Pfaadt Tuesday: Arizona Diamondbacks rookie’s long road leads to World Series ticket

Arizona Diamondbacks rookie pitcher Brandon Pfaadt steps up and delivers a remarkable performance in Game 7 of the NLCS. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks rookie pitcher Brandon Pfaadt, just over a week removed from turning 25 years old, got the biggest call of his life after putting up an impressive showing just days earlier in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the powerful Philadelphia Phillies.

But while Pfaadt was lights out in the Diamondbacks’ 2-1 Game 3 victory, pitching a deciding Game 7, with a trip to the World Series on the line, is a whole other kettle of fish.

And yet, despite three trips to the minors this season, Pfaadt was trusted to start Game 7 of the NLCS Tuesday night against a loaded Phillies lineup in front of over 45,000 raucous fans at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies entered with World Series experience, a star-studded lineup and only one loss at home. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, sat only two years removed from losing 110 games and had a bunch of young studs looking to prove they were deserving of a title story.

As for Pfaadt, he never lost his cool throughout the series, to send Arizona to the World Series for the first time since 2001.

“I know Brandon is ready, and that’s the most important thing,” Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald said pregame Tuesday.

Pfaadt was ready, indeed, and tossed four innings of two-run ball while mowing down the big bats of Philadelphia seven times and walking only two in a 4-2 win to clinch the NLCS. The moment was special for the Diamondbacks and Pfaadt, who is just over a year removed from starting in the Pacific Coast League championship for the Reno Aces, Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate.

Even more impressive is Pfaadt’s story, which started as a fifth-round pick in the 2020 MLB draft.

He was the 59th-ranked prospect by MLB entering the 2023 season, and pitched well enough in Reno to make Arizona’s MLB roster in the beginning of May but struggled. Pfaadt had three stints in the minors over the course of the 2023 season but stuck on the MLB roster from July 22 onward.

The rookie right-hander was tabbed to be the Game 1 starter in the NL Wild Card series against the Milwaukee Brewers and lasted just 2 2/3 innings allowing three runs in a Diamondbacks’ win. However, over the course of his next two starts against the Dodgers and in Game 3 against the Phillies, he pitched a combined 10 shutout innings and allowed just four hits and struck out 11 batters.

“He knows when he is the center of the moment,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “I think he’s used to that.”

But there were times this summer when Pfaadt needed centering. His ERA ballooned to 9.82 on June 29 following a two-inning performance where he allowed six runs on seven hits against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Diamondbacks sent him back to Triple-A for three weeks before he was recalled to the majors on July 22.

Pfaadt figured it out his third time around. He pitched to a 4.14 ERA in 55 2/3 innings through the months of August and September.

“He has caught a really nice wave and is riding it, and he’s had a lot of success because he’s in a good mindset and the hard work has paid off,” Lovullo said.

Despite Pfaadt’s early struggles, NLCS Game 6 starter Merrill Kelly knew the rookie was ready for the bright lights.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” Kelly said. “He has a really slow heartbeat for how young he is.”

Second baseman Ketel Marte won NLCS MVP for the Diamondbacks behind his .423 average, four extra-base hits and three runs batted in. Marte made MLB history as he extended his playoff hit streak to 16 games, the longest hit streak to start a postseason career.

Marte also tied the franchise record with 19 hits so far this postseason, tying outfielder Steve Finley. Marte will have a chance to break the franchise record in the World Series.

“(He’s) such a special player,” Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll said. “There (were) times this season where it was, like, how do you even pitch to this guy?”

The Diamondbacks will face the Texas Rangers in the World Series, making this the first World Series featuring two wild-card teams since 2014, when the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in seven games. Game 1 of the World Series begins Friday in Texas at Globe Life Field.

The Diamondbacks are also the first team since the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals to make the World Series after winning fewer than 85 games during the regular season.

“I think 84 wins or 83 wins or whatever the St. Louis Cardinals had or the Minnesota Twins had when they won World Championships,” Lovullo said, referencing the 2006 and 1991 World Series, respectively. “They’re hanging banners in their stadiums. That’s all that we think about. That’s all that anybody plays for.”

Jake Brown jayk brown (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jake Brown expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in film and media studies. Brown has been an audio reporter for Cronkite Sports and has interned for the Sioux Falls Canaries broadcast team.