This turned out to be a bit closer than the Play of the Year poll, with Gallen notching just over 45% of the votes cast. Tim Locastro reaching base five times in a game was the runner-up, on 26%, and Kole Calhoun’s two-homer, five RBI performance, which was chosen by 16% of those who voted, completes the performances on the podium. But it’s Zac, who was undeniably one of the bright spots in a disappointing 2020 D-backs season, who came out on top, in his first full season with the team. It hopefully will not be the last time he delivers such a commanding performance. Firstly, here’s an overview of his outing.
I think it says a lot about Zac Gallen that this comment was what he thought, after producing the best performance (by Game Score) any starting pitcher would delivered against the World Series champion* Dodgers in 2020. Gallen also became the first Diamondback to throw 7+ innings of one-hit ball in Dodger Stadium - something Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling or Brandon Webb never managed for Arizona. Let’s break down all 24 of the batters faced by Gallen in this performance.
It was all the more remarkable, because the sole hit came on Gallen’s first pitch of the game, Mookie Betts singling back up the middle. It wasn’t hard-hit - an exit velocity of only 72 mph - but it was the only ball in play which led a Dodger reach base. Unsurprisingly, Gallen was concerned with keeping Betts there, throwing over to first a total of nine times in the innings. Zac was far and away the most pick-off happy pitcher in the league this year: his 149 throws to first was almost as many as #2-4 combined, with nobody else having more than 53. But it did the job, as Gallen got a shallow fly-ball to Daulton Varsho, and a pair of groundouts, to keep Betts at first. Though Max Muncy made him work, with an eight-pitch at-bat, working a full count to end the first. Another groundout opened the second inning.
With one out, Joc Pederson hit one of only three balls recorded with an exit velocity of over 100 mph off Gallen in this game. Fortunately, the batter hammered it into the ground, and it turned into an easy play for the second out. Zac walked Will Smith, on a full-count pitch that just dipped down out of the strikezone, and the dance at first-base began again! Gallen then cracked Edwin Rios’s bat, resulting in a soft flare to Eduardo Escobar that ended the second inning. The order was turned over on a gentle pop-fly to Nick Ahmed, opening the third, and Gallen got Betts for his first strikeout, the batter being made to look pretty bad on a 0-2 pitch that almost bounced on home-plate.
A cue-shot off the end of the bat to Escobar ended an 11-pitch third inning for Gallen, and the fourth frame turned out to be even quicker. A defensive swing on an 0-2 pitch by A.J. Pollock led to the first out, though Gallen likely exhaled after Max Muncy sent David Peralta to the base of the wall in left, getting the green light to swing away at a 3-0 pitch. It was the hardest-hit ball of Gallen’s outing, with an EV of 101.5 mph. He bounced back, getting back-to-back K’s. First, Chris Taylor swung through a 94 mph fastball from Zac, which closed out the fourth inning, with the game still scoreless. And after getting ahead of Pederson 0-2, leading off the fifth, he finished the Dodger off with a beautiful 80 mph knuckle curve.
Gallen was really beginning to hit his stride now, and was in a spell where he struck out six of the nine Dodgers that he faced. It was a groundout to Ketel Marte for the second out of the fifth, but he ended the inning with Edwin Rios fishing at a change-up down and away. By the time he took the mound again, Arizona had given him the lead, on a Christian Walker home-run off Walker Buehler. And Gallen responded with an impeccable shutdown frame, retiring Los Angeles in order. His change-up continued to prove a formidable weapon, setting down both Gavin Lux and Corey Seager on swinging strikeouts, sandwiching a groundout off the bat of Betts.
The seventh inning proved to be Zac’s most efficient, needing only nine pitches to dispose of the Dodgers, 1-2-3. He was helped by both Pollock and Taylor trying to go after the first pitch, though neither was able to do anything with it. A.J. hit a weak fly ball to Kole Calhoun in right, while Taylor was able to get a bit more on the ball, but it was still a simple play for Daulton Varsho in center. In between, Muncy became another victim of Gallen’s change-up, striking out on a full count. With his pitch count at 91, Zac went out for the eighth, but the leash was short, and he was lifted after a full-count walk, on a pitch a couple of inches outside. However, Stefan Crichton dialed up a double-play, to leave Gallen’s shutout intact.
We probably should draw a veil over the game after the eighth inning. Kevin Ginkel blew the save in the ninth, and Junior Guerra allowed two runs in extras, to allow Los Angeles to steal this one. But it was still a great performance against a very tough line-up from Gallen, extending his career-opening streak of starts without allowing more than three runs to 23 consecutive games. Torey Lovullo was full of praise for his young right-hander, saying, “He continues to have all his pitches working. He is pounding the zone with a fastball, an aggressive fastball, on both sides of the plate. It just seems he can go to any pitch at any time and sequencing is spot on.”
While the change-up may have been the putaway pitch for Zac on this occasion, he seemed to have options. “I really had a feel for all five pitches tonight, which was nice. Anytime you can have an outing like that, things tend to be a little bit easier.” And apart from being annoyed with the final walk, he did appear to be relatively satisfied with his night’s work. According to Gallen, the biggest factor was “getting ahead and staying ahead,” and he certainly did a good job of that. After three pitches, he was ahead or had retired 18 of the 24 batters he faced.
This was his second Game Score of 80 as a D-back, having also thrown seven innings of one-hit ball against the Padres the previous September. Only Brandon Webb, Daniel Hudson and Patrick Corbin have thrown two 80+ starts for Arizona at a younger age than Gallen - I think if his career follows a similar trajectory to any of those, we’ll be happy.
“In the back of my mind, I was always a tiny kid, always had success. I was good enough, things just need to go your way sometimes. There’s a little bit more of a heightened sense of awareness (of), all right, this is where I need to be, these are the things I need to do. But just in the back of my mind, I always had that quiet confidence of being able to pitch at the top of my profession.” — Zac Gallen
- 2019: 9/7 - Alex Young’s rookie record
- 2018: 4/17 - Patrick Corbin one-hits the Giants
- 2017: 9/4 - J.D Martinez, 4 HR vs. LAD
- 2016: 7/16 - Jake Lamb is clutch
- 2015: 4/17 - Josh Collmenter, complete-game shutout + three hits
- 2014: 5/29 - Josh Collmenter’s imperfect game
- 2013: 8/13 - Paul Goldschmidt, tying HR in 9th, walk-off HR in 11th, +79.8% WP
- 2012: 6/29 - Aaron Hill’s cycle #2 vs. Milwaukee
- 2011: 4/25 - Ian Kennedy complete-game
- 2010: 6/25 - Edwin Jackson, no-hitter vs. Tampa Bay
- 2009: 6/7 - B-bullpen no-hits the Padres for nine innings
- 2008: 4/18 - Conor Jackson, runs through the cycle
- 2007: 8/18 - Micah Owings, two-way threat