As Diamondbacks make history, Pfaadt, Moreno reach culmination of remarkable journeys

(Video by Trey Matthews/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – For years, Chase Field has been home to many invasions from fans of visiting teams, along with hosting its share of unimportant indoor baseball games.

On Wednesday night, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, the downtown ballpark was the site of Arizona Diamondbacks’ postseason glory. Against their hated rival the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that has dominated them over the past decade, the Diamondbacks won 4-2 to seal a stunning three-game sweep in the best-of-five series.

The night that ended with many of the Diamondbacks racing across the grass and diving into the swimming pool beyond right field will go down as one of the greatest moments in franchise history.

For just the third time ever, the Diamondbacks have reached the NL Championship Series, where they will face either the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies for the pennant beginning Monday. And they earned that opportunity in front of a raucous sellout crowd, with a sea of noticeably pro-Diamondbacks fans waving their red towels all night long to the finish line.

“Arizona, you guys absolutely rocked it today,” said Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, whose underdog team finished the regular season with 84 wins compared to the Dodgers’ 100. “Thank you. We want to make this state proud of us. We have to earn their trust back, and we’re here every single day to perform, and win them back over. There’s nothing better than a packed house here. It was extremely loud down on the field level.”

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A 23-year-old rookie was tasked with pleasing this feverish crowd on the mound. Brandon Pfaadt, a pitcher who had two stints in the minor leagues this season, was locked in from the beginning. Bolstered by four home runs from the Diamondbacks in the third inning, Pfaadt tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and throwing just 42 pitches.

For many young, inexperienced pitchers, this situation would have been overwhelming. But Pfaadt was prepared for it. During a stint in the minor leagues in July, Pfaadt received a call from Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom late in the evening. Strom provided reassurance that would set the stage for Wednesday’s performance under the national spotlight.

“He was like, ‘Hey, we need you in big games in the postseason,’” Pfaadt said before the game. “I believed him and I had confidence in myself to get back up as soon as possible and help the D-Backs win big games because we knew it would come down to a few games in the end.”

Strom could not have been more right. Facing a Dodgers lineup full of firepower, Pfaadt was able to bounce back from a turbulent first postseason outing in Milwaukee, where he went just 2 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series. Lovullo was never concerned about his right hander’s preparation for Wednesday night’s moment.

“The heartbeat looks like it’s always the same,” Lovullo said pregame. “The demeanor, the mound presence is the same. When I go out for a mound visit, to take him out of the game or in between innings, it’s the same look to me. So I think there’s an inward confidence that he has that he was born with and, when he’s a little insecure or unsure about something you don’t know it.”

Pfaadt loved pitching in Wednesday’s crazy environment.

“It felt like a different stadium out there,” Pfaadt said. “It was incredible to be able to pitch tonight in front of that atmosphere, and hopefully there are many times to come.”

Pfaadt and the Diamondbacks pitching staff allowed just six Dodger runs in the three games of the NLDS, shutting down an offense that ranked second in RBIs and home runs during the regular season.

The common denominator in that pitching performance is Arizona’s standout catcher Gabriel Moreno. In a trade that fans may look back on as a turning point for the franchise, Moreno was brought to Arizona along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the offseason from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Daulton Varsho.

Moreno has raised eyebrows all season long with defensive abilities behind the dish, ranking at the top of the league in many advanced metrics. His battery mate had many positive things to say.

“Just having him back there, you wouldn’t think he was a rookie,” Pfaadt said. “You would think he’s been around for a while, and the way he connects with his pitchers is incredible.”

Moreno’s work as a catcher this postseason is what may soon be forgotten, however. The Diamondbacks have hit 13 home runs in the postseason, the most by any team. Battling through multiple injuries, including a hand contusion Wednesday that forced him out of the game, the 23-year-old Venezuelan has led the way in Arizona’s sudden October power surge.

Wednesday night was no different. In one of the craziest half-innings in recent memory, the Diamondbacks hit four home runs in six at-bats during the bottom of the third. It was the first time in MLB postseason history that one team hit four bombs in a single frame. Moreno was responsible for the fourth homer, his team-leading third of the postseason, which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

In a stunning turn of events, Moreno had been denied a home run by mere feet on the previous pitch, after a replay review determined the ball had just hooked foul in right. On the very next offering, Moreno ripped a ball to left field over the fence, producing arguably the loudest eruption all night from the Chase Field crowd.

Arizona Diamondbacks celebrating on the mound.

The Arizona Diamondbacks advance to the National League Championship series for the third time in franchise history with Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

“It’s obvious to the person sitting in their living room or in their basement pounding the keyboard and finding out about the Arizona Diamondbacks that Gabby Moreno is a huge piece of the puzzle for us,” Lovullo said. “It’s the hard work and preparation that I get a chance to watch. And he’s been an unbelievable addition to this organization, and we would not be where we are without him, for sure.”

The Diamondbacks didn’t score again after Moreno’s home run, and it proved to be just enough. Los Angeles scored two runs in the seventh off reliever Ryan Thompson, with RBIs from veterans Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez.

In the eighth, with Arizona leading 4-2, the game was hanging in the balance. After a leadoff walk to Kolten Wong and the top of the order coming up, Diamondbacks reliever Kevin Ginkel had his work cut out for him.

One of the team’s longest-tenured players, Ginkel suffered through Arizona’s 110-loss season in 2021. Now he was pitching with a series win on the line. He proceeded to strike out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, before getting J.D. Martinez to fly out to end the inning. The Diamondbacks’ set-up man cherished performing in that spot.

“Just a special moment,” Ginkel said. “I have so much respect for that (Dodgers) team. They’ve had my number for years. And to come up in a spot like that in the postseason, you can’t script it any better.”

For Ginkel and all the Diamondbacks, Wednesday night was a moment that many in attendance and those watching around Arizona will never forget. A ballpark and a city came alive, and made Chase Field truly feel like home. The Diamondbacks magical run marches on.

Jordy Fee-Platt(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jordy Fee-Platt expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree. Fee-Platt has announced for Blaze Radio and Pac-12 Stream and covered Cactus High School for AzPreps365. He worked in the Northwoods League as the Duluth Huskies’ broadcaster.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

William Trey Matthews expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s in sports journalism. Matthews is a play-by-play announcer at Arizona State University, primarily for the hockey programs. He is one of the only full-time Black hockey play-by-play announcers in the country. He has been featured in, USA Today, USCHO and other media. He’s also the host of the Locked On Devils podcast, which is part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Matthews graduated from Adrian College in 2022 with a bachelor’s in communication arts and science.