"Merrill. Freaking. Kelly" - Jody Jackson
I may have expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter, in a slightly more... forthright manner, shall we say. But it's right either way. Because Merrill Kelly delivered the best start for any team in the 2023 post-season so far, at the moment the team wanted it most. [Note: Arizona also has the second-best, Brandon Pfaadt's outing in Game #3 of the NLCS] Confidence was shaky - at least, among fans - after the disheartening way in which Game 1 ended. We needed a big performance from Kelly, and boy, we got it. This was the best start by a Diamondback (and I suspect this is no surprise!) since 2001. That playoff campaign is responsible for the top five spots on the list.
The offense wakes up
Arizona's batters knocked out 16 hits, their best tally for the post-season so far. That ranks third all-time by the D-backs, and you can probably guess the games ahead of it. Second, with 17, was the insanity of the 2017 Wild-card Game against the Rockies. First is Game 6 of the 2001 World Series with a startling 22 hits, helped by Yankees starter Andy Pettitte tipping his pitches. It remains the WS record: no other team has even reached twenty hits there, since the game became integrated. The D-backs scored 15 runs without a homer that night, something they have done only once in the regular season, after more than 4,200 games. Oh, and last night's 9-1 win perfectly matches the score of Arizona's first World Series win in 2001!
Tommy Pham's four-hit game was his second this post-season and ties him with Albert Pujols for most by any player, with three. All other D-backs combined have had two: they came in the two contests discussed in the previous paragraph, by Jake Lamb and Reggie Sanders respectively. At the time, I was disappointed he didn't go for five, being pinch-hit for by Jace Peterson (who, inevitably, grounded out - it's now a month to the day since his last hit). That would have got Pham into an even more exclusive club, as there are just two players with five-hit World Series games: Paul Molitor in 1982, and Pujols in 2011. But turns out it was Pham who asked for Peterson to get a World Series at-bat. Got to respect that.
In Game 1, the D-backs' staff walked ten Rangers; last night, the only walk was by Luis Frias and came with with two outs in the ninth. Conversely, our hitters went from a K:BB ratio of 14:1 in the opener, to 2:4. In particular, Rangers’ starter Jordan Montgomery was not fooling anyone. He faced 26 batters and didn’t record a single strikeout. The last World Series starting pitcher to see even twenty hitters without a K was 27 years ago; the Yankees’ Jimmie Key against the Braves in 1996. We probably should have scored more than two runs off Montgomery, but the way we have hit both of the opposition’s top starting pitchers augurs well for Games 5 and 6.
Closer than it looked
You’d be forgiven for looking at the final score and thinking it was a laugher. But even though the D-backs never trailed, they had only a one-run lead through six innings. In the middle of that inning, Arizona’s Win Probability was only 60%, so there was a lot to play for. Indeed, Kevin Ginkel was warming up to pitch the bottom of the eighth, before his team-mates scored three insurance runs. I’m glad we avoided that, Ginkel having thrown 28 pitches the previous night. In the regular season, over the eleven times he pitched on consecutive days, his ERA the second time was 4.91 with a K:BB ratio of only 9:7 across 11 innings. It could easily have gone very wrong. Instead, our A-bullpen all got the night off.
Walker proves his worth
It has been a tough post-season for Christian Walker, as we’ve mentioned here before. But fingers crossed, last night might have been a turning point. He put three balls in play with exit velocities over 100 mph, though only the one in the ninth became a hit. But he proved his worth with two amazing defensive plays, including the bare-handed grab (above). If that had got past him, it would likely have put the tying run for Texas in scoring position with no outs in the fifth, and it might have been an entirely different game. Oh, yeah: if Christian steals one more base, he’ll be tied for most SB in a single post-season by any player since 2010. Bet you didn’t see that coming!
Marte sets the record
Ketel Marte benefited from the late offensive surge. He had gone 0-for-4 after making the first out in the seventh inning, and another chance to extend his playoff hitting streak was not guaranteed. But he didn’t even have to wait for the ninth, and took his chance, driving in two runs with a single in the eighth. That gave Ketel sole possession of the record, having hit in all 18 post-season games played. He’s hitting .350 in the playoffs (28-for-80), which ranks him equal 13th all-time among those with 75+ post-season PA. His 11 RBI is also the Diamondbacks’ record for a single post-season. The previous mark was 10 by Gonzo in 2001. Marte, Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno (both 10) have all surpassed or tied that.
I have to say how much I have genuinely enjoyed the FOX coverage, especially after having to endure the hell which was TBS in the Division and Championship Series. They’re not perfect: ARod is still an idiot, and the “surprise teams” narrative is quickly becoming a dead horse. However, the commentators have made a point to mention how well both teams have played, and seemed relatively even-handed about it. There have been some genuinely good insights, and the additional camera angles they’ve used feel like they have added value to proceedings. Still not certain about interviewing players in the dugout during the game though...
Hopes and Expectations
Mission accomplished. The D-backs came to Texas and split the two games. Indeed, they almost came away with a 2-0 lead, and any neutral observer surely has to feel they were the better overall of the two teams. The series now comes to Phoenix, and could end there, if the D-backs take all three. While that would be nice, I don’t expect the Rangers to roll over. Brandon Pfaadt starts in Game 3, and will hope to continue his blossoming in the playoffs. But then it’s a bullpen game, followed by a Zac Gallen start, and neither of those are exactly certainties. In addition, the Rangers are 8-0 on the road this post-season. I’d like us to end that, and think we’ll take Game 3, behind another strong outing from Pfaadt.