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Torey Lovullo can do no wrong as Diamondbacks take 2-0 series lead over Dodgers

Jesse Friedman Avatar
October 10, 2023
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo shows how many more wins the D-backs need to advance past the Dodgers.

LOS ANGELES — After a pair of one-out singles by Max Muncy and JD Martinez in the sixth inning, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo sauntered out of the visiting dugout with his team hanging on to a 4-1 lead.

When he got to the mound, there were no questions asked or discussions had, just a cursory glance at Zac Gallen’s face as he took the ball from his hand and sent him back to the dugout.

Lovullo and Gallen had already talked through the various scenarios prior to the start of the inning. With runners at first and second, one out and a trio of lefties due up, Gallen knew what was coming. That, of course, did not mean he agreed with the decision.

“I don’t like coming out,” Gallen told reporters after the game, “especially in the middle of an inning, especially in the sixth when I felt I was throwing fine.”

Gallen had only 84 pitches, and neither of the two singles he had just given up were hit hard. Gallen jammed Muncy on an up-and-in cutter, but Muncy got just enough to push it onto the center-field grass for a single. Martinez got a changeup off the inner part of the plate, and he lined it softly just over the head of second baseman Ketel Marte.

But Lovullo had a plan in place, and that plan said that Gallen’s job was done. With three lefties coming up, it was now rookie lefty Andrew Saalfrank’s job to work out of the inning.

Wanting Gallen to understand, Lovullo pulled him aside into a hallway behind the dugout.

“I want to turn the lineup over to get all their right-handed batters into this game,” Lovullo explained.

Gallen might not have agreed, but he saw where Lovullo was coming from.

By bringing in a lefty, Lovullo knew that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts would counter by pinch hitting for two of his left-handed batters (Jason Heyward and David Peralta) at the bottom of the lineup. In doing so, Roberts would effectively empty his bench, meaning he would not have a counterattack for Diamondbacks backend relievers Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald — all of whom are right-handed — later in the game.

The move came with considerable risk. While Saalfrank has played an enormous role in a revitalized Diamondbacks bullpen, he also has barely over a month of major-league experience. He also, as alluded to previously, would not be facing left-handed hitters because Roberts would surely counter with pinch hitters.

Saalfrank’s outing did not start well. Chris Taylor, who pinch hit for Heyward, walked, loading the bases. Then, Kike Hernández, who pinch hit for Peralta, hit an RBI single, cutting the D-backs’ lead to 4-2. The Dodgers still had the bases loaded with one out.

That was all the damage the Dodgers would muster, however. Saalfrank managed to strike out the next batter — the only lefty he faced — James Outman. Then, Thompson entered the game and recorded the final out. Inning over, lead preserved.

Diamondbacks relievers faced the minimum the rest of the way. Thompson pitched a scoreless seventh, Ginkel a scoreless eighth and Sewald the first 1-2-3 ninth in a save situation in his Diamondbacks career. And, yes, they — Ginkel and Sewald, that is — benefitted from Lovullo’s bullish decision to bet on Saalfrank and force Roberts to use his bench. Instead of facing lefties Heyward and Peralta in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, Ginkel got to face Taylor to finish the eighth and Sewald faced Hernandez to start the ninth. Both were retired.

Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald notches the save in Game 2 against the Dodgers.

Granted, with how well the Diamondbacks are playing right now, it appears as though Lovullo could win with just about any strategy. Seriously, what isn’t going right for the D-backs right now?

With Monday’s 4-2 triumph at Dodger Stadium, the Diamondbacks remained undefeated in the playoffs. With four postseason wins, the 2023 Diamondbacks now have the second-most such wins of any team in franchise history, trailing only the 2001 club that won the World Series.

In the process, the Diamondbacks also took a decisive 2-0 advantage in the NLDS, with the series now headed to Arizona. With a win in Game 3, the Diamondbacks could punch a ticket to the NLCS. It would be their first since 2007.

Not everything has gone right for the Diamondbacks in the playoffs, but just about everything has.

Despite Lovullo’s aggressive early hook in the sixth inning, Gallen still tossed 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball in one of the most pivotal games of his career. He now has a 3.18 ERA in two postseason starts.

Together with Merrill Kelly — who tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his postseason debut on Saturday — the Diamondbacks have the kind of fearsome starting pitcher duo that all playoff teams covet.

“This time of year, guys like that are the difference-makers,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “They got their guy at the plate, we got our guy on the mound. How ever it goes, I’m betting on us, period. I’ve seen it through and through with Gallen and Merrill [Kelly].”

Gallen did not get an opportunity to work his way out of the sixth inning, but he did an impressive job working out of a jam in the fifth.

With runners at first and second and only one out, the Dodgers had their two best hitters, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, due up. It took only one pitch to get Betts to ground into a forceout on a well-placed cutter on the outside corner. Freeman made things more difficult.

After Gallen got ahead in the count, 1-2, Freeman spat on a pair of bounced curveballs. The count was full, 3-2.

