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'What you dream about': Diamondbacks keep proving doubters wrong, win National League pennant

Jesse Friedman Avatar
October 25, 2023
The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in Game Seven of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — The moment you count out the Diamondbacks, you might as well be begging to look foolish.

At least, that is how it’s been for the past three weeks.

The Diamondbacks, winners of just 84 games in the regular season, had the worst record of any team in the postseason field. Had Major League Baseball not added a third wild card spot in each league last year, they would not have made the playoffs at all.

Few picked them to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card Series. The Diamondbacks swept them on the road.

Even fewer picked them to beat the NL-West-powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. The Diamondbacks swept them, too.

Surely, the Philadelphia Phillies, whom many viewed as the most formidable team remaining in the playoff field, would get the best of them. Nope.

After dropping the first two games on the road and getting outscored 15-3 in the process, the Diamondbacks took two of three at home and, more remarkably, back-to-back games at Citizens Bank Park to send Zack Wheeler, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and a host of other Phillies star players home.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have won the National League pennant. They are going to the World Series.

Remarkably, the game dates for this year’s World Series are precisely the same as they were in 2001, when the Diamondbacks also played in the fall classic. Game 1 in this 2023 is on Oct. 27, just as it was then.

That 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees, of course, went down as one of the most epic in MLB history.

As crazy as it might sound, the story that the Diamondbacks are crafting in 2023 could be even better than that of 2001.

While it was remarkable that the Diamondbacks reached the World Series just three years into their existence as a franchise, the reality is that, unlike this 2023 squad, few doubted their ability to make it there.

The 2001 Diamondbacks had Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson, who struck out 372 batters that year — a feat that no major leaguer might accomplish again. They also had Curt Schilling, one of the best pitchers of his generation. They had Luis Gonzalez, whose 174 OPS+ is at least 40 points higher than any everyday player on the Diamondbacks this year.

Diamondbacks 2001 World Series Co-MVP winners Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks hold the trophy. (Harry How/ALLSPORT)
Diamondbacks 2001 World Series Co-MVP winners Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks hold the trophy. (Harry How/ALLSPORT)

That 2001 team really could not have been more different than this year’s squad, in fact. That 2001 club did not give a single position player under the age of 30 more than 250 plate appearances. This year, the Diamondbacks had five such players. Three of them — Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno — are 23 years old. The others, Geraldo Perdomo and Jake McCarthy, are just 24 and 26, respectively.

The 2001 Diamondbacks were a juggernaut comprised of generally well-paid veterans. This year, the Diamondbacks are made up of mostly youngsters; the team’s active roster payroll works out to around $70 million.

To get here, they have consistently defied the expectations set for them.

“We came into the season,” third baseman Evan Longoria said, “behind the Dodgers, behind the Padres, behind the Giants. Nobody believed that we could do what we did. When we got into the playoffs, it was like, it’s a charity case.

“We beat the Brewers, we advanced past the Dodgers. The road hasn’t been easy for us, but I know that every test that we’ve passed has only made this group stronger, made the belief grow more.”

Among the Diamondbacks’ most public doubters is Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who publicly stated on his radio show that he would retire if the Diamondbacks won Games 6 and 7 in Philadelphia.

Following the Diamondbacks’ Game 7 win, manager Torey Lovullo — a good friend of Russo — wanted to make sure that Russo did not cheat his way out of it.

“I think he had his last day at the network today,” Lovullo said. “We’re accepting applications in Arizona. If you want to work for the D-backs, we’ll take you.”

Russo, of course, was far from the only one to harbor doubts that the Diamondbacks would make it this far.

Lovullo has certainly not heard all of the slights against his team, but he knows the general idea.

“I just know,” Lovullo said prior to Game 7, “that there’s an underriding theme here that we, A, don’t deserve to be here, B, that we’re going to get our butts kicked, and, C, there’s bullies all over the National League that can manhandle us.

“We love proving naysayers wrong.”

Tuesday night’s closeout game was indicative of many of the things that have gone right for the Diamondbacks this postseason. It featured a strong performance from Brandon Pfaadt, key hits from Gabriel Moreno, Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte, and yet another stellar performance by the team’s back end relievers.

Carroll, the Diamondbacks’ best player in the regular season, had a particularly memorable night, going 3-for-4 with three singles, two runs batted in, two stolen bases and two runs scored. According to Opta Stats, Carroll is the first player in MLB history with three or more hits and two or more stolen bases in a Game 7.

