Pfaadt’s scoreless start sets D-backs’ course in Game 3

October 13th, 2023

PHOENIX -- In their first home playoff game in six years, with a chance to advance to their first National League Championship Series since 2007, facing the division-rival Dodgers fresh off their 100-win season, the D-backs handed the ball to a 24-year-old rookie on Wednesday night at Chase Field.

Did ever deliver.

He only pitched 4 1/3 innings -- because that’s all the D-backs needed from him in their 4-2 win in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, as they completed a stunning sweep of the Dodgers. The right-hander allowed just two hits, struck out a pair, and kept the vaunted L.A. offense off-balance throughout.

“I was just there to give them whatever the team needed,” Pfaadt said afterward. “My goal was to be winning the game when I came out. That was my only goal, no matter how long that was.”

Mission accomplished. In a series that was largely decided by the two starting rotations, Pfaadt outpitched veteran right-hander Lance Lynn, who allowed four solo homers in a four-run third inning. That gave Pfaadt a four-run lead to work with, and from there, he only seemed to get stronger.

“I felt good out there,” said Pfaadt, who bounced back from a rough outing in Milwaukee in the NL Wild Card Series. “I felt ready to roll, especially when we hit the four home runs. It was like, ‘Go out there, throw strikes, that's all that matters.’”

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo lifted Pfaadt in the fifth after he’d thrown just 42 pitches. Pfaadt surrendered a one-out double to Will Smith, and with a couple lefties due up, Lovullo called for left-hander Joe Mantiply.

An unassuming Pfaadt handed the ball to Lovullo and walked off the mound to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd.

“His outing? It was fantastic,” Lovullo said. “And I went over and I told him. I said, ‘I understand this was a mistreatment. I promise I won't always do this to you. But we're going to win this game because of your effort, and I want you to understand that.’"

The way Pfaadt was pitching -- the way he was dotting his fastballs, getting whiffs with his changeup, inducing weak contact with his sweeper -- he probably had enough to go deep into this game. If it were May, he probably would have.

But it’s October. And Pfaadt really didn’t need that explanation from Lovullo. He gets it.

“You've got to trust your manager,” Pfaadt said. “And obviously we trust our bullpen, they've been lights out. It wasn't a problem at all.”

In a way, Pfaadt’s 4 1/3 innings were all the D-backs could’ve asked for. They had the back end of their suddenly resurgent bullpen lined up perfectly from there.

When Mantiply retired the next two hitters, stranding Smith at second, that closed the book on Pfaadt. Though he didn’t qualify for the win, he became the first Arizona starter to pitch scoreless ball in a playoff game at Chase Field since Randy Johnson in Game 2 of the 2001 World Series.

It really is not about how you start, but how you finish.

Pfaadt was left off the D-backs’ Opening Day roster in March. He was twice sent down to Triple-A Reno.

“It's been a wild year,” Pfaadt said. “I think going down, working on certain things and coming back up a better pitcher was the main goal. The first time I got sent down there, [they said], ‘You're going to pitch in important games later on in the season for us.’ So, to be able to be in this spot like they said is pretty cool.”

And here’s the important part: He’s not done pitching in those big games.

Presumably, Pfaadt will be lined up to pitch Game 3 of the NLCS vs. the Phillies on Thursday. He’ll be facing a juggernaut offense in Chase Field’s first League Championship game in 16 years.

In the Wild Card Series and even the NLDS, Arizona could rely heavily on its front-line starters and its bullpen. But as the playoffs get deeper, the series get longer and the off-days fewer. Next time, Lovullo just might ask Pfaadt to keep going.

That’s fine by him, too. Pfaadt has made it abundantly clear that he’s here for whatever, so long as the D-backs are winning. And they’re doing an awful lot of that these days.

“Right now, we're dangerous,” Pfaadt said. “People don't want to play us. We've got some momentum in our favor, and we're going to keep showing people who we are.”