From ‘JV of the NL West’ to World Series: Lovullo’s August speech marked turning point for Diamondbacks season

On Aug. 11, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo walked to the mound in a game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field. After the game, he told his team, “I’m tired of us being the JV team of the NL West.” Those words helped changed the trajectory of the season. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – During the Diamondbacks’ improbable run to the World Series, an audience beyond Arizona has become familiar with manager Torey Lovullo’s ability to inspire. Through videos capturing his post-game speeches in the locker room to his fighting words in press conferences, Lovullo is putting his unwavering loyalty on display.

However, one Lovullo speech has been largely forgotten. It came in the heart of a scorching-hot Phoenix summer when the Diamondbacks had gone stone cold.

It was the speech that turned a season around just when it appeared to be lost.

The Diamondbacks had just dropped a game at home to the San Diego Padres on Aug. 11, their ninth consecutive defeat. After a strong 50-34 start to the season, the club had slumped to 58-60, and its playoff chances were growing slimmer by the day.

Through the struggles, the locker room had remained positive, as is customary for a team managed by the relentlessly encouraging Lovullo. But the Diamondbacks manager employed a different strategy after that Aug. 11 loss.

Trade deadline acquisition Paul Sewald saw a change in Lovullo’s tone that inspired him.

“When I got here, we lost nine straight,” Sewald told the Foul Territory Podcast. “I was starting to contemplate, ‘What the heck happened during this trade?’ He was like, ‘I’m tired of us being the JV team of the NL West. You need to start stepping up and play the way you’re supposed to be playing.’

Related story

“It was a good message. Like, (Torey) is very laid back, but he knows this is a pivotal time. ‘Our focus needs to be higher. We need to get it together.’”

Recalling that fiery speech, Lovullo told reporters at the end of September that he had “had enough.”

“It was time to turn the page and start doing the things that we do,” Lovullo said. “I let them know that I have certain expectations that weren’t being met. I told them that they were underachieving and we needed to figure out right now how we were going to turn it around.”

The stars seemed to align beautifully for the Diamondbacks after Lovullo’s speech, as his words landed strongly with help from a fortunately timed event that took place the very next day.

At the moment, no one could have dreamed of its significance or symbolism. Now it all seems to make sense.

On August 12, the Diamondbacks honored Arizona’s 2001 World Series-winning team before their next game against San Diego, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Phoenix’s only major men’s professional sports championship. Diamondbacks legends Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez, among others, were there to mark the occasion.

Arizona beat the Padres 3-0 that day, sparking a hot streak that carried the Diamondbacks into the postseason. They’re still chugging along in late October, making history at every turn.

The Diamondbacks won 11 of 13 after the speech, helping them earn a trip to the Wild Card Series. Despite losing their final four regular-season games, they got hot again in the playoffs.

They won their first five postseason games, including four consecutive road games to begin the playoffs. They defeated the Brewers twice in Milwaukee in the Wild Card round, then stunned the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in the first two games of the NLDS.

Arizona finished off a sweep of Los Angeles in front of a raucous Chase Field crowd, reaching the NLCS for only the third time in franchise history.

“To beat the Dodgers was huge for us mentally, and just as an organization,” Sewald said. “I just kind of joked with (Lovullo), ‘Not bad for the JV team of the NL West.’

“I just felt like that moment was really what turned our season around, and for us to celebrate against a team that’s given it to us pretty good the last few years and has dominated our division, it was just important for us to put our foot down.”

Arizona again defied the odds in the NLCS, after falling behind 2-0 to the high-powered Phillies. They won two of three games at home, including an improbable comeback in Game 4, returning to Philadelphia trailing 3-2 in the series.

Behind Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt, Arizona pulled off the unthinkable, shutting down the juggernaut Phillies offense to win Game 6 and Game 7 and clinch a trip to the Fall Classic against the Texas Rangers.

Some 73 days after the 2001 World Series-winning Diamondbacks were honored at Chase Field, the 2023 Diamondbacks are now looking to create their own place in history.

The Diamondbacks split the first two games of the World Series in Texas, and Gonzalez and Johnson were tapped from the 2001 team to throw out the ceremonial first pitches at Chase Field before Game 3.

After the season, fans will remember Lovullo’s celebratory speeches in the clubhouse, laced with profanity and interrupted by champagne showers. Those on the squad might look back instead to August 11, when their skipper’s uncharacteristically harsh words changed the course of their season.

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.

Sienna Monea(she/her)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Sienna Monea expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and intends to pursue a master’s degree. Monea is a multimedia journalist, passionate about creating meaningful storytelling in media and print journalism. Monea is a digital reporter focusing on sustainability and politics.