PHILADELPHIA — Doubted and dismissed when baseball’s postseason began, the Arizona Diamondbacks have spent October embodying the words of their manager, Torey Lovullo.
“Anything can happen,” he likes to tell them.
What happened Tuesday night set up perhaps the most improbable World Series in baseball history: The Diamondbacks stunned the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies with a 4-2 victory in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. For the second consecutive night, they sauntered into Citizens Bank Park, a hellscape for visiting teams that had gone winless during the first six games here this postseason, and beat the Phillies twice.
In doing so, the 84-win Diamondbacks, who finished 16 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West division, will face the Texas Rangers in their first World Series since 2001. That year, just their fourth since joining in 1998 as an expansion franchise, 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 barely snuck into the postseason as wild cards. And both needed to win Game 7s to get to Game 1, which will take place at Texas’ Globe Life Field on Friday at 8 p.m.
The Diamondbacks’ Game 7 win proved far more stomach-churning than the Rangers’ 11-4 blowout of the Houston Astros. Arizona rode a tour-de-force game from rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll, who went 3-for-4, drove in two runs, scored two more and stole two bases after spending much of the series struggling. Following a solid four-inning start from rookie Brandon Pfaadt, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, long ineffective and maligned, cobbled together five shutout innings from Joe Mantiply, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Kevin Ginkel and closer Paul Sewald, who retired pinch-hitter Jake Cave to send the sellout crowd of 45,397 home lamenting what could’ve been.
“Corbin Carroll is even better in person than he is watching highlights on TV,” said Sewald, who secured the final three outs after being acquired at the trade deadline for a moment like this.
It didn’t look like the Diamondbacks would get the opportunity. During the regular season, they allowed 15 more runs than they scored, the second-worst mark ever for an eventual World Series participant, behind the 1987 Minnesota Twins, whose run differential was minus-20. Their 84 wins are tied with the 1973 New York Mets for the second-fewest for a World Series participant, just ahead of the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Losers of their final four games of the regular season, the Diamondbacks backed into the second NL wild-card spot after the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds faltered even worse down the stretch.
In the wild-card round, Arizona swept the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers. In the division series, the Diamondbacks ambushed the Dodgers and swept them, too. They still entered the NLCS as distinct underdogs to the Phillies, though Arizona eventually proved itself more than worthy competition.
Over the first two games, the series looked one-sided. The Phillies took the opener, 5-3, and filleted Arizona in Game 2, 10-0. As the series headed to Phoenix, the Diamondbacks grappled with a troubling reality: lose Game 3 and the series was almost certainly over. Arizona got to Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel to eke out a 2-1 win in Game 3 and chased that with a 6-5 comeback victory that Kimbrel blew spectacularly in the eighth inning.
With the series split, the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks with ace Zac Gallen losing for the second time and found themselves in an ideal position: headed home, where they hadn’t lost all postseason, with a pair of chances to win one game. Philadelphia faltered in its first try, with the Diamondbacks finally starting to look like themselves.
Arizona, which prides itself on creating chaos on the basepaths, stole just one base in the series’ first five games. They ripped four bags during a 5-1 victory in Game 6 and came back in Game 7 ready to do the same.
The offense got started early, a point the Diamondbacks made a priority to quiet 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 from Gabriel Moreno, who, like Carroll, is a 23-year-old in his first full season. A Christian Walker fielder’s choice scored Carroll, and Pfaadt followed with a scoreless first.
Diamondbacks players knew that over the first six games, the Phillies had won the three in which they scored in the first inning and lost the three where they didn’t. Even with that zero in the first, Philadelphia didn’t panic. Alec Bohm, the cleanup hitter whose rough series prompted fans to call for manager Rob Thomson to drop him in the lineup, took Pfaadt into the left-field stands in the second inning to knot the game at 1. Two innings later, Bohm walked and scored on a Bryson Stott double. It looked like the rest of October had here: the Phillies leading, the Bank rocking.
Everything changed in the fifth. Emmanuel Rivera led off with a single against Suarez and advanced to second on a Geraldo Perdomo sacrifice. Suarez struck out Ketel Marte, bringing up Carroll, who after going hitless in 10 at-bats against left-handed pitchers in the series got his third single of the day off Suarez, scoring Rivera. Thomson removed Suarez, inserted Jeff Hoffman, watched Carroll steal second — one of four Diamondbacks stolen bases for the second consecutive night — and score on a Rivera single, giving Arizona a 3-2 advantage.
The Diamondbacks added another run in the seventh when Perdomo singled, went to third on a Marte double and scored on a Carroll sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 4-2. Philadelphia had its chances. Saalfrank, a rookie, walked Cristian Pache and Kyle Schwarber with one out in the seventh, prompting Lovullo to call on Ginkel. He induced flyouts from Trea Turner and Bryce Harper — who were a combined 0-for-8 — before striking out Bohm, Stott and J.T. Realmuto in a brilliant eighth inning.
After Sewald locked down the ninth, the Diamondbacks unleashed a most improbable celebration. Snakes alive indeed.
“We’ve been playing really meaningful games for a long time,” Lovullo said before the game — and starting Friday, they’ll play their most meaningful yet.