Alek Thomas delivers clutch game-tying home run vs. Phillies: ‘Something you see in dreams’
Oct 20, 2023, 11:44 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2023, 12:55 am
PHOENIX — At the crack of the ball hitting Arizona Diamondbacks pinch hitter Alek Thomas’ bat, hitting coach Joe Mather stood to watch the 23-year-old’s reaction for a sign he got all of it.
Outfielders Corbin Carroll and Pavin Smith started jumping and screaming, and a sold-out Chase Field roared on Friday night.
Thomas — on a 3-2 count in the bottom of the eighth inning while trailing 5-3 in Game 4 of the NLCS against Philadelphia Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel — crushed a no-doubt, two-run shot into the Chase Field pool.
Thomas ran around the bases and jumped into the arms of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. after crossing home plate.
The D-backs had trailed 5-2, facing a potential 3-1 series deficit going into an elimination game on Sunday. But they stormed back. Catcher Gabriel Moreno delivered the go-ahead RBI single later in the inning, and closer Paul Sewald locked down the ninth for a 6-5 victory to even the series.
— MLB (@MLB) October 21, 2023
“That play is definitely something you see in your dreams,” Thomas said. “For it to come in real life is just awesome. I’m so grateful to have that moment. It’s just unreal. I haven’t really processed it yet.”
Thomas became the fourth-youngest player to ever hit a postseason home run off the bench, trailing Gavin Lux, Oscar Taveras and Yogi Berra.
He was kept out of the batting order for the second straight game after starting Arizona’s first seven postseason contests. Philadelphia started a lefty for the second straight game, Cristopher Sanchez, so the D-backs continued with a more right-handed lineup.
“He didn’t start the past couple of days because I was matching up and trying to maximize some situations offensively,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “But he stayed ready, and that to me speaks volumes about a young player and his readiness. When you don’t take it personally when you’re not playing and you wait for your opportunity and then seize that opportunity, that’s what excites me most.”
The D-backs did not have a home run this series before Thomas dug in, missing by a matter of feet twice with doubles off the wall in Game 3.
Thomas worked a 3-1 count against Kimbrel and fouled off a fastball on the inside corner to bring it full. Each of the first five pitches to Thomas were on the inner half or off the inside corner.
Kimbrel responded by putting another heater on the outer black, and Thomas managed to get his barrel around to smash it into right-center field.
The ball carried 412 feet, and there were fans who jumped in the water to grab it.
“I felt like he was hammering me in or at least it felt like it,” Thomas said. “Then I finally got something over the heart of the plate, or it was a little outside, but it felt like it was right down the middle. It was just a great feeling to do it off someone like him and on the biggest stage.”
Alek Thomas is the 9th player in MLB history with a game-tying, pinch-hit HR in the 8th inning or later of a playoff game.
At 23 years old, he’s the youngest of any player to do it. pic.twitter.com/dQagbJcGRQ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 21, 2023
Thomas said this has been a roller coaster season for him. He started in center on Opening Day but was sent down to the minors on May 17 with a .579 OPS and one hit against lefties.
Mather said there were clear objectives for him in Triple-A Reno, and he came back with improved at-bats.
Thomas popped back up on June 19, homering against Brewers ace Corbin Burnes in his return. From then until the end of August, he had a much more productive .277/.311/.447 profile, but he hit a downslide in September.
When the D-backs were in Milwaukee for the wild card series, Mather and Thomas talked about lowering his sights since he was chasing pitches up.
“We pretty much had him put a tee thigh high, we said, ‘Put it where you want it,'” Mather said. “He put it thigh high, out over. (Friday’s) pitch was a little bit further out than he had it but really it was a product of his ideas and the work we did that day that’s just kind of carried over.”
— MLB (@MLB) October 21, 2023
Even with the up and down offensive production, Thomas continued to be stellar in the outfield, earning a Gold Glove nomination. After the awards finalists were announced, Thomas said he felt he has so much more to show as a major leaguer, that he hasn’t reached his full potential.
Friday was his third long ball of the postseason, as he, along with fellow youngsters Moreno, Geraldo Perdomo and Corbin Carroll, have elevated in bright moments this postseason despite their lack of experience. Each have put together a series of moments that helped the D-backs inch closer and closer to a pennant.
“They all have a pretty good pulse, moments just don’t get too big,” Mather said. “It’s something to be said for our scouting department because it’s not something that you can always teach. Certainly not at that age for all those kids.”
In the history of the Diamondbacks, there were three postseason pinch-hit home runs before Friday: Turner Ward in 1999, Erubiel Durazo in 2001 and Brandon Drury in 2017.
Thomas will likely return to the starting lineup on Saturday for Game 5, as Philadelphia’s right-handed ace Zack Wheeler will start.