The energy of the Championship Series reminds us what the Blue Jays lacked
Photo credit:© Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK
1 month ago
Not too long ago, everyone was laughing uncontrollably when the Philadelphia Phillies hammered the Arizona Diamondbacks by 10 runs in the second game of the National League Championship Series. The Phillies have been a force to reckon with as they outscored their opponents by 33 runs in eight postseason games. It was clear as day that they were destined to punch their ticket to the World Series.
Compared to that, the Diamondbacks couldn’t match the experience, talent and pedigree the Phillies have. They surely didn’t have elite pitchers like Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola heading the rotation and they certainly didn’t have hitters like Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner. The Diamondbacks were never the favourites to win, but then, something strange happened.
With the third game of the series tied at 1-1, the Phillies had the chance to hold the tie to win it in the extra innings. Instead, the Diamondbacks’ second baseman Ketel Marte put a sweet swing toward the outfield to bring in the runner from third. The Diamondbacks indeed walked off the Phillies by one run to cut down their series lead in half.
This wasn’t meant to be in the script, but now that it’s happened, it was an inconvenience that the Phillies had to quash. Except, that’s not how the story went. With a somewhat comfortable 5-3 lead for the fourth game of the series on Saturday, the Phillies looked poised to defeat the Diamondbacks to take the series out of reach. That was until the Diamondbacks’ left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a double off Craig Kimbrel. Then, centre-fielder Alek Thomas stepped into the batter’s box and launched a home run directly into the Crèmily pool to tie the game 5-5.
The upset didn’t stop there as catcher Gabriel Moreno brought in a runner with a single to give the Diamondbacks the lead they’d never lose. When closer Paul Sewald secured the last out of the ninth inning, the Diamondbacks evened the championship series by 2-2 against the Phillies. They had done the unthinkable, they were winning the games they shouldn’t have.
But here’s the thing, the Diamondbacks have risen to the occasion despite the odds stacked against them. No one bet on this team to win anything, let alone a Wild Card game. But they overcame all the hurdles with one goal in mind: finding ways to win a baseball game. Once they defeated the Milwaukee Brewers’ ace Corbine Burnes with rookie pitcher Brandon Pfaadt and a head-scratching collection of pitchers, they started steamrolling everyone they faced. Naturally, they swept both the Brewers in two games and the Los Angeles Dodgers in three games and split the series against the Phillies thus far.
The Diamondbacks are breaking all the baseball logic right now, and the worst part is that they are the pure antithesis of the Toronto Blue Jays. Throughout the Diamondbacks’ postseason run so far, their bats stepped up to bail struggling pitchers out time and time again. The Jays, on the other hand, couldn’t muster up any hits or runs against their opponents, even when their top pitchers were dealing. And that’s exactly how two teams went on a divergent path. One went to challenge another mighty division leader, the Dodgers and to fight against the Phillies, while the other exited the postseason early once again as their bats went cold.
On paper, the Jays were the team that was supposed to go all the way this postseason. They had all the right names on their rosters, with shortstop Bo Bichette and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leading the way with the league’s top-five rotation. Many baseball insiders still had faith in the Jays and their potential but the team’s efforts fell flat as hitters failed to make swift in-game adjustments and made too many mental mistakes.
Unlike the Jays, the Diamondbacks weren’t supposed to be in the postseason at all. They were “too early” to be making a run with barely any great names on paper. Sure, left fielder and rookie Corbin Carroll is a phenomenon and starting pitcher Zac Gallen is the real deal, but besides that, no one knew anyone on the roster. They were simply nobodies challenging the status quo. No one believed that this scrappy collection of individuals would make anything happen, but that was the single best recipe for defying expectations.
Everyone stepped up when it mattered the most. For the Diamondbacks, it was a different player picking the team up every time. It was first baseman Christian Walker who doubled against the Brewers to bring in two runners. It was Gabriel Moreno who hit a massive three-run home run against the Dodgers’ veteran pitcher Clayton Kershaw. And it was Ketel Marte who singled against the Phillies to bring in the winning run.
The Diamondbacks played a selfless game of baseball to get to where they are. No one on the team was interested in beefing up their personal statistics or looking sexy while winning. All they focused on was winning one game at a time. Some games got ugly fast, especially when the Diamondbacks gave up huge leads. But that only fuelled them to create some of the biggest upsets in the postseason history.
Let’s not forget the single biggest driver in the Diamondbacks’ unlikely run: confidence in everyone from top to bottom. Even without the coveted bats or arms on their roster, it was evident that the Diamondbacks’ coaches and players trusted one another no matter what under manager Torey Lovullo’s guidance. They relied on prudence when it came to in-game decision-making, but they didn’t compromise on the feel. If it weren’t for the feel, Brandon Pfaadt and Alek Thomas wouldn’t have been able to show the dog in them.
Baseball can be incomprehensibly hilarious. Sometimes, teams find ways to lose games in the most painful way possible while winning games in such a bizarre fashion. The Jays and Diamondbacks’ job this postseason was to make sense of this absurd nonsense. The only reason why the Diamondbacks did a better job in making sense of all that is because they decided to let trust take the lead from top to bottom.
Faith can be an interesting thing but sometimes, that’s all a team needs to bring good chaos in October. And that’s how the Diamondbacks became everything the Jays could never be.
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