PHOENIX – For a good 24 wild-card hours, starters had climbed pitchers’ mounds as the chosen ones, those tasked with lifting their clubs from the regular season into the division series, and what followed was not tidiness, not gallantry, not brilliance, but chaos.
Down went the Twin. Down went the Yankee. Down went the Rockie. And down, lastly, went the Diamondback. And in came the bullpens. And, here, up came a little more chaos.
In an elimination game Wednesday night at Chase Field, after having pitched Zack Greinke and turning in desperation to fellow starter Robbie Ray, and then briefly pulling away on a two-run, seventh-inning triple by Archie Bradley – the first postseason triple ever by a relief pitcher, the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies, 11-8, to advance to the National League division series. There, they’ll get Clayton Kershaw and the 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night in Los Angeles.
The Diamondbacks won 11 of 19 games against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers had a losing record against just two opponents. The other was eliminated by the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night.
As in the American League wild-card game, in which neither starting pitcher posted well, the NL’s version ran out to a 6-0 Diamondbacks’ lead against Rockies starter Jon Gray. The Rockies returned with four runs in the fourth against Greinke, and were within 6-5 when Bradley, a career .098 hitter batting with two out in the seventh inning, rifled a triple to left-center field that scored two. He retook the mound in the eighth inning and allowed consecutive home runs to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, bringing the Rockies to within 8-7, because this baseball game would require both teams to travel every inch. A.J. Pollock tripled home two runs in the eighth, the last of four triples by the Diamondbacks.
In his first postseason start, the 25-year-old Gray allowed a single on his sixth pitch, another single on his seventh, and a three-run home run – to Paul Goldschmidt – on his eighth.
It got only marginally better after that.
By his 21st pitch, he’d recorded an out, but also had Diamondbacks baserunners on second and third. And while he steered away from the Diamondbacks scoring again, the Rockies’ chosen ace had spent 33 pitches in his first inning, even as teammates hastily warmed in the bullpen over his left shoulder.
The most harmful of the 33 was a first-pitch curveball to Goldschmidt he presumably believed he could throw for a strike and would surprise Goldschmidt, an exceedingly good fastball hitter. One never knows what might turn a game with such weighty consequences, but an at-bat against Goldschmidt with two on in the first inning has a reasonable chance to be it. So, it was possible Gray overthrew that curveball, or didn’t entirely believe in it, but it arrived at Goldschmidt about chest-high, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy dropped his mitt to his side, and a few seconds later the Diamondbacks held a 3-0 lead.
Goldschmidt bats to the chant of MVP, which echoes in the cavernous ballpark when the roof is closed, so it comes out muddled and murky, but you know what they’re saying. He’s their guy. Didn’t matter if he hit .171 across September, as he’d pretty much clobbered every other month for half-a-decade.
The Diamondbacks dismissed Gray an out into the second inning, by which time he’d allowed seven hits (to 11 batters) and four runs. Gray, then, walked the wild-card path of Luis Severino and Ervin Santana, too early, too imprecise, too much time on the opposing bat barrels. He trudged to the dugout, took one last look over his shoulder at the mess he’d left behind, and disappeared down the dugout steps.
Already sensing a division series matchup against the Dodgers, the crowd roared in his head.
And yet, according to 2017 baseball and true to the early returns on October, an inning-and-a-half later, Greinke took the same walk, only in the opposite direction. Cool, stoic, deliberate and razor sharp for three innings, Greinke, the unquestioned ace of the Diamondbacks in deeds and paychecks, lost his way in the fourth. The Rockies strung together a series of hits that were soft and yet unrelenting, and after the fifth of those – by the end a hard double by Lucroy and a clean single by pinch-hitter Alexi Amarista – Greinke had turned a 6-0 home celebration into a 6-4 home need-a-beer.
Ray, the presumed NLDS Game 1 starter in the event the Diamondbacks advanced, allowed a run in 2 1/3 innings, momentarily settling things at Chase Field. He threw 34 pitches.