Diamondbacks’ best defensive game sets table for Pavin Smith walk-off vs. Giants

Jun 3, 2024, 11:00 PM

Arizona Diamondbacks...

The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after Pavin Smith #26 hit the game winning two-run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on June 03, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 4-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of baseball’s top defensive teams again this season, and on Monday they took it to another level to set up a walk-off victory over the San Francisco Giants, 4-2.

Pinch hitter Pavin Smith smacked the game-winning, two-run blast 424 feet to center field to break a 2-2 tie for the win. He said that was his first ever walk-off home run, and it gave the D-backs (28-32) their third straight win.

But a half-dozen or so jaw-dropping plays on defense and 7.2 effective innings from starter Ryne Nelson set the table.

The continued excellence of first baseman Christian Walker kept the game tied in the ninth inning.

San Francisco’s Jorge Soler tapped a ball to third with runners on the corners and two outs. D-backs third baseman Eugenio Suarez had a tough play behind the bag and fired a high throw to first. Walker leaped up and swiveled mid-air to slap a tag on Soler’s helmet.

The play was called safe, and manager Torey Lovullo immediately signaled for a challenge, which he won. Chase Field got as loud as it had been all night at the call.

“I think that really got us going for that walk-off,” shortstop Blaze Alexander said. “Once we saw it on the replay, we were all lined up walking off the field, we were yelling, heard our fans behind us, it was awesome.”

Nelson said postgame it felt like every inning he was high fiving someone back in the dugout for saving a run, and that was mostly the case.

Second baseman Ketel Marte covered a mile to make a basket catch on a pop-up in the third inning.

Alexander crossed past second base and made a diving stop in the fourth. Marte was also tracking the ball and hurdled over Alexander as the shortstop got up and made the throw to first.

San Francisco’s Matt Chapman hit an RBI double on the next pitch — extending his on-base streak to 21 games — but the Alexander play potentially saved a second run.

In the fifth, left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — who hit his 100th career home run on Monday — laid out for an inning-ending diving catch.

In the sixth, right fielder Jake McCarthy made another diving catch, this time with a runner on second base.

The D-backs also turned two doubles plays for good measure.

“It was unbelievable,” Nelson said. “If I execute my pitches and they put the ball on the ground or in the air, that seemed like everything was getting caught. … I’ve never been a part of anything like that, but it was fun.”

Alexander nearly had another amazing diving play in the ninth, but his throw was off and gave the Giants a window. With two outs, Heliot Ramos grounded a single to left-center field, and Chapman was zooming around the bases.

Gurriel got to the ball quickly and fired it accurately toward home, prompting Giants third-base coach Matt Williams to throw up the stop sign. The Walker tag kept Chapman from scoring.

Arizona suffered from defensive miscues early this season, especially Alexander at shortstop, which kept him away from the position. Monday was his first start there since May 9 — although he played second and third base over the weekend.

But defense has been a strength for a while, more like it for a Lovullo-led club. Arizona entered Monday No. 1 in MLB with 15 outs above average (OAA) and 14.8 ultimate zone rating (or runs above average). Looking simply at errors (26) and fielding percentage (.988), the D-backs are sixth-best in both.

“That’s how we do it here,” Lovullo said. “We walk on the field and we’re prepared to make plays. … There were several key plays made that saved us today. Blaze had a couple spectacular plays. The one that stands out to me is the one in the top of the ninth, Walker once again shows incredible athleticism to tag him on the head and get a huge out for us.”

Walker and Marte are both top six players in MLB by OAA, as Marte is playing as well defensively as he has in years.

The defense becomes especially vital with the rash of pitching injuries putting more emphasis on young starters. Nelson got all the help he could ask for.

Nelson did his job pitching to contact and getting deep into the game, saving a taxed bullpen coming back from the road trip. Lovullo said closer Paul Sewald, Brandon Hughes and Justin Martinez were down.

Nelson was the first Diamondbacks starter this season to record outs in the eighth inning, and he set a career high with the 7.2 innings.

He did not walk one batter and allowed only four hits.

“Without Ryne Nelson today, we don’t win that game and we probably go into our reserve with our bullpen. Then we’re stuck tomorrow,” Lovullo said.

Pavin Smith’s 1st walk-off

For Smith, running around the bases with the flashing lights and his teammates going crazy was better than how he’s played it in his mind for years.

“It’s definitely a surreal moment, out of body experience.”

Lovullo called Smith’s name after McCarthy doubled, pulling back Suarez.

Smith faced velocity in the cages before going up to the plate focused on getting his foot down on time for heat. He turned on a 98 mph fastball from Randy Rodriguez.

Blaze Alexander steps up defensively

Alexander saw a big dip in playing time from April to May after committing four errors in his first 18 games, but his June is off to a stellar start. Alexander went 2-for-3 with a two-out RBI single on Monday, providing the offensive spark he showed early this year. On defense, his first-month miscues are far enough in the mirror to look back on and dissect.

“I think I was speeding up the game, I was going at the ball 100 mph trying to make a play. I’m not trying to miss the ball, it’s all about slowing it down now. I think I got it slowed down, the confidence is there,” Alexander said.

Monday was another small victory, and he still has plenty to prove defensively. But when it clicks, the athleticism he has get to balls paired with his arm talent remain tantalizing.

Winning a series opener

The D-backs improved to 4-16 in series openers on Monday. They had not won one since May 13 against the Reds.

The Diamondbacks play for a series win Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. Southpaw Blake Walston will make his second career start for Arizona, while San Francisco (29-32) turns to rookie left-hander Kyle Harrison.

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Diamondbacks’ best defensive game sets table for Pavin Smith walk-off vs. Giants