For the second night in a row, the Diamondbacks stymied the Phillies by preventing the offense from tearing open the game, and by taking advantage of painfully poor pitching in what quickly devolved into a grisly bullpen game to tie up the NLCS at two each.
Cristopher Sánchez last started a game on September 24th. Behind an effective changeup and sinker combination, the lefty’s performance this year helped lead the Phillies to another post-season. The question before he took the mound tonight was whether the simulated game he recently threw was enough to knock free a month’s worth of rust.
Rob Thomson bet it did. It’s a bet he lost.
In Game 2, reliever Joe Mantiply recorded a single out and gave up three runs as part of a 10-0 rout. But in an echo of last night’s loss, he started the game with a punch out to Kyle Schwarber. It served as an omen of what followed.
Trea Turner singled but was caught stealing second for this first time this season when Mantiply threw to first just as Turner took off.
Bryce Harper grounded out to end the top of the first.
Cristopher Sánchez threw only eight pitches to get through his half of the inning. Two groundouts and a pop up. He looked good. The game felt promising.
In the second inning, Luis Frias took the ball for the snakes. J.T. Realmuto launched what looked like a bomb to left field but was robbed of at least multiple bases by a leaping catch from Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Christian Walker hit a routine ball to third but Bohm’s throw was off, and as Harper leaped for the ball Walker managed to slide into first.
Walker reached second when Gurriel hit a ball straight back to the mound. Sánchez apparently assumed there were two outs, and instead of going for an easy double play by throwing to second, he trotted toward first and soft tossed the ball to Harper.
It proved a costly mistake.
A wild pitch allowed Walker to reach third. Evan Longoria walked on five pitches. Emmanuel Rivera shot past a diving Bryson Stott, and Christian Walker scored to put the D-backs on the board first.
In the third inning, Ketel Marte singled to reach base for the thirteenth game in a row (according to the broadcast). He reached second base on another Sánchez wild pitch. Corbin Carroll grounded out to move Marte to third.
That was the end of Sánchez’s night. Topper took the ball and handed it to Jeff Hoffman.
While we don’t know Thomson’s plan for tonight’s game, tapping the bullpen after 2 ⅓ innings was probably not part of it.
Gabriel Moreno, the first batter Hoffman faced, drove a fastball down the first base line to score Marte. Hoffman struck out Walker, and Tommy Pham grounded out to Alec Bohm to end the inning, but the hole the Phillies needed to dig out of was a little deeper.
It was a hole they’d climb out from. For at least a little while.
With a full count on him, Schwarber launched a moon shot into the right field seats to put the Phillies on the board. It was an encouraging start to the fourth.
SCHWARBOMB! Deficit cut in half. We really need to get runners on base for some of these. pic.twitter.com/RpzuuxYsH0— PHILLIES BELL (@PhilliesBell) October 21, 2023
This was Schwarber’s fourth home run of this NLCS and his 19th career postseason dinger, breaking the record for left-handed hitters.
Hoffman sat down the side in order in the back end of the fourth. Between innings staff worked on his thumb, but whatever the issue was it didn’t affect his pitching.
In the fifth, Realmuto singled to center field. Nick Castellanos hit a ball back to pitcher Miguel Castro, who luckily bobbled the ball as he played it to prevent a double play. Castellanos was out at first but Realmuto moved to second.
With two outs, the D-backs brought in rookie Andrew Saalfrank to face Brandon Marsh. In the dugout, Schwarber appeared to give advice to Marsh about Saalfrank. Whatever he said, it worked. Marsh nailed a sinker that bounced off the wall for a double. Realmuto scored.
BARK BARK— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) October 21, 2023
(that means TIE GAME) pic.twitter.com/RfS9zZ8Qjf
With two outs, Johan Rojas hit a sinker off Saalfrank that came off his bat at 102 MPH, but was hit right at third baseman Emmanuel Rivera to end the top of the inning.
The game was tied 2-2.
Matt Strahm toed the rubber for the good guys in the bottom of the fifth. Geraldo Perdomo hammered a slider to shallow right field near the foul line. Castellanos sprinted towards it and made an incredible sliding basket catch reminiscent of Game 1 of last year’s World Series.
Top of the sixth. Saalfrank still on the mound. Schwarber led off and walked on five pitches. While Turner was at the plate, the ball got stuck under the catcher’s chest protector which gave Schwarber second base on a rare catcher’s balk. Turner then drew a walk.