The Diamondbacks’ scoring began in the first inning, which was particularly important in quieting down the crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

After Ketel Marte struck out to start the game against Phillies lefty Ranger Suarez, Carroll and Moreno both singled. Christian Walker then brought Carroll home from third on a fielder’s choice groundout. The Diamondbacks led, 1-0.

Diamondbacks fan Mike Dreckman stands in a sea of Philadelphia Phillies fans as he cheers on his team in Game 7 of the NLCS at Citizens Bank Park. (Joe Rondone/The Republic)

Unlike in Game 6 — when the Diamondbacks took a lead in the second and never lost it — the Phillies responded before long. Alec Bohm hit a solo shot on the first pitch of the second inning from Pfaadt, tying the game at one.

In the fourth, the Phillies took their first lead of the game. After a one-out walk to Bohm, Bryson Stott hit an RBI double into the left-center field gap.

The next hitter, J.T. Realmuto, singled, putting runners at the corners with one out.

In the moment, one could make a case that Lovullo should remove Pfaadt from the game. But he did not.

Nick Castellanos, who went hitless in the series after a Game 1 homer, struck out. Pfaadt then pitched around the left-handed hitting Brandon Marsh before striking out Phillies No. 9 hitter Johan Rojas to escape the jam.

Just a few moments later, the Diamondbacks were back out in front. Emmanuel Rivera singled to start the top of the fifth and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Geraldo Perdomo.

After another Marte strikeout, Carroll singled Rivera home. Carroll then stole second and scored on a single by Moreno. Just like that, the Diamondbacks had turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. They did not trail the rest of the game.

Pfaadt departed after four innings. While he did give up the two runs, he once again set the Diamondbacks up for victory, just as he did in his past two postseason starts.

In those four innings of work, Pfaadt struck out seven. After inducing 17 whiffs in 36 swings in his dominant Game 3 start, Pfaadt generated 16 whiffs on 33 swings against him. No other Diamondbacks starter has gotten more than 12 whiffs in a game in the playoffs.

After posting a 9.82 ERA in his first two major-league stints and a 5.72 ERA overall in his rookie season, Pfaadt has just a 2.70 ERA in the playoffs in four starts.

“I don’t know whether he came up early in the year and he was pressing too hard, or whatever it was,” Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen said. “But every time he came back to the big leagues, he learned something else when he was down there. And he started to become a complete pitcher.

“To go out there in Game 7, your back’s against the wall in maybe one of the more hostile environments in baseball, maybe in all professional sports, just speaks to the character of the guy.”

In the fifth inning, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen picked up where Pfaadt left off. Joe Mantiply got the first two outs. Ryan Thompson got the last out of the fifth and all three outs in the sixth.

In the seventh, rookie lefty Andrew Saalfrank struck out Brandon Marsh but walked pinch-hitter Christian Pache and Phillies lead-off man Kyle Schwarber.

With two on and one out, the Diamondbacks turned to Kevin Ginkel, who retired both Trea Turner and Bryce Harper to get out of the frame. Ginkel then returned for the eighth. He struck out Bohm, Stott, and Realmuto consecutively.

In nine innings of work in the playoffs, Ginkel has allowed zero runs on six hits with just two walks and 13 strikeouts.

“Kevin Ginkel is just absolutely amazing,” Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald said. “God, he’s just so good.”

It was Sewald who got the ninth inning. He retired Castellanos, Marsh and pinch hitter Jake Cave in order, sending the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Game 1 against the Texas Rangers will take place on Friday in Arlington, Texas.

After the game, Carroll was asked how it felt to be going to the World Series. He did not mince words. “Pretty f—ing good .. That’s what you dream about.”

With where the Diamondbacks stand now, it is perhaps difficult to remember that they lost 110 games just two years ago.

According to MLB.com, they are just the fifth team in MLB history go from a 100-plus loss season to a World Series berth in the span of two years. They are the first team to ever do so from 110 or more losses.

Following that 2021 season, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen opted not to tear down the roster entirely. In 2022, they were more competitive, finishing with an 74-88 record. They took another step forward this year with 84 wins — and now a World Series appearance.

The Diamondbacks have been the best story in baseball for several weeks, and they are now getting national attention as one of the best stories in all of sports.

The Rangers are a formidable opponent, and they have already opened as favorites in the World Series.

At this point, being seen as the underdog is familiar territory for the Diamondbacks.

“We’re excited,” Gallen said. “We came this far. Might as well finish the thing, right?”

Said outfielder Tommy Pham: “Don’t count us out this time.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on X (formerly Twitter)

Top photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Our PHNX D-backs postgame show following the Diamondbacks’ Game 7 NLCS win. Catch it in audio-only format here.

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