DAN BICKLEY

Diamondbacks’ young guns ready to apply invaluable postseason experience

Feb 28, 2024, 5:59 PM

The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate winning Game Seven of the Championship Series against the Philad...

The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate winning Game Seven of the Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on October 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Diehards and cutthroats agree: second place is no better than last place. It carries little value for aging sports teams full of veteran players, where a runner-up finish is nothing more than a wasted opportunity and another fruitless year checked off their dwindling careers.

But for a young and blossoming team like the Diamondbacks, the value of a second-place finish can be impossible to quantify. It can be the silver medal worth its weight in gold.

Arizona’s core of young players experienced a life-changing journey in the 2023 postseason. They all felt the adrenaline rush and the absolute terror that comes with high-stakes baseball, where one little mistake makes you immortal in all the wrong ways, when an error at the wrong time brands you like Bill Buckner.

The Diamondbacks didn’t flinch. Corbin Carroll lit the fuse, powering the Diamondbacks to a first-round upset of the Brewers. Gabriel Moreno hit four home runs in the postseason, the biggest star in that historic four-dinger inning against the Dodgers. Alek Thomas also hit four home runs, including the greatest at-bat of his life, a two-run blast that saved the Diamondbacks from the brink of extinction against the Phillies.

I watched Thomas take batting practice the very next day. I’m not sure his feet were touching the ground.

There’s more: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had 18 hits and 11 RBIs in 17 playoff games. Brandon Pfaadt saved his very best for when he was needed most. Zac Gallen salvaged a ragged postseason by bringing a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a World Series game. And while he’s hardly a young player, Merrill Kelly was one of the breakout stars of the postseason, a savage and filthy pitcher who put the moment and the opposition in a headlock.

Finally, Ketel Marte: The Diamondbacks’ second baseman was deeply wounded when he didn’t make the National League All-Star team last summer. That’s when Luis Gonzalez gave him a special pep talk, reminding Marte that (a) nobody will remember him if he performs well in an All-Star Game; and that (b) nobody will forget him if he shines in the postseason, carrying the Diamondbacks to glory.

Gonzalez remembers Marte’s eyes lighting up at the wisdom shared from a true World Series hero, and Marte was a wrecking-ball force when it mattered most.

Every one of these players who succeeded under a white-hot spotlight will be fortified and enriched by those moments. Whatever hostile crowds they experience during the regular season will be a minor nuisance compared to what they felt those last two nights in South Philly. They have played on the biggest stages, conquering their biggest fears.

Think of the implications: No moment they face will ever feel suffocating, unfamiliar or unnerving ever again. And the next championship banner hoisted by the Diamondbacks will likely happen because of the rings they didn’t win in 2023. When an ambitious young team received their master’s degree in big-time baseball.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Diamondbacks’ young guns ready to apply invaluable postseason experience