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Down 3-1 in World Series, tenacious Diamondbacks face toughest challenge yet

Jesse Friedman Avatar
November 1, 2023
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo (17) walks to the dugout after a pitching change against the Texas Rangers during the second inning in Game 4 of the 2023 World Series at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ. The DBacks lost to the Rangers 11-7, putting the Ranger at 3-1 in the World Series.

The 2023 Diamondbacks have been overcoming the odds all year.

Entering the season, they had just a 15.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs. But they found a way.

In the wild card round of the postseason, they faced the NL-Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers, all on the road. The Diamondbacks won the first two games, sweeping the series.

In the NLDS, they faced the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers, against whom they went just 5-8 in the regular season. The Diamondbacks swept them, too, pummeling Dodgers starters Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller and Lance Lynn, and holding Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts to a combined 1-for-21 at the plate.

In the NLCS, the Diamondbacks faced a 2-0 series deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies, but bounced back by winning two of three at home. Down 3-2 heading back to Citizens Bank Park — widely regarded as one of the most difficult postseason environments for visiting teams — they won each of the last two games, punching their ticket to this 2023 World Series.

And, yet, for all the times the Diamondbacks have overcome long odds this year, their most difficult task awaits: overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

The feat has been accomplished only six times in World Series history, and only four times by a team in the same position as Arizona, with two of the three remaining possible games being played on the road.

The most recent team to do it was the storied 2016 Chicago Cubs, who beat the Cleveland Indians three straight times — and the Curse of the Billy Goat — on their way to one of the most memorable World Series ever played.

In Game 4 on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks did not particularly look like a team that is poised to join such exclusive company.

Through three innings, they trailed 10-0. The Rangers scored all of their runs with two outs. Five of them went in the scorebook as unearned.

Texas’ scoring began in the second inning. With a runner at second, two outs and Miguel Castro on the mound — the second of six Diamondbacks pitchers used in their bullpen game — Leody Taveras walked, Travis Jankowski singled, Marcus Semien tripled and Corey Seager homered. Boom, 5-0 Texas.

The next inning — and two relievers later — Diamondbacks righty Luis Frías probably should have escaped a two-on, one-out jam when Rangers catcher Jonah Heim bounced a tailor-made double play ball to first baseman Christian Walker. Walker booted it and was unable to record an out at all. Bases loaded.

After striking out the next hitter for the second out, Frías allowed a two-run double to Jankowski and a three-run homer to Semien. Suddenly, the Rangers lead double to 10-0. Had it not been for Walker’s error, the Rangers theoretically would have been held scoreless in the frame — hence the five unearned runs.

When all was said and done, Tuesday’s 11-7 final score was not indicative of how much the Rangers beat up on the Diamondbacks. While the Diamondbacks did claw their way back in the later innings, the Rangers’ win probability never fell below 98 percent, according to Baseball Savant.

World Series Game 4 win probability by inning via Baseball Savant

For what it’s worth, the Diamondbacks made the game close enough for Rangers manager Bruce Bochy to use closer Jose Leclerc with two outs in the ninth. Leclerc has now pitched on back-to-back nights — a silver lining, to be sure, but also a miniscule consolation in the face of a 3-1 series deficit.

The Rangers now have three cracks at winning their first World Series in franchise history. The Diamondbacks will need three straight wins to claim their second, a daunting task against this red-hot Rangers team that has only lost four games all postseason long.

“Just try to show up tomorrow and win tomorrow,” Diamondbacks lefty Joe Mantiply said after Game 4, “that’s the best way to approach it. It’s just game by game. It’s obviously not the spot you want to be in, but, yeah, you’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

“It’s an all-in mentality,” Lovullo added. “This team has done it every time I can remember, they’ve never let one another down. And I expect that to be the same tomorrow.”

Indeed, the Diamondbacks, who won only 84 regular-season games, have had an uncanny way of coming through when they needed to all year long. They would not be in the World Series if they hadn’t.

Of all of the times they have prevailed over long odds this year, their most impressive feat was arguably overcoming the aforementioned 3-2 deficit against the Phillies to reach the World Series in the first place.

The task before them now is more daunting, but perhaps they can apply what they learned from that experience to this one.

“What we can take from that the most is just be ourselves,” Walker said. “We didn’t try to do anything extra. We relied on each other, we trusted each other. And, looking around this clubhouse, this is the group of guys I want to I want to go to war with.”

“Go out there and play like it’s a regular season game,” Diamondbacks shortstop Geraldo Perdomo added on his Game 5 approach. “We don’t have to feel pressured or anything like that.”

None of the pitching matchups over the next three games — if all are played — heavily favor the Rangers, but none clearly favor the Diamondbacks either.

In Game 5, the Diamondbacks will turn to Zac Gallen against the Rangers’ Nathan Eovaldi. Gallen out-pitched Eovaldi in a crushing Game 1 loss, but the D-backs’ righty has posted an uncharacteristic 5.27 ERA in five postseason starts. The Diamondbacks have lost each of the last three games he has pitched.

If Game 6 happens, it would likely feature Diamondbacks righty Merrill Kelly against Rangers left-hander Jordan Montgomery. Kelly outperformed Montgomery in Game 2, but both Kelly (2.25 ERA) and Montgomery (2.90 ERA) have been very good in the playoffs. On paper, it’s advantage Diamondbacks, but the margin is not particularly large.

In Game 7, the Diamondbacks would all but certainly turn to rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt, who threw well in the D-backs’ Game 4 loss. Texas’ starter in a potential Game 7 is unclear — Jon Gray, who has been very effective in relief, seems like a candidate — but, in any case, it is hard to declare a significant advantage for either side.

What the Diamondbacks do have going for them is that they know what it’s like to play with their backs against the wall, and they have had a lot of success in these situations.

There were numerous times, after all, in the final weeks of the season in which their playoff hopes looked bleak. And, time and time again, they found a way to do just enough to keep their season alive.

In late August, they took three of four at home against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that finished just two games behind them in the standings. In September, they took six of seven games from the Chicago Cubs, who finished only one game behind them. Here in October, every team that has faced the Diamondbacks has eventually gotten run over by his this team of destiny.

The mountain they face now is a bit taller, however, the trek a bit steeper. Perhaps their greatest, final act awaits. Or, maybe, there are some peaks that even these 2023 Diamondbacks are unable to climb.

Follow Jesse Friedman on X (formerly Twitter)

Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic

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