Rookie Pfaadt crucial in pitching D-backs to WS: 'It feels unreal'

October 25th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Manager Torey Lovullo flashes back to last year, in the Minor Leagues, as the moment when he first began to understand ’s capabilities. Despite the fact that the D-backs had only recently promoted Pfaadt to Triple-A Reno, the staff there tapped him to start the Pacific Coast League championship game. He pitched well enough to help his team win.

Less than 13 months later, Pfaadt stood off to one side of the D-backs’ clubhouse, speaking loudly so he could be heard over the pulsing music and dancing teammates around him. Pfaadt had just recorded the first 12 outs of Arizona’s 4-2, pennant-clinching win over the Phillies in National League Championship Series Game 7. In doing so, he had furthered his reputation as a pitcher who deserves this sort of stage.

“It feels unbelievable,” Pfaadt said. “To come up with the guys that I came up with, and look them in the face and say that we’re going to the World Series, it feels surreal.”

Much as he did in blanking the Phillies into the sixth inning of Game 3, Pfaadt held a potent lineup mostly in check over the first four innings of Game 7. Striking out Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in the first inning, Pfaadt finally cracked for his first NLCS run on an Alec Bohm leadoff homer in the second.

He avoided further trouble until the fourth, when Bohm walked, Bryson Stott doubled home a go-ahead run and J.T. Realmuto singled to put runners on the corners with one out.

At that point, it wouldn’t have been surprising for Lovullo, who had aggressively managed his starters all postseason, to remove Pfaadt from the game -- similar to his decision in Game 3. Instead, he stuck with the rookie and watched him strike out Nick Castellanos, walk Brandon Marsh, then fan Johan Rojas to strand the bases loaded.

“Pfaadt, he backed it up, what he did over in Arizona,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He pitched well, and their bullpen did a great job.”

Along the way, Pfaadt struck out seven batters, bringing his postseason tally to 22 in four starts with a 2.70 ERA. That strikeout total ranks third highest by a D-backs pitcher in a single postseason, trailing only Curt Schilling (56 in 2001) and Randy Johnson (47, also in ‘01).

“You expect hiccups for young players,” Lovullo said. “But … he’s just gone out there and learned and grown with good coaching, accepting that. For him to start Game 7, it didn’t faze any of us. We knew he could develop a game plan and go out there and execute it. We wanted that to continue.”

In discussing Pfaadt, Lovullo has been quick to mention not only that the D-backs opted against carrying him on their Opening Day roster, but that they twice optioned him to Triple-A during the season. On each occasion, Lovullo said, Pfaadt returned a more polished pitcher.

“Every time he came back to the big leagues, it was like, ‘OK, he learned something else when he was down there,’” said teammate Zac Gallen. “To go out there in Game 7 when your back’s against the wall, maybe in one of the more hostile environments in baseball, maybe in all of professional sports, I just think speaks to the character of the guy.”

Although the D-backs have yet to announce their World Series roster against the Rangers, it seems inevitable that Pfaadt will start Game 3, just as he did in the NLCS. This series, Pfaadt said, was “a one-of-a-kind experience.” The idea of pitching in a World Series?

“It feels unreal,” Pfaadt said. “It’s like a dream come true. You grow up wanting this moment.”