Moreno: Game 1 HR off Kershaw 'a dream come true'

Back in lineup after Wild Card Series injury scare, D-backs' catcher leads bats' barrage in LA

October 8th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- There was some question about whether D-backs catcher would be available for the National League Division Series after he was struck on the head by a backswing in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Brewers, but he was cleared to return to action after his symptoms began to subside in recent days.

“A major sigh of relief,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We believe in our understudies, but he's an impact player that we dearly needed for this series.”

It didn’t take Moreno long to wipe away any lingering health concerns, as he launched a three-run home run that highlighted a stunning six-run rally against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw in the first inning and paved the way for Arizona’s commanding 11-2 win in Game 1 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.

“It was incredible,” Moreno said in Spanish. “To hit that home run in my first at-bat against Kershaw was a dream come true. You don’t expect that to happen, but I have to thank God for giving me that moment.”

The D-backs jumped all over Kershaw, who gave up five consecutive hits to open the game and retired only one of the eight batters he faced in perhaps the worst start of his storied 16-year career.

Ketel Marte opened the game with a drive to left-center field that hit off the heel of James Outman’s glove and fell for a leadoff double. Corbin Carroll followed with a single to right field that scored Marte and gave Arizona a quick 1-0 lead. 

Tommy Pham reached on another single to put a pair of runners on for Christian Walker, who smoked an RBI double off the bottom of the left-field wall. 

Moreno then delivered the biggest blow, crushing a 3-2 slider out to left for a mammoth 419-foot shot that put the D-backs up, 5-0, before Kershaw could even record an out. The 23-year-old Venezuelan celebrated his second postseason home run with an emphatic bat flip, firing up his teammates in the D-backs’ dugout and silencing the sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium. 

“It was a big bat flip,” center fielder Alek Thomas said. “We laughed about it in the dugout, but it was pretty sweet.

“He’s been awesome all year," continued Thomas. "He’s a good teammate on and off the field. Nothing but great things to say about Gaby. He hit a bomb today.”  

Moreno added an infield single off Shelby Miller in the sixth, delivering one of three multihit efforts for the D-backs. Despite the injury scare in Milwaukee, Moreno never entered concussion protocol and said he began to feel better once the initial dizziness from Brice Turang’s backswing went away.  

“Fortunately, I feel good and healthy,” Moreno said. “That’s the most important thing. I want to be behind the plate every day, so I’m happy that I was able to recover and get back there today.”

Moreno, who was acquired from the Blue Jays along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. over the offseason, has emerged as a difference-maker on both sides of the ball in his first season with the D-backs. He slashed .284/.339/.408 with seven home runs during the regular season, ranking second in batting average among catchers who logged at least 350 plate appearances this year. He also impressed with his defense, leading the Majors with a 38.6 caught-stealing percentage while leading big league backstops with 20 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs. 

The D-backs improved to 58-37 in 95 games with Moreno in the lineup, compared to 27-41 in 68 games without him this year.

“We all know what our team's record is when he is in the lineup versus out of it,” Lovullo said. “There's stability there with receiving and game calling. It's an offensive-minded catcher that can separate it and go back behind the plate and do his job there and get dirty and throw runners out.” 

Moreno appeared in only 87 games between the Majors and the Minors in 2022, but he’s blown past that mark this year, logging a career-high 111 games during the regular season. Despite shouldering the heaviest workload of his young career, Moreno said he feels good physically and is ready to continue grinding behind the plate in October. 

“It’s been a really long season, especially since it’s my first full year in the big leagues,” Moreno said. “I’ve caught more games than I ever have before. That was my goal and what I’ve been working for. Being here in the playoffs and having a chance to go to the World Series is what you dream of as a kid, so I’m going to be out there battling every day.”