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PHILADELPHIA — Between the start of the eighth and the start of the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s Diamondbacks-Phillies game, there were a total of five position player substitutions.
Jordan Lawlar, a rookie with just 34 major league plate appearances, pinch hit for Corbin Carroll, the Diamondbacks’ best player, with a runner on first and one out.
When the top of the eighth concluded, the Diamondbacks brought Pavin Smith off the bench to replace Marte, their starting second baseman. Lawlar played short, Geraldo Perdomo moved over to second and Smith took over for Carroll in right field.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies used two pinch hitters: Jake Cave for lead-off hitter Kyle Schwarber, who had already homered twice, and Edmundo Sosa for Trea Turner, who had gone 1-for-2 with a homer and a pair of walks. Prior to the start of the ninth, the Phillies also subbed backup catcher Garrett Stubbs in for starter J.T. Realmuto.
Based on those occurences alone, this Diamondbacks-Phillies game could easily be mistaken for a late-March spring training tune-up.
This was no exhibition, however. This was Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park, with more than 45,000 fans in attendance.
Unlike the night prior, not all 45,000 were present at the end, though. Some left early to beat traffic on a hectic night that saw more than 125,000 people descend upon the Philadelphia Sports Complex to attend three simultaneous events within a one-mile radius.
Frankly, those who left an inning early did not miss much. From the start of the eighth inning, the Phillies had a 10-0 lead, and they went on to beat the Diamondbacks by that very score, taking a commanding 2-0 NLCS lead in the process.
For the first time in franchise history, the Diamondbacks got shut out in a playoff game. They also suffered the most lopsided loss of any team in the 2023 postseason.
Over the past several weeks, some have raised questions over whether the Diamondbacks, an 84-win team that snuck into the postseason via MLB’s newly added third wild card spot, truly belonged.
“It motivates me,” said manager Torey Lovullo, when asked about such comments. “We’re keeping receipts.
“Whenever someone sends something to me, ‘Hey, I read this,’ my response is put it in the hopper, put it in the bucket and we’ll pull ’em all out at the end of the day.”
Of course, based on the postseason format that Major League Baseball has in place, the Diamondbacks do, in fact, belong. And, leading up to this series against the Phillies, they looked the part, too.
In the wild card round, the Diamondbacks swept the NL-Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers. Then, in the division series, they did the unthinkable, sweeping the NL-West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. They won these series in commanding fashion, outscoring their opponents, 30-11.
As the saying goes: Just get in, and anything can happen.
And, yet, with Tuesday night’s shellacking in Philadelphia, the Diamondbacks looked like the team that some have claimed them to be: a fun group, a good story — but a team that does not yet belong in MLB’s final four.
For the second consecutive night, the Diamondbacks trailed almost immediately after their starting pitcher took the mound. This time it was not Schwarber, who homered on the first pitch that Zac Gallen threw in Game 1, but Turner, the Phillies’ No. 2 hitter.
Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly induced a whiff on a well-placed four-seamer high and in. Kelly’s next offering, however, was a middle-middle cutter. Turner did not miss it, sending the ball into the left-field seats and the Phillies faithful into an early frenzy for the second straight night.
Kelly did not bother to turn around.
In the bottom of the third, the Diamondbacks were bit by the long ball once again.
After a first-pitch changeup low and away for ball one to Schwarber, D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno set up for a four-seam fastball in a similar spot. Like that cutter in the first inning to Turner, this one got too much of the plate.
Schwarber launched it 368 feet into the crisp Philadelphia air. 2-0 Phillies.
Kelly settled down in innings four and five, but the Diamondbacks’ offense had few answers for Phillies starter Aaron Nola.
After Corbin Carroll reached on an error to start the game, Nola retired the next nine hitters he faced. Four of them struck out, three grounded out and two popped up on the infield.
The Diamondbacks had runners at first and second with two on and two out in the fourth, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. grounded into a fielder’s choice on the first pitch he saw to end the threat.
In the sixth, Ketel Marte rocketed a one-out double down the right-field line, but, again, the Diamondbacks were unable to capitalize.
