Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

Three games in, the Diamondbacks are the best story in the MLB postseason

Jesse Friedman Avatar
October 8, 2023
Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno is greeted by teammates after hitting a big three-run home run.

LOS ANGELES — Well, you didn’t see that coming, did you?

On an eerily silent night at Dodger Stadium, the 84-win upstart Diamondbacks pounced on the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers and their future Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, in the most important game that either team has played this year.

Most of the damage happened before the announced crowd of over 51,000 at Dodger Stadium even had a chance to settle in. The first five hitters of the game all had hits against Kershaw, and they all scored.

It started with a Ketel Marte double on the second pitch of the game, a hard liner that clanked off James Outman’s glove in left-center field. Two pitches later, Corbin Carroll followed with an RBI single up the middle. 1-0 Diamondbacks.

Tommy Pham then hit a single of his own, Christian Walker clanked a doubled off the left-field fence to score a run and catcher Gabriel Moreno hit a monstrous three-run homer, accentuated by one of the most dramatic bat flips you’ll ever see.

Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno hits a monstrous three-run homer against Clayton Kershaw.

With Moreno’s homer, Kershaw became the first starting pitcher in MLB postseason history to allow five hits and five runs before recording an out, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Around the 12-minute mark of the game, Kershaw recorded his first out on a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. grounder to short. It was the only out that he would record all game.

Following an Alek Thomas walk and an Evan Longoria RBI double, Kershaw departed to a confused mix of boos and cheers from the crowd, trailing 6-0.

From that point forward, the Diamondbacks coasted to an 11-2 victory. In the process, they dealt the Dodgers their largest postseason loss in franchise history since moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

To say that the outcome was unprecedented would be an understatement. Since the start of the 2020 season, the D-backs have gone just 15-46 against the Dodgers in regular season games. Moreover, Kershaw entered the game 14-1 with a 1.60 ERA in his career against the D-backs at Dodger Stadium. D-backs starter Merrill Kelly came in 0-5 with a 7.03 career ERA at Dodger Stadium against the Dodgers. Guess there’s a reason you still play the game.

For the Diamondbacks, Saturday’s blowout win was the latest chapter in what has quickly become the best postseason story in baseball.

After winning 84 games in the regular season, the fewest of any playoff team, and becoming just the 11th team in major league history to make the postseason with a negative run differential, the Diamondbacks have played three road games and won all of them, outscoring their opponents 22-7 in the process. They have caused problems for three excellent starting pitchers: Kershaw, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. And they have done it in large part due to an emerging young core that has shined when it has mattered most.

With the Atlanta Braves holding the top seed in the National League, there has been talk around the game that Major League Baseball should re-seed teams after the wild card round, thus giving Atlanta an easier NLDS matchup against the Diamondbacks instead of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In these first three games, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo hopes that the perception of his team has changed.

“The Milwaukee Brewers were not a pushover team,” Lovullo said. “We played good baseball against them. I think this team has a chip on its shoulder. We take it personal when we watch some of the comments on television or read some of the things where everybody wanted to … re-seed this thing so the Braves can pick on the lowly Diamondbacks.

“Hopefully, people are recognizing that you can’t just walk all over us. We’re a good baseball team.”

So far in the postseason, they certainly have been.

The Diamondbacks’ success starts with emerging superstar Corbin Carroll. Listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Carroll could be mistaken for a high school kid on the streets, but he happens to be the foregone NL Rookie of the Year and a likely downballot MVP vote-getter.

He has uncanny bat speed for his size, elite foot speed — he went 54-for-59 in stolen bases in the regular season — and his postseason career is off to a decent start: 6-for-12 with two homers, four RBI and five runs scored.

Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll hits a solo homer to extend their lead to 7-0.

Then, there is Gabriel Moreno, who dealt the biggest blow to Kershaw in that six-run first inning. Moreno graded out as the best stopper of stolen bases in baseball in the regular season, and he slashed .311/.382/.496 after returning from a shoulder injury in mid-August.

Like Carroll, the 23-year-old Moreno has also started strong in the playoffs: 3-for-10 with two homers, four RBI and two runs scored. The first of those homers was a go-ahead solo shot in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Brewers.

Another 23-year-old making significant contributions for the Diamondbacks is Alek Thomas. In addition to that first-inning walk against Kershaw that turned into a run, Thomas put a 14-pitch at-bat on Michael Grove in the seventh inning that ended with a rocket over the right-field fence. According to Sarah Langs, it was the longest postseason plate appearance to end in a home run since pitch counts were first tracked in 1988.

“If I could bottle that up,” Walker said of Thomas’ at-bat, “and have something for our team to rely on later, it’s that right there.”

Diamondbacks outfielder Alek Thomas concludes a 14-pitch at-bat with a solo homer off Michael Grove.

Thomas also played a key role in the D-backs’ Game 2 victory over the Brewers, hitting a solo homer in the fifth inning that broke up Freddy Peralta’s no-hitter and paved the way for the D-backs to chase him out of the game. Outside of Thomas’ contributions with the bat, he has continuted to play excellent center field defense, as he did in the regular season.

When asked about the success of the D-backs’ young players in the postseason, ace Zac Gallen suggested that, really, none of us should be surprised.

