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DNVR Rockies beat writer Patrick Lyons is contributing to PHNX Sports’ coverage of the Diamondbacks’ postseason run. You can follow him on X, formerly Twitter, here.
The magic that carried the Arizona Diamondbacks to a pair of improbable victories at Chase Field did not materialize during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
In a rematch of Monday’s series opener between staff aces Zac Gallen and Zack Wheeler, the result was the same as the Philadelphia Phillies came out on top, 6-1.
After being outscored 15-3 at Citizens Bank Park in Games 1 and 2, Arizona returned home to take Games 3 and 4 in come-from-behind fashion, including the only walk-off win of the 2023 postseason. In Game 5, whatever miraculous antics that allowed them to tie the series at two apiece had vanished.
Instead of a starting pitching performance for the ages from a rookie like Brandon Pfaadt in Game 3, it was a mediocre outing from the best pitcher in the NL during in the first half, Zac Gallen. Over 47,000 fans turned up for three consecutive games in Phoenix to help spur their club to three wins. While the passion provided a push on Thursday and Friday, it failed on Saturday for Gallen. He had dominated at Chase Field (2.47 ERA) and through the first three months of the regular season (3.04 ERA), but, against the Phillies, he pitched more like the man who struggled on the road this season (4.42 ERA) and in the second half (4.03 ERA).
Gallen managed to strike out only one batter during his fourth appearance this month. Over 115 starts in his five seasons as a big leaguer, he had never failed to strike out less than two. The team’s Opening Day starter hoped the regular-season success he has enjoyed throughout his career would translate into the postseason, possibly even become a Diamondbacks October legend like Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling. Instead, Gallen allowed four runs in six innings of work on Saturday, increasing his postseason ERA to 5.24 in four starts. Pfaadt’s breakout performance in Game 3, on the other hand, included nine strikeouts, a total only Johnson and Schilling had ever eclipsed for the D-backs during the playoffs.
“I think everyone can see that, in the playoffs, it’s about momentum. Either side, you kind of thrive off momentum. So, I put us in an early hole. I wasn’t too thrilled with that, really,” Gallen said. “I just tried to keep it where it was to give us a shot. But I mean, at same time, going against Wheeler, momentum is going to be hard to come by.”
While the Diamondbacks managed to keep Phillies hitters in the yard in Game 3 — which snapped a four-game streak of such prodigious power — they succommed to the long ball in Game 5.
Instead of preventing the Phillies from slugging three home runs as they had in Game 3 — which snapped a four-game streak of such prodigious power — the Diamondbacks succumbed to the long ball once again in Game 5. Already down 2-0 in the sixth, Gallen began his third time through the order with a Kyle Schwarber homer. Schwarber’s fifth dinger of the series gave him 20 postseason home runs in his career, a feat accomplished in a record 63 games. Bryce Harper followed two batters later with a solo shot, the 16th postseason homer of his career. A two-run blast for J.T. Realmuto off Luis Frías snapped a streak of 16 solo home runs for the Phillies this postseason.
Instead of receiving a clutch base knock when Arizona needed it most like the historic, pinch-hit home run by Alek Thomas in Game 4, the Diamondbacks squandered several opportunities. The D-backs received a base hit against Wheeler in every frame but the second. Christian Walker eventually had the first extra-base hit with a one-out double in the sixth. It was only Walker’s second hit of the series. Corbin Carroll, also stuck on two hits in the series, made the final out of the frame. The Diamondbacks did not score. In the series, Walker, Carroll, Evan Longoria and Tommy Pham have gone a combined 6-for-61 (.098 batting average).
Arizona’s best scoring chances bookended with Carroll. He walked to start the game, then Gabriel Moreno singled to place runners on the corners with one out. Walker struck out and Smith grounded out in what would be their best chance at a run. In the ninth, Longoria walked with two outs and Geraldo Perdomo singled before Carroll went down on strikes.
“We didn’t really do our job of hitting with guys on base, and we didn’t string together enough hits or walks or whatever. And we just didn’t get things going offensively,” Thomas said. “That was the deciding factor.”
Thomas would eventually provide a punch against Wheeler, hitting a solo homer in the seventh. Combined with his home run in Game 4, it was Thomas’ second back-to-back performance of this postseason. With an estimated distance of 399 feet, Thomas’ fourth homer of the playoffs broke a tie with Gabriel Moreno (2023), Chris Young (2011) and Luis González (2001) to set a new postseason high for the franchise.
Instead of the home team winning as they had through the first four games of the series, it was the visitors who emerged victorious. Coupled with the results in the American League Championship Series, this is the first postseason in which one LCS featured the road team winning the first four games and the other LCS with the home team winning the first four games of the respective series, according to ESPN Stats & Info. A win for the Houston Astros over the Texas Rangers at the Rangers’ home in Arlington, Texas, in Game 5 meant the streak continued for another day before Arizona’s loss.
One of the biggest disappearing acts during the NLCS is the Diamondbacks’ running game. So far, it has consisted of one stolen base, and it was courtesy of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Though not a part of the recipe in the Game 3 and 4 wins, the stolen base was a critical piece of what made the Diamondbacks successful throughout the regular season, stealing a franchise record 166 bases. Philadelphia, who wasn’t far behind with 141, have stolen six in this series.
“To be to be honest, teams know that I run and so Philly’s done a good job of just making their pitchers be pretty quick to the plate,” Carroll said of Philadelphia controlling Arizona’s running game. “Wheeler was between 1.2 [seconds] and low 1.3’s tonight to the plate. And you do the math with J.T. [Realmuto] behind there. It’s tough to run on that.”
For the game-deciding run to be a double steal that culminated with Harper recording the first postseason stolen base of home in the 141-year history of the club is a bitter pill for Arizona to swallow. “The play didn’t surprise us,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “We were anticipating it. It was well-timed by our guys. We just didn’t finish the play.”
Carroll said teams like the Phillies expect for him and others to steal. Alhhough it hasn’t happened, the willingness of Philadelphia to take those chances has helped them separate from Arizona with a 3-2 series lead.
“We just wanted to put pressure on them. There was two out there at the time, and they have to make two good throws,” said Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “And I think that the catcher’s throw was a little bit low, so it causes a little bit of a rush for the second baseman, so it worked out.”
The one thing that did happen like the previous two wins is the thing that’s happened all throughout this postseason: Ketel Marte recording a base hit. With a 14-game hitting streak to start his playoff career, only a 15-game streak by Marquis Grissom (1995-96) stands in the way of Marte making history. He’ll get a chance to tie the all-time mark and possibly pass it; if the D-backs lose the series, it’s not what fans will remember about the magical October ride. Yes, the walk-off hit in Game 3 made many believe that the improbable was possible for this franchise in this wild year, but Marte and company would rather enjoy a team win.
“We know what’s ahead of us. We know either way we were going back to Philly, and we were going to have to win baseball games there,” Lovullo said. “But I don’t want to think about Game 7 because anything can happen in a Game 7 setting.”
Now, the series heads back to Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies have arguably the best home-field advantage in professional sports history.
What Lovullo said is true. Perhaps some more Diamondbacks magic could happen in a Game 7. But it wasn’t there for Arizona in Game 5.
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