Through two games, Phillies starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have combined for 12 innings of two-run ball, tallying 15 strikeouts and walking no one. D-backs hitters batted just .140 against them, notching only two extra-base hits.
Kelly seemed to be getting better as the game went on, setting down seven straight and striking out the side in the fifth. But, then came the sixth.
Up to that point, the Phillies’ No. 4 through No. 9 hitters were 0-for-12 with five strikeouts against Kelly. Their No. 1 through No. 3 hitters — Schwarber, Turner and Bryce Harper — were 2-for-4 with the aforementioned two homers and a pair of walks.
Still, with Kelly at 70 pitches and the top of the order due up a third time, Lovullo opted to give Kelly a shot.
With Schwarber at the plate, Kelly started the at-bat with a pair of changeups off the outside corner. He then managed to get one over for a strike, making the count 2-1. Then, he went to that changeup one too many times.
Schwarber homered once again. It was the first time all year that Kelly allowed a homer on his signature changeup.
After walking Turner, Kelly retired the next two hitters, bringing up the left-handed hitting Bryson Stott with a runner at first and two outs. With Kelly at 89 pitches, Lovullo emerged from the dugout to make a move. He had pegged Stott versus lefty reliever Joe Mantiply as a favorable matchup, so Mantiply it was.
And that is when the game unraveled for the Diamondbacks.
Stott did not hit the ball hard, but he managed to sneak a grounder into center field for a hit to keep the inning going. Now, Mantiply had to face the right-handed hitting J.T. Realmuto.
Mantiply got ahead 0-2, but sprayed around three uncompetitive pitches before throwing a changeup on the outside corner that Realmuto drilled into the left-center field gap. Suddenly, the Phillies led, 5-0. Two batters later, they scored another on an RBI double by Brandon Marsh. By the end of the frame, it was 6-0 Philadelphia.
Should Lovullo have gone to a left-handed reliever from the start of the inning to face Schwarber? Maybe. Should Lovullo have left Kelly in to face Stott after he’d already gotten two big outs? Perhaps. But those conversations are futile when the Diamondbacks were unable to score a run in the game.
The seventh inning was, perhaps, even more forgettable. After the Diamondbacks went 1-2-3 with a pair of strikeouts against Phillies reliever Jeff Hoffman, the Phillies sent nine to the plate in their half of the frame for the second straight inning.
With rookie right-hander Ryne Nelson on the mound, the Phillies added four more.
One of those runs came as a result of an infield pop-up that was converged upon by three D-backs, including Nelson, Evan Longoria and Gabriel Moreno, but caught by no one. “More than unacceptable,” Lovullo said of the play after the game.
When all was said and done, the Diamondbacks lost, 10-0.
It would have been a poor showing for any of the 30 major league teams, but especially for one that is among the last four teams standing.
This series, of course, is not over. The Phillies still need two more wins to punch their World Series ticket. The Diamondbacks are heading home with a chance to turn things around.
But they are in a very difficult position.
Having already used their two best starters in the series, the Diamondbacks will turn to Brandon Pfaadt for Game 3, who had an up-and-down rookie season and has had one good start and one poor one so far in the playoffs.
Pfaadt will likely face left-hander Ranger Suarez, who has been something of an October weapon for the Phillies over the past two years, tallying a 3-0 record and 1.16 ERA in 23 1/3 postseason innings.
In Game 4, the Diamondbacks will face perhaps an even more difficult challenge, with no clear starting pitcher options on the roster. The Phillies, on the other hand, have a pair of starters who figure to be available in righty Taijuan Walker and lefty Cristopher Sánchez, along with one of the best bullpens in the game.
Of course, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. The Diamondbacks are a young team with a compelling future. The fact that they are in the NLCS in the first place is already a big win for the franchise.
They ought not be ostracized for making the playoffs, nor for believing in themselves now that they are here. They have every right to feed off the words of their naysayers, even if those words prove to be true in the long run.
The Diamondbacks are in the NLCS, and maybe they do belong. But they sure did not look like it on Tuesday.
Top photo: Joe Rondone/The Republic
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