, 2023, 11:45 am

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks are right back in the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

A scoreless gem by rookie starter Brandon Pfaadt kept the D-backs in Game 3 on Thursday at Chase Field. Arizona’s longest-tenured player Ketel Marte pushed them over the edge with a walk-off single against Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel.

Arizona avoided falling behind 0-3 with a loss, a hole only one team has come back from, and enters Friday with a chance to even the series.

The stars aligned for Marte in the bottom of the ninth, as the bases were loaded with one out. Kimbrel gave Marte high heat on an 0-1 count, which was exactly what the switch-hitting infielder said he was looking for.

Marte climbed the ladder to line a single into center field, scoring Pavin Smith from third base.

“I really don’t feel surprised because I am a fighter. I work hard to do what I’m doing,” Marte said, translated from Spanish. “You have to stay humble and calm.”

Marte took in the moment by flipping his bat and darting to center after touching first base, and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo was his first teammates to run him down.

“I know what kind of hitter I am, I’m healthy, I just got up there to see a fastball up and then he told me fastball. I put a good swing on it,” Marte said.

His knock was the first Diamondbacks postseason walk-off hit since Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

It was a signature moment for a player who has been with the organization through its lows in 2020 and 2021 to the upswing this season.

Marte was the Arizona offense for much of Thursday’s game, as he provided three hits including a double off the wall. Marte is 6-for-13 in the series and batting .371 this postseason. He has a 12-game playoff hitting streak dating back to 2017. He’s one of six players ever who has hit safely in their first 12 playoff games.

“He has an unbelievable heartbeat,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He loves to be in that moment. He is one of our best players for a reason … Ketel thrives in that situation. He just has the heart of a lion. He wants to get the job done and be the main guy to and help his team win a baseball game.”

“He looks super comfortable, super calm and that’s how you want to be right now, especially when we’re at that stage,” Alek Thomas said. “I’ll try to take that into my game, as well. He’s been a really great leader.”

Brandon Pfaadt shows up vs. Phillies

Marte’s moment does not happen the way it did without Pfaadt grooving through a lineup that has crushed this postseason.

The Phillies scored 15 runs in the opening two games, blasting six home runs off D-backs top starters Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.

Pfaadt stepped up when he blanked the Dodgers through 4.1 innings in game 3 of the NLDS and he showed his big-game poise again on Thursday with 5.2 shutout innings, two hits allowed, no walks and nine punch outs.

No Diamondbacks pitcher had struck out nine batters in a playoff game since Brandon Webb in 2007.

Pfaadt was on the attack with four-seam fastball, sinker and sweeper primarily, changing eye levels to force 17 whiffs on 36 swings (47%).

“I think the heater up was good today,” Pfaadt said. “The slider control was good, especially with two strikes, expanding the zone. I think having those two pitches being on today was a key, using the other pitches, to get ahead, show something different and put guys away when we needed to.”

The Phillies put balls in play on a fourth of their hacks against Pfaadt. They put 43% of their swings in play in Game 2.

Pfaadt struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced, including Kyle Schwarber (three home runs this series) twice looking.

The Diamondbacks stuck to their plan of letting Pfaadt get through the lineup twice, as Lovullo was booed coming out of the dugout to take the ball away with two outs in the sixth inning. Pfaadt had retired 10 straight hitters to that point, but the D-backs opted to start matching up with relievers.

The score was still 0-0 when Pfaadt exited, as Phillies lefty Ranger Suarez was dealing on the other side (5.1 innings, no runs).

“I know what has happened the third time around to him at different points in time of the season, that’s all discussed and talked about,” Lovullo said. “We could have been winning 9-0, and he would have probably thrown 15 to 18 more pitches. We felt like he got to that point, he was unbelievable and it was time to turn it over.”

Opponents had a .397 average against Pfaadt when facing him a third time during the regular season, although that includes his early-season struggles.

Lovullo joked that he may have been the most unpopular person in Arizona when going out to the mound. He said he would have booed himself if he were in the stands.

“I have a strategy for everything that’s done,” Lovullo said. “It’s not just analytics. I know how quickly playoff baseball can change, and I felt like Brandon kept the game under control and it was time to turn it over.”

Pfaadt received a standing ovation for his effort, and Andrew Saalfrank entered to face Schwarber. Pfaadt would have liked to one more time, but he knew the game plan.

“I’m a competitor,” Pfaadt said. “I want to keep going. Everybody does. But at the end of the day you just have to trust his decision and move forward, go to the bullpen, let them do their jobs.”

Only six other times has a D-backs pitcher thrown five or more scoreless innings in a playoff start. Kelly did so in Game 1 against the Dodgers. Before Kelly, it was Miguel Batista in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series.

Saalfrank ended up walking Schwarber, but he retired Trea Turner to end the inning. He walked Bryce Harper to start the seventh, and Harper later scored on a Ryan Thompson wild pitch to take a 1-0 lead.

Kevin Ginkel locked down the eighth, and Paul Sewald pitched a scoreless ninth.

Diamondbacks come back vs. Phillies bullpen

The D-backs responded quickly to falling behind for the third straight game after never trailing in the NLDS.

Tommy Pham was hitless in the series before nailing a lead-off single against Phillies rookie reliever Orion Kerkering. Lovullo checked Alek Thomas in to pinch run, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had him moving quickly.

Gurriel fouled a bunt attempt off to start his at-bat, which proved fortunate for Arizona, as he then shot a double down the left-field line. The ball got by diving third baseman Alec Bohm, who has made big plays throughout this series.

Thomas soared around the bases and scored without a play at the plate. Gurriel was stranded on third base with no outs.

The D-backs’ woes with runners in scoring position continued in the eighth after Gabriel Moreno was left aboard after a two-out double.

The ninth was trending in a similar direction, as Gurriel led off with a walk and a stolen base — Arizona’s first steal of the series.

Pavin Smith singled for a second time to move Gurriel to third, and Smith took second on a defensive indifference. But Gurriel was thrown out at the plate on an Emmanuel Rivera chopper. Smith stayed put on second, which Lovullo said should not have happened.

But Geraldo Perdomo followed with a clutch walk after falling behind 1-2 to load the bases, and Marte’s walk-up music started.

The Diamondbacks were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Marte’s game-winner, both hits by Smith after he subbed in as a pinch hitter and neither for RBIs.

Thursday was their third comeback victory of the postseason after doing so twice at the Brewers in the wild card round.

Chase Field crowd

A lot has been said and written about the crowds in Philadelphia, but Chase Field had a sellout with an announced attendance of 47,075 during a mid-afternoon game on Thursday. The players felt that energy.

“We received good support,” Marte said. “That’s what you need, because in Philadelphia the fans try to put pressure on us. The fans have to put pressure on them.”

Diamondbacks-Phillies Game 4

Game 4 on Friday will be a bullpen game for the D-backs with Joe Mantiply starting. The lefty will match up with Schwarber and Harper.

Philadelphia will also start a southpaw: 26-year-old Cristopher Sanchez.

First pitch is at 5:07 p.m. from Chase Field. A Phillies win would set up an elimination Game 5 on Saturday in Phoenix. A win for the D-backs, and they would secure a trip back to Philadelphia for at least Game 6.

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