Jeff BassonESPN5 minutes of reading
PHILADELPHIA — When baseball’s postseason began to be doubted and dismissed, the Arizona Diamondbacks embodied the words of their manager, Torrey Luollo, in October.
He likes to tell them, “Anything can happen.”
What happened Tuesday night was the most improbable World Series in baseball history: The Diamondbacks, behind series MVP Ketel Marte, stunned the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies with a 4-2 victory in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. For the second night in a row, they entered Citizens Bank Park, a hellish scene for teams that had not won their first six games here this season, and had beaten the Phillies twice.
In eliminating the Phillies, the 84-win Diamondbacks finished 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and will face the Texas Rangers in their first World Series since 2001. That year, their fourth expansion franchise since joining in 1998, the Diamondbacks ended the New York Yankees’ dynasty with Luis Gonzalez’s dramatic walk-off single off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 7.
Arizona entered the season with 125-1 odds to make the World Series and Texas at 50-1. Both teams snuck into the postseason as wild cards. Both need to win Game 7s to clinch Game 1 at 8 p.m. Friday at Globe Life Field in Texas, with Caesars Sportsbook establishing the Rangers as minus-180 favorites over the Diamondbacks in the World Series.
The Diamondbacks’ Game 7 win was more gut-wrenching than the Rangers’ 11-4 win over the Houston Astros. Arizona rode a tour-de-force game from rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll, who went 3-for-4 and scored two runs after spending much of the series struggling, going 3-for-4 and stealing two bases. Following a solid four-inning start by rookie Brandon Pifatt, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, long ineffective and poor, strung together five shutout innings of Joe Montibley, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Chalfrank, Kevin Zingel and Jackpinch-retired Paul Sewald. Cave laments what could have been to send home a sellout crowd of 45,397.
“Corbin Carroll is better in person than watching highlights on TV,” said Sewald, who got the final three outs after such a momentous acquisition at the trade deadline.
It doesn’t look like the Diamondbacks will get a chance. In the regular season, they allowed 15 more runs than they scored, the second-worst mark for a World Series finalist behind the 1987 Minnesota Twins’ minus-20 run differential. Their 84 wins, just ahead of the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, tied with the New York Mets in 1973 for the worst stretch for the second NL wild card spot behind the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.
In the wild-card round, Arizona defeated the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers. In the division series, the Diamondbacks ambushed the Dodgers and swept them. They still entered the NLCS as distinct underdogs to the Phillies, though Arizona ultimately proved itself more than worthy competition.
In the first two games, the series was one-sided. The Phillies took the opener 5-3 and went on to sweep Arizona 2, 10-0. As the series headed toward Phoenix, the Diamondbacks grappled with a troubling reality: Lose Game 3 and the series was almost certainly over. Arizona pulled closer Craig Kimbrel down 2-1 in Game 3, and chased it down with a 6-5 victory on Kimbrel’s spectacular eighth inning.
With the series split, the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks and ace Zach Gallen lost for the second time, putting themselves in a great position: With a pair of chances to win a game, they went home undefeated all postseason. Philadelphia fumbled on its first try, and the Diamondbacks finally started to look like themselves.
Arizona prides itself on creating chaos on the basepaths, stealing just one base in the first five games of the series. They ripped off four sacks during a 5-1 win in Game 6 and came back ready to do the same in Game 7.
The offense started early, and at one point the Diamondbacks prioritized quieting the raucous Citizens Bank Park crowd. Carroll, who entered the game with just three hits in 26 at-bats during the series, slapped an infield single and moved to third base on a single by Gabriel Moreno, who, like Carroll, is 23 years old. Full season. Carroll scored on a Christian Walker fielder’s choice, and Pfaadt scored on a first.
Diamondbacks players knew that in the first six games, the Phillies won three of the first innings they hit and three they didn’t. Even with that zero first, Philadelphia didn’t panic. Pfaadt singled into the left-field stands in the second inning, tying the score at 1, as cleanup hitter Alec Bohm prompted fans to strip Ruff Thompson. Two innings later, Bohm walked. Bryson Stott hit a double. It seemed like late October was here: Phillies leading, bank rocking.
In five everything changed. Emmanuel Rivera led off with a single against Ranger Suarez and advanced to second on a Geraldo Perdomo sacrifice. Suarez struck out Marte and Carroll, who was hitless in 10 at-bats against left-handed pitchers in the series, struck out Rivera. Thompson struck out Suarez, inserted Jeff Hoffman, watched as Carroll stole second — one of four Diamondbacks stolen bases for the second consecutive night — and Rivera scored on a single, giving Arizona a 3-2 advantage.
The Diamondbacks added another run in the seventh when Perdomo singled, Marte went to third on a double and Carroll scored on a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 4-2. Philadelphia had its chances. Chalfranc, a freshman, struck out Christian Pacey and Kyle Schwarber in the top of the seventh, prompting Lovullo Zingle to call. He induced flyouts from Trey Turner and Bryce Harper — who were 0-for-8 — before striking out Bohm, Stott and JD Realmudo in a spectacular eighth inning.
After Sewald shut down the ninth, the Diamondbacks unleashed the most improbable celebration. Snakes are actually alive.
“We’ve been playing really meaningful games for a long time,” Lovullo said before the game — and starting Friday, they’ll be playing even more meaningful ones.