In a zig-zaggy, weird season, celebrating a playoff berth on the evening of a loss seems rather fitting in a way that you have to reflect on the totality of it all to truly appreciate it. The Arizona Diamondbacks entered tonight needing either a victory or a Cincinnati Reds loss to clinch their postseason berth. Up until the Midsummer Classic this team was leading the division and steamrolling their way to the playoffs. Madison Bumgarner was cut loose after only four starts in favor of a handful of younger starting pitchers because Mike Hazen felt the urgency with the team performing beyond expectations. The roster move paid off as the team entered July fifteen games above .500, but then the wheels seemingly fell off. Their opponents outscored them by 44 runs in that month in what Torey Lovullo refers to as part of the dark times. But the team hung in there and started the grinding the rest of the way culminating in their first postseason berth since 2017.
Pretty early on tonight it was evident that this would be an evening of celebration. The Cincinnati Reds began their game against St. Louis an hour before the Diamondbacks took on the Houston Astros, and almost immediately the Cardinals put up eleven runs against the Reds in the first three innings. Back in the desert it was a showdown between future hall of famer Justin Verlander against one of the more under appreciated pitchers in the league in Merrill Kelly. Despite the loss, Kelly was arguably the better pitcher tonight. He needed only seven pitches to retire the Astros in the top of the first whereas Verlander walked three of the first eight batters he faced. However, Arizona’s offense once again struggled mightily tonight failing to put up any offensive support behind Kelly’s quality start.
Houston began to make headway on offense in the top of the third with the first two batters of that inning reaching safely, but Kelly buckled down striking out two of the next three to end the threat with the game still tied at zero. He would not be so fortunate in the next inning as Jose Abreu laced a one out double to left field scoring Kyle Tucker for the first and ultimately only run in this game.
Arizona had multiple chances to either tie or take the lead in the later innings after Kelly’s and Verlander’s departures which would prove to be fruitless. Their best opportunity came in the bottom of the seventh. Evan Longoria and Gabriel Moreno hit back to back singles off of Kendall Graveman to begin the inning, and Corbin Carroll walked with one out to load the bases in front of Ketel Marte. Dusty Baker then turned to Hector Neris out of the bullpen against Marte who mad him look feeble on three straight swinging strikes for the second out of the inning. Showing no patience Tommy Pham grounded out on one pitch for the third and final out of the inning. By this time Arizona was made aware that they had clinched a postseason berth as the Cincinnati Reds defeat was announced on the jumbotron, but they still wanted to go in with a victory. The Diamondbacks would see the leadoff baserunner reach in both the eighth and ninth innings but would fail to bring him in resulting in the final score of 1-0.
Difficult to believe that it has been a very long six years since the last time the Diamondbacks made it to the postseason. The only players still on the team who were there in 2017 with the Diamondbacks are Ketel Marte and Christian Walker. Nick Ahmed and Andrew Chafin could have joined them, but the former was released this month and the latter was traded at the deadline. We can hope that this is only the beginning of a successful run for a talented young core led by players like Zac Gallen and Corbin Carroll. The Diamondbacks wild card round opponent remains to be determined tomorrow as the Miami Marlins won their contest tonight, also clinching their wild card. Because the Marlins currently hold the tiebreaker over the Diamondbacks, Arizona is now in the third wild card spot. Buckle up, the fun is just beginning!