Diamondbacks ambush Phillies early to force do-or-die Game 7

Oct 23, 2023, 10:23 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2023, 7:57 am

PHILADELPHIA — The Arizona Diamondbacks — despite falling behind 2-0 in the NLCS against a Philadelphia Phillies team that hadn’t lost at home this postseason — are one win away from the World Series after forcing a Game 7.

The Diamondbacks struck early in Game 6 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, out-slugging the Phillies in a 5-1 victory.

It was a best of all worlds effort from Arizona after manager Torey Lovullo said he felt the club has not played “D-back baseball” much this series.

The Diamondbacks used slug to jump ahead in the second inning. Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went back-to-back off Phillies starter Aaron Nola, who blanked the D-backs through six innings in Game 2.

Arizona stole four bases for the second time this postseason and showed a more patient approach at the plate that resulted in more base runners and scoring chances.

This game could have been 8-1 if the D-backs had executed better with runners in scoring position, especially with fewer than two outs.

But they did enough, and starter Merrill Kelly along with the bullpen kept an offense that scored 39 runs in six home postseason games entering Monday largely off the board.

“It was very close to a Diamondback-type of a baseball game,” Lovullo said.

“There are some things we have to clean up, and we will. But I was very pleased overall with the effort. I think the crowd was out of it, and we just started to make those statements, and I was very happy about it.”

The D-backs have not played a Game 7 in the postseason since winning the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Diamondbacks start fast

The Phillies went ahead 5-0 in Game 1 and 10-0 in Game 2 to ignite a blaring atmosphere.

The D-backs flipped that trend on Monday after Kelly stranded a pair of runners in the first inning.

Nola misfired on a breaking ball over the plate to Pham, whose success was foretold by Lovullo pregame when he said he had information indicating Pham would have a big day. Gurriel pounced on a sinker low in the zone.

Evan Longoria doubled home Alek Thomas after he walked, and the crowd quieted down significantly compared to the first two games with Philadelphia down 3-0.

Closer Paul Sewald said they had not seen that many Phillies fans sitting down earlier this series.

“I guess maybe took a little bit of energy out of the stadium,” Corbin Carroll said. “But Nola threw well against us last time, and I think just punching a few on him early just gave us some confidence.”

The only times Philadelphia seemed to get that energy back was in the bottom of the second inning when it scored its only run off Kelly and that was it.

Kelly threw five one-run innings in a bounce back performance from an execution standpoint, and he wan’t thrilled to come out of the game after a 1-2-3 fifth inning. But Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Kevin Ginkel and Sewald secured the win with four scoreless innings.

“I just don’t like ever coming out of a game, that’s partly just me being stubborn, also partly just the situation,” Kelly said. “The guys behind me did a great job, and at the end of the day, if we win, that’s what matters.”

The Phillies had one base runner in scoring position after the second inning, and a couple stellar defensive plays helped in that department.

Thomas cut off a ball in center field to prevent Phillies infielder Bryson Stott from taking second base on a single with one out in the sixth inning.

Catcher Gabriel Moreno hosed Schwarber attempting to swipe second base after the pitch in a dirt bounced away. It took a perfect throw and Moreno showed off his elite arm.

Ketel Marte shines again

Despite struggles with runners in scoring position — 1-for-10 and three occasions when a runner on third base with one out was stranded — the D-backs drove in a pair of insurance runs to take pressure off the back end of the bullpen.

Ketel Marte was responsible for both, as his case for NLCS MVP continued. He went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs on Monday and is hitting .423 this series. He hit safely in his 15th straight postseason game to start his career, tying Marquis Grissom for the all-time lead.

“I prepare myself physically and I prepare myself mentally and I go out to give my best as always, that’s why things are going well,” Marte said, translated from Spanish.

Carroll singled on the eighth pitch of an at-bat in the fifth inning, and Marte blasted a triple 113 mph off the bat down the right-field line off Nola. Right fielder Nick Castellanos misplayed it, but nothing was stopping Carroll from scoring.

That was the hardest hit ball of the day, and it chased Nola from the game. He only got through 4.1 innings.

Carroll draws a lot of attention on first base, as Nola used a slide step and picked over right before allowing the triple. The speedster said part of his job is keeping that attention to hopefully draw a mistake pitch for the batter. The pitch to Marte was up and in where catcher J.T. Realmuto was set up, but it caught enough of the zone for Marte to turn into it.

Marte came up again in the seventh inning after the D-backs got the run game going, as Geraldo Perdomo singled and stole second base. Marte singled up the middle to score the run.

“I think that’s a very powerful statement when you just add another point here and there, and I just feel like those early runs let us exhale a little bit,” Lovullo said. “It’s an elimination game for us. We know what’s at stake.”

The D-backs had one steal this series before Game 6. Thomas, Perdomo, Marte and Christian Walker all picked up steals on Monday.

Speed created more “chaos” in the later innings. Thomas’ two-out steal gave Longoria an opportunity to add to the lead in the eighth. Perdomo hit a bunt single to lead off the ninth inning and he took second on an errant throw. Carroll bunted him to third base for Marte, who struck out.

Those were missed opportunities, sure, but more scoring chances than the D-backs created last time they were here and scored three runs on eight hits and three walks.

Diamondbacks clubhouse

Players in the clubhouse after the game shared the excitement while maintaining the focus on winning a game Tuesday.

Perdomo said he can’t wait to take the field in Game 7 but he expects his team to have the same approach. Carroll said he’s so excited it might be hard to fall asleep.

Marte said of course he’s happy but the D-backs have to come out and do the little things right and believe in themselves on Tuesday.

“The mood has been the same as every other win, except now we need one more to advance,” Pham said. “Going into today, we were focused on winning. It’s win or go home. That’s the mindset. That’s the attitude and that’s the thought process regarding everything.”

“I think there were a lot of ‘F-yeahs’ as we were shaking hands, and I think everybody was excited,” Lovullo said. “I like that. We deserve this moment. We’re going to play Game 7, and for me Game 7, it’s all hands on deck, anything is possible. Game 7s are Game 7s for a reason.”

Diamondbacks-Phillies Game 7

The Diamondbacks had never won an elimination game on the road in the postseason before Monday.

History is one their side, as since 1985, teams that forced Game 7 in the LCS won the pennant 12 out of 19 times (63.2%). The last NL team to do so was the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves.

“We’re a very resilient group,” Pham said. “You can say when our backs are against the wall, it brings the best out of us. Guys tend to turn up the focus. It gives us a little edge. So maybe that’s what we needed.”

Rookie Brandon Pfaadt will get his second start of the series against southpaw Ranger Suarez. They both pitched into the sixth inning without allowing any runs in Game 3, a 2-1 Diamondbacks win.

Kelly said Pfaadt has the makeup for a moment like this. It will be the 25-year-old’s first start at Citizens Bank Park.

Awaiting the results will be the Texas Rangers, who won the American League pennant with a Game 7 victory over the Houston Astros on Monday night.

Could you imagine? Two 100-loss teams from 2021 making the Fall Classic two seasons later?

First pitch of Game 7 is at 5:07 p.m.

Arizona Diamondbacks


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Diamondbacks ambush Phillies early to force do-or-die Game 7