No outs. Runners on first and second. Bryce Harper stepped to the plate and also drew a walk to load the bases.
That was the end of Saalfrank’s night.
At every at bat, Alec Bohm seemed to swing at and put into play the first pitch. And this is exactly what he did again. The ball took a high bounce to Rivera at third, who leaped to catch it and then threw it home ahead of Kyle Schwarber. But the throw was low and bounded away from the catcher. Turner immediately reacted to the errant throw, rounded third, and followed Schwarber across home plate to score. Catcher Gabriel Moreno corralled the ball and fired it to second to get Bohm out.
The top of the sixth ended with the Fightins up 4-2.
Seranthony Dominguez came in for the bottom of the sixth and walked Gabriel Moreno, struck out Christian Walker, and then gave up a single to Pavin Smith. After looking a little shaky, he found his stride and punched out Gurriel and induced Evan Longoria to pop out to Marsh in left to end the threat.
Rojas, who has struggled at the plate in the post season, roped a ball down the first base line that just remained fair. He flew around the bases and slid into third for a triple. Turner hit a sacrifice fly ball to center. While the broadcast announcers claimed at first that Rojas left third early, in reality he perfectly timed his jump from third and was safe at home.
The Phillies were up 5-2. It wasn’t enough.
Dominguez struck out Rivera in the bottom of the seventh. Topper walked out to the mound and replaced him with Gregory Soto to face switch-hitter Geraldo Perdomo. Perdomo lined a sinker over Stott’s outstretched glove for a one-out single. Soto worked a full count before walking Marte. Carroll hit a hard ground ball and Turner, who made a diving stop and was able to get the force out at second.
And this is when you should have turned off the TV and gone to bed.
Orion Kerkering, who was beat up on the night before, and had never pitched back-to-back days, took the mound with runners on the corners and two outs.
He struggled to find the strike zone. He walked Moreno on five pitches to load the bases. It took five more pitches for him to issue another walk and hand the D-backs a free run.
Whether by luck or from the pity of a higher power, Pavin Smith grounded to first and Harper made the play to end the inning with bases loaded. Bryce may never know he saved our Twitter account.
If Pavan Smith beat us there I was going to light myself on fire— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) October 21, 2023
Bohm led off the top of the eighth with a single but no runs were to be had.
As both teams dug around for what pitchers remained in their bullpen, Craig Kimbrel got the green light for the bottom of the eighth.
Kimbrel’s numbers against the D-backs last year were a horror show: 11.74 ERA over 7.2 innings. Small sample size, but enough to tempt you to check to see if the Flyers were playing tonight (they weren’t).
Gurriel singled. Longoria hit a fly ball to Marsh against the wall and Gurriel tagged and advanced to second.
And then Alek Thomas homered and the game was tied.
That was the end of Kimbrel’s night. Maybe his season, too.
Craig Kimbrel entered the 8th of a 5-3 game to face the 6-7-8 hitters and blew it. If he can’t handle that I have no idea where you can use him— Joe Edinger (@Joe_Edinger) October 21, 2023
Jose Alvarado stepped out from the bullpen, threw three balls to Moreno, then gave up a hit to drive in a run and the D-backs took back the lead.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, down by a run, Schwarber hit a double down into right field. Hope is a cruel companion in Philly, and Turner went down swinging to end the game.
Perhaps it was hubris to think Arizona would prove little more than a speedbump on the way to the World Series, especially after a 10-0 shutout. Say what you will about the Brewers and the quality of the Dodgers’ pitching, but it takes talent and drive to sweep those teams, and we witnessed that talent and drive first hand tonight.
The Phillies need to find their drive and play up to their talent. Otherwise, their bid for a ring is over.
The NLCS will wrap up in Philly, but tomorrow night Zack Wheeler will take the mound and try to bring the team back to Philly ahead in the series. Once more he’ll face off against Zac Gallen. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 PM.
Meanwhile, in the American League
After going back and forth, the Houston Astros took a 3-2 lead over the Texas Rangers in the ALCS tonight behind a three-run ninth-inning homer from Jose Altuve. In the sixth inning, Adolis Garcia hit a three-run dinger of his own to put the Rangers ahead. Garcia was later beaned by Bryan Abreu which cleared the benches and led to Abreu, Garcia, and Dusty Baker being tossed, because idiocy is bigger in Texas. Luckily tickets were going for something like $11, so they could could probably afford seats in the stands to watch the rest of the game.