Zac Gallen’s postseason homecoming spoiled as Phillies claim NLCS Game 1

Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen walks back to the dugout at the end of the first inning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Baxter the Bobcat pumps up Arizona Diamondbacks fans at Guy Fieri’s DTPHX Kitchen & Bar in downtown Phoenix for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Mia Jones/Cronkite News)

Arizona Diamondbacks fans watch Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Guy Fieri’s DTPHX Kitchen & Bar in downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Mia Jones/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Living an arm’s throw away from Citizens Bank Park, Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen grew up around Philadelphia Phillies baseball.

The Phillies ballpark was just over 10 miles away from Somerdale, New Jersey, where Gallen was born and raised. He grew up rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia 76ers. However, he was not a Phillies fan, even during their 2008 World Series run.

Almost 15 years after Philadelphia’s historic 2008 season, Gallen returned home Monday to start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series for the Diamondbacks during one of Arizona’s deepest playoff runs in franchise history and against one of one of the hottest teams in the batter’s box this postseason.

Phillies designated hitter Kyle Schwarber set the tone with a home run on Gallen’s first pitch of the game, and Philadelphia never gave up the lead in a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series advantage. Gallen lasted only five innings in a bittersweet homecoming, allowing five runs on eight hits (three home runs) and four strikeouts.

All three home runs off of Gallen came off his fastball, which Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo attributed to the Phillies’ aggressiveness.

“I think they just ambushed him. I think they came out ready to jump on his fastball,” Lovullo said. “There’s no mystery that Zac fills up the zone. He has an aggressive fastball and aggressive mindset.

“They just counter-punched him.”

Instead of rooting for Monday’s winner, Gallen became a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals because he liked slugger Mark McGwire, who played for the Cardinals during the final five years of his career. Gallen’s dream was to call the mound at Busch Stadium his home.

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But his vision of the future didn’t distract him from following the Phillies.

Shortly after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, a 13-year-old Gallen asked his mom if he could skip his first day of school to attend the Phillies’ World Series parade. His mom said no for one simple reason:

“He wasn’t a Phillies fan.”

Now the Diamondbacks are one game in the hole as they try to prevent another World Series parade down Philadelphia’s Broad Street.

Gallen had previously pitched pretty well during his visits home, holding a 2-1 record with 21 strikeouts in Philadelphia. His last outing at Citizens Bank Park on June 10, 2022, didn’t go to plan, as he only lasted 1 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs off seven hits, including two home runs.

His struggles continued Monday against a loaded Phillies lineup. After Schwarber’s first-inning home run made him the first player in MLB history to hit four leadoff home runs in postseason history – passing Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins – Gallen gave up two more. The five earned runs were the most runs Gallen has surrendered in a game since the Diamondbacks’ 7-4 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 28.

“I felt like my stuff was fine, just maybe some missed spots,” Gallen said in the clubhouse postgame.

“They did their job, they executed their plan pretty well.”

Arizona cut into an early deficit during a Gallen start earlier this postseason, when the Diamondbacks defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2 to win in the NL Wild Card round.

This time, in a rowdy Citizens Bank Park, the young Diamondbacks team was unable to rally in the same fashion.

The loss broke the Diamondbacks’ five-game winning streak this postseason, but their record for home runs in consecutive postseason games remained alive.

Guy Fieri’s DTPHX Kitchen & Bar in downtown Phoenix hosts a watch party for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Mia Jones/Cronkite News)

Diamondbacks shortstop Geraldo Perdomo extended the 17-game streak on a two-run home run in the sixth inning.

The Diamondbacks, with only five position players with previous postseason experience, struggled to get on base against Philadelphia pitcher Zack Wheeler, who cruised through 15 at-bats without a baserunner after yielding a broken-bat single to Corbin Carroll to start the game.

Philadelphia is now 27-11 at Citizens Bank Park during the postseason since the team began playing there in 2004, the best postseason winning percentage at one ballpark in MLB history.

Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker, one of those five players with postseason experience, also grew up 25 miles north of Philadelphia, and was one of the bright spots offensively for the Diamondbacks on the night.

The Norristown native had a walk that led to an eventual run from an Alek Thomas sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh.

After the game, Walker pinpointed what went wrong for the Diamondbacks in their first ever postseason game against the Phillies:

“They were doing tonight what we’ve been doing up to this point,” Walker said.

Gallen may get another shot at his hometown team this series, with Lovullo slating him to start either Game 4 on short rest or Game 5, if the series reaches that point, both of which would be played back at Chase Field.

In a showdown of two franchises battling to earn a shot at a long-awaited return to World Series glory, the initial bout brought the Phillies one step closer to their first title in 15 years, by taking down an ace that almost grew up as one of their own.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jesse Brawders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in educational studies. Brawders is a freelance esports commentator.

Mia Jones(she/her/hers)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Mia Jones expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Jones has interned for the Arizona Coyotes, CBS Photo and Sun Devil Athletics.