After getting washed out in the first two games of the NLCS in Philly, the Arizona Diamondbacks came back home and flipped the script on the Phillies in Game 3 — and flipped the script on this series in the process.
Games 1 and 2 were played on Philly’s terms: raucous, rowdy affairs. Back in the friendly confines of Chase Field, however, the D-backs managed to turn Thursday’s affair into a small-ball battle — the kind of baseball they’d played all October to get to this point. And just like they’ve done all October, Arizona made sure it was their opponent who cracked under the pressure, wearing out Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel in the bottom of the ninth until Ketel Marte finally delivered the knockout blow.
The Snakes upset the Brewers and Dodgers with a simple formula: great pitching, from both the rotation and the bullpen, that held down the fort until a pass-the-baton offense finally came through with a timely hit or two. Philly short-circuited that formula at Citizens Bank Park, as a runaway freight train of an offense never allowed Arizona to get their footing. But the story was far different in Game 3, and if the D-backs have a single man to thank for keeping their season alive, it’s a name that would’ve seemed wildly unlikely even a few weeks ago: rookie starter Brandon Pfaadt.
Arizona’s top pitching prospect entering the year, Pfaadt’s introduction to the Majors was rough, with a 5.72 ERA over 18 starts in the regular season — eight of which featured at least four runs allowed. The fact that he was still Torey Lovullo’s best option behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in the postseason rotation felt like more an indictment of the D-backs’ pitching depth than anything, an impression only strengthened by an ugly 2.2-inning start in the Wild Card round against Milwaukee.
But Pfaadt turned that narrative around in the NLDS, dominating the Dodgers for 4.2 scoreless frames in the decisive Game 3, and he was even better on Thursday afternoon.
His fastball crackled at the top of the zone, his sinker consistently ran in and off the plate to righties and his sweeper — his main weapon all year long — was a bear all day, producing five of his nine strikeouts.
Brandon Pfaadt, 93mph Four Seam Fastball, 93mph Sinker and 85mph Sweeper, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 19, 2023
That's mean. pic.twitter.com/dhIAyjlPQ4
Pfaadt allowed just two hits over 5.2 innings, as a Philly offense that always felt one swing away from a huge inning to start this series suddenly struggled to even get a man into scoring position. (D-backs Twitter was ready to erupt when Lovullo refused to let Pfaadt, who’d thrown just 69 pitches to that point, face leadoff man Kyle Schwarber for the third time. Pfaadt had struck Schwarber out twice, but given his terrible numbers the third time through the order this season, it was the right call to be a batter early rather than a batter late — and sure enough, Andrew Saalfrank did the job.)
As good as Pfaadt was, though, his team couldn’t give him any run support. After getting blanked by both Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, Arizona’s offense couldn’t do much of anything against lefty Ranger Suarez, who added to his growing postseason legend with yet another excellent start. Suarez just about matched Pfaadt zero for zero (and in typical Suarez fashion, he hardly seemed to break a sweat doing it). His first real trouble came in the sixth, when a Marte double and a fielder’s choice but a man on third with just one out — and prompted Rob Thomson to get to his bullpen hoping to preserve the tie. Jeff Hoffman came on and did the job, getting Gabriel Moreno to strike out before inducing a groundout from Christian Walker.
Jeff Hoffman, Wicked 88mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/T06LyrFkX8— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 19, 2023
With both starters out of the game and things still scoreless, the game shifted to a battle of the bullpens — exactly the situation in which Arizona thrived in both the Wild Card and Divisional rounds. This time, however, it was Philly who struck first, ditching their homer-happy ways to play some small ball of their own. Bryce Harper and Alec Bohm led off the seventh with a pair of base hits. It seemed like Bryson Stott — really struggling at the plate right now — had killed the rally with a double play ... until D-backs righty Ryan Thompson uncorked a slider to the backstop, allowing Harper to score.
BRYCE HARPER SCORES ON A WILD PITCH TO GRAB THE LEAD IN THE 7TH pic.twitter.com/XZxFu2rW2R— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) October 19, 2023
With a one-run lead and nine outs to get to essentially salt this series away, it felt like the clock had finally struck midnight on the Diamondbacks. The Phillies bullpen, after all, had been great all postseason, and they were rested and ready following an off day. But Rob Thomson made a curious choice in the bottom of the seventh: Rather than Seranthony Dominguez or Jose Alvarado, Philly’s top two high-leverage choices just about all year, he opted for rookie Orion Kerkering. Kerkering has been great since being called up in September, but he’s been great in lower-pressure roles; thrust into the limelight, he struggled, serving up a single to Tommy Pham and a double down the line by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that scored pinch-runner Alek Thomas all the way from first.
Gurriel drives in Alek Thomas and the game is tied! pic.twitter.com/3dDt6O0GI1— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 19, 2023
Just like that, we were tied again. Both teams had plenty of chances to snatch the lead over the next couple of innings: Arizona failed to score despite having runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh, then stranded two in the eighth; Philly, for their part, had Bryce Harper in scoring position in the ninth but couldn’t cash him in as Alec Bohm struck out looking.
That took us to the bottom half, where Craig Kimbrel — who’s largely been good as the Phillies’ closer but hasn’t been able to consistently throw strikes for weeks now — made a total mess of things. Kimbrel walked Gurriel Jr. to start the inning, then allowed him to steal second base easily (Gurriel started running before Kimbrel even broke to home plate, giving J.T. Realmuto no chance to throw him out). An infield single by Pavin Smith put the winning run 90 feet away for Emmanuel Rivera, who hit a hot shot to Trea Turner at third — and kicked off a wild sequence at home plate as Gurriel tried to avoid Realmuto’s tag:
Gurriel is thrown out at home! pic.twitter.com/EWWTvkK3nl— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 19, 2023
Turner’s (and Realmuto’s) heroics kept hope alive for a little while longer, but Kimbrel was never getting out of that jam alive. He went on to walk Geraldo Perdomo to load the bases, setting the stage for Marte’s heroics to send everybody home. Now, all of a sudden, a series that seemed all but decided when we left Citizens Bank Park takes on a whole different complexion as we approach Game 4.
They may not be easy (or easy on the nerves), but these are the sorts of games Arizona needs to get into if they have any hope of winning this series. Game 3 proved that they can, in fact, keep Philly’s offense at bay long enough to drag things into the muck, where one or two big swings (or big mistakes) can make the difference. Of course, they won’t have Pfaadt — or, presumably, Gallen or Kelly — in Game 4, likely having to cobble together a bullpen game, and their margin for error is remains nil. Still, things feel much different out in the desert now. First pitch from Chase Field is set for 8:07 p.m. ET on Friday night.