D-backs silence doubters, advance to World Series

October 27th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- For most of the D-backs' 26-year existence, the franchise's one indelible image, the portrait that time has never come close to erasing, is that of Luis Gonzalez's bloop hit to beat Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Other memorable seasons have followed. Other players have had their moments. Nothing, though, has come particularly close to comparing.

At long last, Arizona has a chance to re-create that type of legacy. In beating the Phillies, 4-2, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, the D-backs won the second pennant in franchise history and their first since 2001. More than that, they overcame a series of so-called better teams and long odds to prove their mettle as the NL's best.

Two years ago, Arizona lost 110 games. Rebuilt behind rookie , a more developed rotation and a wholly unrecognizable bullpen, the D-backs reversed their fortunes this season to win 84. They have since won nine more to reach the World Series, becoming the first NL team to be outscored during the regular season and still win the pennant.

Their reward is a World Series date with the Rangers beginning Friday in Arlington.

“There were a lot of teams that probably felt like we didn’t deserve to be here,” starting pitcher Zac Gallen said. “It was almost this quiet ‘All right. We’ll show you.’”

And so the D-backs did. Silent for so much of the NLCS, Carroll broke out with three hits, two stolen bases, two runs scored and a sacrifice fly. It was Carroll's RBI single off Ranger Suárez in the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park that scored the tying run, and his stolen base moments later that allowed him to score on Gabriel Moreno's hit to right. With that, the D-backs took a lead they would never relinquish.

Rookie , who held the Phillies to two runs over the game's first four innings, gave way to a quintet of relievers. The Phillies never stopped pressing, notably drawing two walks with one out in the seventh. But extinguished that rally to maintain the lead for Arizona, then returned to strike out the side in the eighth.

When the final out settled into Carroll’s glove in the ninth, closer Paul Sewald threw his hands skyward, standing motionless until Moreno ran over and jumped on his back. As the entire team poured out of the visiting dugout to celebrate, Citizens Bank Park went mostly quiet.

“The crowd was a huge factor,” designated hitter Evan Longoria said. “When we came back for [Game 6], we jumped out to a lead and kind of got the crowd out of it a little bit. I think we realized, man, if we can do that, if we can silence them, it will be big for us.”

In that fashion, the D-backs slayed another relative goliath. In baseball and other sports, it has become cliché for teams to trumpet themselves as underdogs. The narrative that no one ever believed in them is an easy one to espouse. It’s also often wrong. And while it wasn’t entirely true with the D-backs either -- they were a popular preseason pick to make some noise in September, if not October, and spent much of the early season in first place -- their case has always been more credible than most.

The D-backs do not have the brand of the Phillies. Their franchise is more than a century younger. Their star power, to the casual fan, is dimmer. And yet some part of that seemed to free them to play looser and better in the NLCS, ignoring the fact that only two pennant winners ever finished a season with fewer victories.

“Watching them prior to this series, I don’t think anything scared that team,” Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper said. “I don’t think they had any doubt in their minds of coming back here and playing in Philadelphia. They did it to the Brewers, they did it to the Dodgers and then they were able to do it to us as well. I just don’t think that team is scared of any situation or any spot.”

Even after losing the first two games behind their best two pitchers, the D-backs remained optimistic. When they won Game 3 with Pfaadt and Game 4 behind eight pitchers, Ginkel referenced the narrative “that we can’t hang with these guys.” When Phillies backup catcher Garrett Stubbs talked about jumping in the pool if Philadelphia clinched the pennant at Chase Field, Lovullo used it as motivation.

“That bothered me a little bit,” the manager said. “I think it motivated this team externally. Internally, they’re very motivated. Being able to take a photo here as NLCS [champions], it made it a little more special.”

The D-backs did more than snap photos. In a boisterous postgame clubhouse, they doused Lovullo, sprayed champagne everywhere and poured beverages down each other’s backs. Longoria danced shirtless, making him an easy target for a group of teammates looking to dump entire buckets of beer on the unsuspecting. Seventy-five-year-old pitching coach Brent Strom, holding a D-backs flag in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, asked a reporter to take a photo he could send to his wife.

Through it all, players and coaches marveled at the scene.

“Pretty good,” Carroll said, shaking his head and punctuating the words with four additional letters.

Throughout this postseason run, Lovullo has encouraged his players to savor victories before moving on to the next day. This was no exception -- not for a win that was years in the making.

Asked if he thought at all about his 110-loss season during the celebration early Wednesday morning, Lovullo replied: “I’ve thought about it 100 times, for sure. I’ve thought about it 110 times.”

“I can’t wrap my arms around it,” the manager said. “And I know that the Rangers are in a very similar boat. It just goes to show you perseverance, persistence, hard work, that anything’s possible. We’re a small-market organization, and we’ve done it from within. That makes it very sweet.”