Diamondbacks come full circle, secure NLDS rematch with Dodgers

ByBradford Doolittle ESPN logo
Friday, October 6, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- The Arizona Diamondbacks were teetering in the early innings of Game 2 of their NL Wild Card Series against the Milwaukee Brewerson Wednesday.

Arizona's ace righty, 17-game winner Zac Gallen, was laboring through an onslaught of long at-bats and baserunners by a determined Milwaukee offense. By the end of the first inning, the Brewers had two runs on the board, had sent seven hitters to the plate and forced Gallen to throw 32 pitches.

After the inning, Gallen ran into manager Torey Lovullo in the dugout.

"I came in after the first and I said if you give me 110 [pitches], I'll get you seven [innings]," Gallen said. "I lied. I only gave him six."

Lovullo had no quibbles with the shortfall after Gallen recovered from his shaky first and gutted out five scoreless innings, giving his offense a chance to overtake the Brewers and setting the table for Arizona's red-hot bullpen.

With Gallen delivering as an ace pitcher does, the Diamondbacks closed a two-game sweep with a 5-2 win, setting up an NLDS showdown against the longtime NL West nemesis Los Angeles Dodgers.

Even in this era, when managers exercise a quick hook at the first sign of postseason trouble, Lovullo had no issue with letting Gallen work out of his early jam. He wound up going six innings, throwing 100 pitches and allowing only those two first-inning runs.

"I said go ahead and show me, get it done," Lovullo said. "He really stepped up and started to make pitches and gave us a chance to catch our breath."

When the youthful Diamondbacks did catch their breath, they found themselves down by those two runs and facing a dominating starter in Milwaukee's Freddy Peralta, who held the Diamondbacks without a hit for 4 innings.

They had also lost their starting catcher, Gabriel Moreno, who left the game with dizziness after being struck in the helmet on a backswing from Milwaukee's Brice Turang.

But that's when one of the emerging Arizona stars, outfielder Alek Thomas, provided the latest evidence that even if this is the Diamondbacks' first playoff appearance in six years, they are ready for their close-up.

Thomas turned on a Peralta changeup and pulled it over the right-field fence, breaking up the no-hitter and shutout. From there, it was all Arizona.

"I think maybe my at-bat maybe changed a little bit of [Peralta's] flow," Thomas said. "Together collectively after me, I think we definitely put together some great at-bats and ultimately took the lead."

That was really the story of a short series that turned on a number of key moments and momentum swings, nearly all of which seemed to favor the Diamondbacks. Not bad for an upstart team that lost 110 games just two seasons ago and owned one playoff win dating to 2011.

"Considering what we've walked through and the dark times that we had, this is a pretty special moment," Lovullo said. "There's a lot of emotion inside of this organization, inside of this clubhouse right now."

The last time Arizona advanced to the NLDS, they were confronted by a dynastic Dodgers team that was already well into what has since become an 11-year streak of playoff appearances, 10 of which resulted in NL West titles. L.A. swept that series and kept rolling, right to the present.

Meanwhile, Arizona went a long way down before things started to turn up. With Wednesday's win, the Diamondbacks have earned a full-circle, six-years-in-the-making rematch with those Dodgers. They would not have it any other way.

"I don't think it's any secret that the Dodgers have had the division's number, had our number," Gallen said. "I think that we've also showed a growth in the sense of the mindset and the culture change here of being able to go into Dodger Stadium and hang with them.

"It's an opponent we're familiar with. It's going to be a good test for sure, but everybody in that locker room is excited to get there and see what we're made of."

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