I promised a more measured take and recap on this game. There’s still plenty of grieving happening, but it’s already easier to find the joys in an incredible season and even better postseason. Plus, just 24 hours since the season ended, I’m already starting to feel the effects of baseball withdrawal and no amount of surprisingly feisty Coyotes games will quite fill my heart the way the D-Backs did for the past six months. So, here is a (slightly) less emotionally raw recap for what turned out to be the end of the most successful Diamondbacks’ season in nearly a generation.
After back-to-back disheartening losses in front of their fans, the D-Backs entered into Game 5 knowing that there was (literally) no room for error. On top of that, Zac Gallen had looked like a ghost of the first-half ace that helped lead the team to the playoffs through his first five postseason starts. While much of the sporting media had, somewhat fairly, already stuck a fork into the D-Backs, you would be hard-pressed to say the same about the players themselves. There seemed to be a different intensity in their play and their body language reflected the resilience that had become their calling card throughout the playoffs. It’s certainly easy to say, “One game at a time” when you aren’t the one trying to put together an at-bat against one of the best starting pitchers in this postseason in Nathan Eovaldi.
Regardless of the outside context, the game immediately started off on a better note than the previous two games of the homestand. Gallen looked sharper than he had in any of his previous starts as he mowed through the top three of the Rangers lineup without any major issues. Even better, Corbin Carroll worked a leadoff walk and immediately stole second to quickly put pressure on Eovaldi and the Rangers’ defense with Ketel Marte at the plate looking to deliver his latest postseason highlight. Marte was able to advance Carroll to third on a groundout to give Gabriel Moreno an early RBI opportunity. Frustratingly, in what turned out to be a defining trend for the offense, Moreno couldn’t bring Carroll in as he grounded the ball right into a drawn-in Corey Seager. Christian Walker put together one of his best at-bats in the series for a two-out walk, but Tommy Pham couldn’t do anything with an excellently located fastball for a harmless third out.
Gallen was unfazed by his teammates’ lack of execution as he needed just seven pitches to retire the Rangers in the second and third innings, eight pitches in the fourth, and didn’t allow a single baserunner until the fifth when he walked Nathaniel Lowe. For nearly the entirety of his outing, Gallen looked completely in control as he induced 10 swings and misses while collecting six strikeouts. It was exactly what the D-Backs needed out of their ace with the season on the line. He leaned on his fastball while fooling batters with his off-speed deliveries to generate plenty of weak contact. He finally ran into trouble in the seventh while facing the lineup for the dreaded third time as eventual-MVP Seager dribbled a ball through a shifted infield to breakup the no-hitter. Rookie sensation Evan Carter followed with a double into the gap to put two runners into scoring position, but Torey Lovullo elected to trust his ace to find his way out of the jam he had created for himself.
Sadly, Gallen was unable to bolster his manager’s confidence as Mitch Garver drove a middle-middle fastball right over second base for the first run of the game 1-0 Rangers. He was able to strikeout Josh Jung before being lifted for Kevin Ginkel who induced a groundball from Nathaniel Lowe that turned into a rundown of Carter for the second out. Jonah Heim harmlessly popped out to end the inning, but the damage had been done - both psychologically and on the scoreboard. To say the least, it was the kind of pitching performance that deserved significantly more from the offense. Unfortunately, in sports, it’s rare that one performance gets the kind of comparable performance it deserves.
Undoubtedly, what hurts the most about the game’s result is the sheer number of scoring chances the D-Backs created for themselves. They had multiple baserunners in three out of the first five innings of the game. Even worse, they had a man in scoring position in each of the first five innings of the game. At times, it seemed as if the D-Backs were constantly operating with a scoring opportunity. But time and again, Eovaldi pulled a magic trick out of thin air to keep the D-Backs off the board. There was the harmless groundout from Moreno in the first, the diving catch by Carter in the second, the strikeout from Walker in the third, or the routine groundout from Lourdes Gurriel Jr with the bases loaded in the fifth. It’s easy to say that the D-Backs’ stars didn’t perform to the necessary level in the biggest game of the season, but it’s almost impressive to go 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
As I said last night, there will be season retrospectives that correctly point out that the D-Backs were playing with house money after the divisional series. There will be an ad nauseam level of reminders that this run was only possible because of the new playoff format. There will even be reminders about how this should hopefully be just the beginning of a new window of contention for the Diamondbacks who will be returning much of the World Series roster for another run in 2024. Those are all dynamics and stories for the future. For now, I’m going to bask in a wonderful season that created some of the best baseball memories I’ve had in quite some time.