Benched in G5, Pham responds with big HR in G6

October 24th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- After starting the National League Championship Series going 1-for-13, knew his spot in the lineup was in jeopardy. The first sign of it came in Game 4 when the D-backs turned to pinch-hitter Pavin Smith, not Pham, in a crucial spot.

As Pham walked back into the clubhouse after Game 4, his inkling turned into reality. Manager Torey Lovullo delivered the news that he would not be in the D-backs’ starting lineup for Game 5, marking the first time in the postseason that the 35-year-old would have to watch from the bench.

“No player wants to get taken out of a Championship Series game,” Pham said. “This is the big stage now. Everyone is watching. You want to be out there. But when I got the memo that I was sitting for Game 5, I was pissed. I was really pissed. It kind of humbles you, but it also motivates you.”

For a moment, Pham wasn’t sure if he was going to get another crack at making an impact the rest of the postseason. But when he got the Game 6 lineup text late Sunday night, he saw he was back in there, hitting fifth as the team’s designated hitter.

Pham knew he had to take advantage of this opportunity.

He wasted no time rewarding the trust of his team, smacking a solo homer off Phillies starter Aaron Nola in the second inning, setting the tone for the D-backs’ eventual 5-1 win over the Phillies in Game 6 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.

Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went back to back that inning as the D-backs became the first NL team to hit consecutive homers three times in a single postseason. The only other team to achieve the feat were the 2007 Red Sox, who went on to win the World Series.

“I was happy, I was thrilled, I was pumped, because if worse came to worst and our season ended, I didn’t want to be remembered with Game 4,” Pham said. “I’m glad I got another opportunity.”

Before Game 6, Lovullo said he expected Pham to have a good game. The D-backs, as they usually do, dug in on Nola and tried to determine which players’ swing patterns matched up better against the right-hander, who had tossed six scoreless frames against Arizona in Game 2. The more they looked at it, the more they thought Pham’s swing could be advantageous, especially against the knuckle curve.

That’s exactly how it worked out. Pham was able to turn on a 2-2 curve from Nola and smacked a solo homer that landed 10 rows deep in left field and traveled a projected 406 feet, according to Statcast. It was Pham’s second homer of the 2023 postseason, but possibly the biggest one of his career.

“I know he’s got a warrior mentality,” Lovullo said. “He didn’t like watching a game the other day from the other side. I know that he feels like he got benched, but I just was giving him a little bit of a blow. … It was a great moment for him and a great moment for this team.”

As the D-backs looked for a veteran right-handed bat before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, general manager Mike Hazen started to ask former teams and teammates about Pham. The feedback was consistent across the board: Pham has an intense personality, but he has earned the respect of his peers because of his work ethic.

At the plate, Pham posted a .720 OPS in 50 regular-season games and consistently hit third as the D-backs made a postseason push.

“In my mind, it’s just been the ability to watch him work and go about his craft every day. I think that really sets the tone for us,” said D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll. “I’ve never seen someone -- and I’m not in any way calling him old -- but I’ve plainly never seen a 35-year-old who takes as many swings as he does, is as serious about his work as he is, and I mean that entirely as a compliment.”

Those were the traits that helped Pham gain the trust of the young players during his year-and-a-half stint with Tampa Bay. The same applies to last season in Cincinnati. This year, Mets superstar Francisco Lindor credited Pham for helping him understand the value of putting in the work every day.

“I think that part, I didn’t know about him,” said D-backs outfielder Alek Thomas. “That part right there speaks volumes that a guy like that, who has been around for so long, is still working extremely hard in his craft.”

That work didn’t stop after getting benched in Game 5. Instead, Pham worked harder leading up to Game 6. He took extra rounds of batting practice on the field and in the cage. He’ll now look to do the same as the D-backs try to win their first NL pennant since 2001 on Tuesday.

“I’m already pretty self-motivated,” Pham said, when asked if he came into Game 6 with an edge after sitting in Game 5. “But that kind of helped.”