PHILADELPHIA -- Citizens Bank Park was ready to erupt. With every pitcher the D-backs trotted out to the mound, the sold-out crowd cheered, hopeful this would be the pitching change that would wake up the Phillies’ bats and send them into a frenzy.
The D-backs’ bullpen, however, had other plans.
After Brandon Pfaadt allowed two earned runs over four innings in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo turned to Joe Mantiply, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald to combine for the final 15 outs that sent the club to its second World Series appearance in franchise history.
Just as they’ve done all postseason long, the five relievers stepped up in a big way, each of them throwing up a zero to preserve a 4-2 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday night.
“To come into this environment and stand on a 4-2 lead -- and we’ve done that several times down the stretch, not just in the playoffs -- you know you have a very capable bullpen,” Lovullo said. “So the pieces were in place, and they started taking over from there.”
Mantiply, who was the D-backs’ lone All-Star representative last season, was the first man up. After giving up a leadoff double to Kyle Schwarber in the fifth, the left-hander was able to settle in, retiring Trea Turner and Bryce Harper for two quick outs.
With the righty Alec Bohm due up with two outs, Lovullo went to Thompson, who has been lights-out for the D-backs since making his debut with the team on Aug. 27. Thompson retired Bohm plus three more hitters in the sixth on only 10 pitches.
Thompson appeared in four of the seven NLCS games, with three of them being scoreless outings. Thompson, who started the season with the Rays, posted an 0.75 ERA in 12 appearances in September.
In the seventh, with the D-backs needing nine outs, Lovullo’s plan was relatively simple. Saalfrank was going to face the string of lefties that started with Brandon Marsh and ended with Harper. But the rookie left-hander struggled, walking two batters and forcing Lovullo to go to Ginkel for five outs.
The reliable power-throwing right-hander got Turner and Harper to fly out to end the threat.
“He threw me the pitch I wanted,” Harper said. “Yeah, I went 2-1, and he threw me a heater and I just … man, just not being able to come through in that moment just devastates me personally.”
Ginkel’s performance became even more dominant in the eighth, as he struck out the side on 14 pitches and let out a massive roar to his dugout.
In the ninth, Sewald retired the side in order, making him a perfect 6-for-6 in converting save opportunities this postseason. Sewald is now one save shy of tying the longest streak of saves converted in a single postseason, held by six different relievers.
“They started ripping off some really good stuff in the middle of September and really started to carry us,” said D-backs general manager Mike Hazen. “And then at that point moving forward, they rarely gave up a run.”
That has continued into the postseason. Ginkel has not allowed a run in all eight of his appearances in October. The same goes for Sewald, who has been one of the best Trade Deadline acquisitions in franchise history. But even the veteran right-hander has been surprised by the team’s quick turnaround.
Through Aug. 2, the D-backs’ bullpen ERA was 4.45, ranking 23rd in MLB. After that, the D-backs vastly improved that clip with a 3.81 ERA, ranking 10th in the Majors.
“Why would I have done that? They were the worst bullpen in baseball,” Sewald laughed, when asked if this is what he envisioned out of the bullpen when he was acquired from Seattle in August. “There’s no reason to think that the bullpen could carry us in the postseason. … But everyone has fit into their roles, and it has been incredible.”
That bullpen makeover started when the D-backs acquired Sewald. While all the attention was on splashy deals around the league like Justin Verlander, Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer, the D-backs sneakily made just as big of a deal to acquire their closer.
Adding Sewald allowed the younger relievers to settle into their roles. That then opened the door for Thompson, who was designated for assignment by the Rays in August, to become an integral middle reliever. Ginkel has been one of the hottest relievers in baseball for over a month. Saalfrank was called up at the start of September to be a lefty killer.
“I think once they got to that point where Paul was locking down that ninth, and we were filling it with Kevin, and at the time it was Kyle Nelson because Andrew Saalfrank wasn’t here yet, and then we picked up Thompson,” Lovullo said. “It was one thing after another that fell into the right place, and once they got their roles, they took off.”
All of those moves have led the D-backs to the World Series. And while not even Sewald could’ve envisioned this, it’s been the Arizona bullpen leading the way, and it might just be their biggest strength as they head to Texas for a date in the World Series with the Rangers.
“It’s a good feeling when you know if you get to those later innings,” said D-backs designated hitter Evan Longoria, "there will be some zeros put up.”