“I don’t think it’s a shock to them that they’re succeeding on this type of stage, this type of level and this early in their career,” Gallen said. “It’s obviously easier said than done, but I honestly think those guys expect to be here, expect to succeed, expect to excel.”

Of course, the Cinderella story that is the 2023 Diamondbacks postseason has involved more than just the kids. Evan Longoria carried the Diamondbacks to a win with his glove in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Brewers. He also became the oldest player in major league history to record a hit on his birthday in a postseason game, according to Sarah Langs, doing so on his 38th birthday on Saturday in Los Angeles.

As far as pitchings are concerned, the Diamondbacks’ sucess revolves around Zac Gallen, who started the All-Star game for the National League earlier in the year. On Wednesday, Gallen bounced back from a 32-pitch, two-run first inning in Game 2 against the Brewers by tossing five scoreless inning the rest of the way. He will get the ball in Game 2 against the Dodgers on Monday.

And, of course, there is Merrill Kelly, who appeared to exorcised his Dodgers demons on Saturday by, once and for all, notching his first career win against Los Angeles. It took 17 starts to do so, and it happened in the most important game he has ever pitched against them.

Watching his team take a 6-0 lead before he even took the mound certainly helped.

“At that minute, I’m just trying to enjoy it,” Kelly said after the game. “I’m watching our guys beat up on one of the best pitchers that we’ve ever seen in our lives, and watching them do it in the first game I’ve ever pitched in the playoffs.”

Entering the start, Kelly insisted that his past performance against the Dodgers was not on his mind.

“I felt if I gave those games any attention I was going out there behind the eight-ball before I even stepped on the mound,” he said. “I’ve watched baseball long enough. Obviously, I haven’t been in the playoffs in the big leagues but I’ve been in playoff situations in other scenarios in Korea and in Triple-A. Obviously not the same level, but I’ve recognized and I’ve watched enough games to know that anything can happen when you get to the playoffs. So that was my mentality is to try to change those fortunes.”

And he did, tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings against one of the most prolific offenses in baseball on the biggest stage of his professional career — and staring down Lovullo when the D-backs manager came to remove him from the game.

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly stares down Torey Lovullo as Lovullo comes out of the dugout to remove him from the game.

“I wasn’t surprised about his reaction,” Lovullo said after the game. “That’s who he is at his core. He doesn’t like coming out in the middle of innings. I don’t think any starting pitcher does, elite, top-shelf starting pitcher. They want to finish the innings and walk off the mound.”

After pitching in Korea for four years, Kelly was a solid starter from 2019-21 for the Diamondbacks, but he has taken it to another level over the past two seasons. This year, at age 34, he went 12-8 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and a career-high 187 strikeouts in 177 2/3 innings. He is a strong candidate to receive downballot Cy Young votes.

While it did not factor much into Saturday’s game, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen is also an integral part of this team’s story. With a few late-season additions, the unit went from one of the team’s biggest weaknesses to one of its biggest strengths seemingly overnight. In 12 postseason innings so far, the bullpen has given up only two runs.

In addition to Carroll, Moreno and Thomas, the D-backs have another 23-year-old in their starting lineup: Geraldo Perdomo. He was an All-Star in large part due to his ability to work counts and draw walks.

When asked if a walk is as good as a hit on Saturday, Perdomo laughed: “Yeah, most of the time, yeah, for sure.”

The Diamondbacks also have veterans Ketel Marte and Christian Walker, who have both been with the team since 2017. Both have been key cogs in the D-backs’ lineup during the regular season and in the postseason.

They have also played in virtually every Diamondbacks-Dodgers game in that span over the past several years. They understand what the Dodgers have done to them over the years.

“It’s not easy to play here, man, I’ll tell you that,” Marte said after the game. “A lot of fans here … To compete with the Dodgers, you’ve got to play nine innings.”

Some of the youngsters, such as Carroll and Moreno, are too young to truly understand how the Dodgers have dominated the D-backs over the years. Perhaps it works in their favor.

“I don’t really feel necessarily as connected as some of these guys do,” Carroll said. “There’s definitely some people who really feel that and I think this means a lot to them to be able to pull some of those ones out.”

While Thomas admitted to pressing a bit in his first postseason game — a game in which he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts — the Diamondbacks’ youngsters have looked comfortable and confident, by and large, on the playoff stage.

“One main thing that I hold on to,” Moreno said via team interpreter Alex Arpiza, “is the trust that they’ve been giving us, whether it’s Torey [Lovullo], the coaches, the trust they’ve been giving some of us young guys, and honestly dreaming about it. It was always a dream to be here.”

The Diamondbacks still have a long road ahead of them in this postseason, but it is hard to imagine their first three games going any better than they have. With how the NL standings panned out, they would not have made the postseason at all had MLB not instituted a third wild card spot in each league last year.

“We’re here,” Thomas said. “This is a different Diamondbacks team than in the past.

“We’re coming in each game with a chip on our shoulder, and people don’t think we can get it done, but we’re gonna keep on playing D-backs baseball, and, hopefully, we’ll keep advancing.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on X (formerly Twitter)

Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?