At that point, Gallen wanted to give Freeman a curveball a bit closer to the plate, something that would be more likely induce a swing. Gallen’s breaker caught more of the plate than he planned, but it completely froze Freeman. Inning over.

Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen gets fired up after striking out Freddie Freeman to end the fifth inning.

“That was sick,” said center fielder Alek Thomas, who had as good a view of the pitch as anyone. “He fooled me and he fooled Freddie.”

In the series, the Diamondbacks’ starting pitching duo of Kelly and Gallen has outperformed the Dodgers’ one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller by a wide margin.

After Kershaw gave up six runs in just one-third of an inning in Game 1, Miller gave up three runs in just 1 2/3 innings on Monday. He is the latest addition to the growing list of quality starting pitchers who have gotten thumped by the Diamondbacks’ offense in the playoffs. In addition to Kershaw and Miller, the D-backs got to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta in the Wild Card Series.

Unlike the first three games of the postseason, the long ball did not play a role in getting the offense going in Game 2 against Miller.

Corbin Carroll walked to start the game. Ketel Marte dropped down a gorgeous bunt up the third-base line that went for an infield single. Tommy Pham singled to left field to load the bases.

After a Christian Walker sacrifice fly, a Gabriel Moreno RBI groundout and a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. RBI single, the D-backs quickly led 3-0.

“It’s the selfless, team-first, just-pass-the-baton kind of mentality,” Walker said of the team’s offensive approach. “I think that actually frees us up in that moment. When I know I have really good hitters hitting behind me, it takes a lot of pressure off of my plate and, when I’m free and easy and clear-headed, that’s when the good stuff happens.”

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen high-fives Ketel Marte after scoring in the first inning in Game 2 of the NLDS. (Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic)

Following Walker’s sac fly, Pham stole second, a play that proved especially critical later in the inning. Theoretically, Moreno’s RBI groundout would have been an inning-ending double play had Pham still been at first.

With Ketel Marte at third base, Pham got a good jump and took second without a throw.

“I’m just fast, man,” Pham said after the game, chuckling. “You guys are underestimating my speed for a 35-year-old. I joke around with these guys all the time that, you know, 10 years ago, I was way faster than all of them. It’s why I still run on that treadmill in the offseason to be able to, in all seriousness, to be able to take advantage of a situation like that.”

Pham has been playing through turf toe for several weeks, and it seems possible that his willingness to steal caught the Dodgers by surprise. “I had to in that situation,” Pham said, “just for the team. Had to.”

After those three first-inning runs, the Diamondbacks would not score again until the sixth, when Gurriel Jr. pulled a 1-2 slider below the knees over the left-field fence.

Diamondbacks outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. launches a solo homer to extend his team's lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning.

After the game, Gurriel Jr. was not quite sure how he did it.

“It just happened,” he said via team interpreter Rolando Valles, “It just happened.”

While the Diamondbacks certainly worked as a team on Monday, one player has certainly done more heavy lifting than the rest this postseason: Corbin Carroll.

As a 23-year-old rookie, Carroll has gone 7-for-14 in his first four postseason games with two homers, one double, four runs batted in, six runs scored, one stolen base and five walks. According to Sarah Langs, Carroll tied the Texas Rangers’ Evan Carter as the only rookies in major league history to reach base 12 times in their first four postseason games.

“Just trying to do my job, take what they give me,” Carroll said. “It’s not just me, it’s a full lineup who’s kind of operating that way, pass the baton, next man up, trust that teammate behind you.”

“He’s been balling out so far,” Alek Thomas said of Carroll. “Him being on base is like an automatic run.”

After beating the Dodgers once again in Game 2 of the NLDS, the underdog Diamondbacks remain the best story in baseball. They know how good of a position they’re in, but they also know what the Dodgers are capable of.

“We’re viewing every game like it’s Game 7 of the World Series,” Thompson said. “We’re not really thinking about, okay, this is Game 1, we’ve got to get to here and there. We’re not strategizing like that. We’re winning this game like it’s the last game we’re ever gonna play.

“They’re going to have to play their best baseball just to take one game from us.”

“The job’s not finished, really,” Gallen added, referencing the late Kobe Bryant’s famous quote after Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals. “What’s there to be happy about?”

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen talks after the game about how his team's job still isn't finished.

If you’re a Diamondbacks fan, there is quite a bit to happy about, such as the fact that postseason baseball is returning to Arizona on Wednesday for the first time since 2017.

And with it comes an opportunity that, when said aloud, still does not seem believable: sweeping the Dodgers in the NLDS.

“People are surprised,” Pham said, “because the Dodgers are a great organization run from top to bottom, and they have two guys over there that are gonna finish top three in MVP, so I get it.

“But we’re playing with an edge. This is a great opportunity for everyone to show the world that they can play.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on X (formerly Twitter)

Top photo: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic

Our PHNX D-backs postgame show following the D-backs’ Game 2 win over the Dodgers. Also available in audio format.

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