PHILADELPHIA — An improbable postseason ride will continue for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who forced Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday after beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 in Game 6 on Monday.
Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly was fantastic, setting the tone for the visitors as he gave up just one run over five innings. In the process, he helped quiet the usually raucous Philadelphia crowd.
“I think that’s the first time they sat for a playoff game,” closer Paul Sewald observed after the game. “It’s just a testament to how we got this game started.”
After Kelly left two stranded in the first inning — no small task against the Phillies in this series — the Diamondbacks tallied three runs in the top of the second. Struggling designated hitter Tommy Pham got the ball rolling as he hit a solo shot off Phillies starter Aaron Nola just a couple of days after being benched in Game 5. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did the same moments later.
“I’m already pretty self-motivated but that kind of helped,” Pham said of the benching. “It felt tremendous.”
Arizona added another run that inning on an Evan Longoria RBI double as Nola lost any feel he had to start the game.
“It was a little strange because first thing he comes out and he really executed everything,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.
Nola lasted only 4⅓ innings while giving up four runs on six hits and two walks. His counterpart went only five innings and was stunned when manager Torey Lovullo pulled him after he struck out Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper on nasty curveballs, part of an easy 1-2-3 inning.
Kelly used his complete array of pitches during his 5-inning gem. Fastballs up, sinkers away, curves and sliders down. The Phillies just couldn’t get a read on him, making it all the more curious when he was pulled after 90 pitches. He and Lovullo had a lively discussion in the dugout afterward.
“What I can share about it is he was pounding the table to go back out there and was shocked that I was going to remove him from the game,” Lovullo said. “But we had another brief conversation, and I explained to him why I was doing it, and he began to slowly understand.”
Said Kelly: “I think partly why I was upset right there was I was kind of just taken off-guard by it. I just went through their top three, punched out two of them. Ninety pitches through five, I’m thinking I’m for sure going back out for six. When I came in and saw his hand out for the handshake that I was done, it kind of just took me by shock more than anything.”
A parade of relievers, starting with sidearm righty Ryan Thompson, shut down the Phillies for the rest of the game, avoiding a controversy for Lovullo.
Now the focus turns to Game 7, and the Phillies are trying to keep a positive attitude after losing at home for the first time this postseason. The winner of Tuesday night’s game will go on to face the Texas Rangers in the Fall Classic.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Schwarber said. “This is what you play for. Obviously, it sucks. You wish you got it done today, absolutely. But it’s an exciting thing and we’re embracing it.”
So are the Diamondbacks, who continue to shock the baseball world. It’s something they’re embracing.
“We deserve this moment,” Lovullo said. “We’re going to play Game 7, and for me Game 7, it’s like all hands on deck, anything is possible. Game 7s are Game 7s for a reason.”
Zac Gallen, the starter for Games 1 and 5, said he’ll be ready out of the bullpen for Arizona, if he’s needed. Rookie Brandon Pfaadt will start the game, becoming the seventh rookie in the wild-card era to do so.
“I think being in the position to start Game 7, I think that would be huge,” Pfaadt said before the Game 6 win. “Especially as a rookie. I think I’m going to give it my all, give it all to the team and try to come out with a win tomorrow.”
Pfaadt said it was a little different to prepare for a game that he wasn’t sure would be played, but he tried to treat it like any other start. It certainly won’t be. Like Gallen, Zack Wheeler, the Phillies’ starter for Games 1 and 5, could be available out of the bullpen as well.
“I would think so,” Thomson said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck.”
Philadelphia will send lefty Ranger Suarez to the mound to start the game. He and Pfaadt both pitched well in Game 3, a 2-1 win by the Diamondbacks.
“It’s going to be fun to put everyone’s best efforts and best everything that we got tomorrow [Tuesday],” Schwarber stated. “That’s all we got, is tomorrow.”
A loss would be a devastating one for Philadelphia as the Phillies were the heavy favorites to return to the World Series after the top seeds in the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, both lost in the division series. But the Diamondbacks have proved to be resilient — especially after losing the first two games of this series.
Now they’re in it to win it.
“We’re pretty pumped,” Pham said.
“We put ourselves in the ultimate position,” Longoria said. “To go out there and win a game to go to the World Series. Could not be more proud of the group and what we accomplished. The belief in here is very strong.”
Diamondbacks rookie Corbin Carroll summed up his feelings prior to Game 7: “It’s going to be hard to sleep tonight.”