Snake Me Home Tonight: Carroll Breakout Sends Arizona to World Series

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – “A lot of people don’t believe in us,” Diamondbacks infielder Geraldo Perdomo said before Game 7 of the NLCS. “I think that’s why we play with the patience we’re playing with right now, to prove to everyone we can do it.”

“Nobody believed in us” is such a hackneyed trope in sports motivation, one that’s been co-opted over and over by teams that everyone believed in. But Perdomo was absolutely right to invoke it; the Diamondbacks were the lowest seed in this year’s playoffs, and before that a dark horse to make the postseason at all. They were under .500 in August, for goodness’ sake. Manager Torey Lovullo was asked after Game 7 if, in mid-August, he thought he’d be in this situation now. “To be totally honest, no,” he said.

But here they are. They took two must-win games against the defending National League champions in one of the most hostile environments in baseball, the latest by a score of 4-2. And now the Diamondbacks, pennant in hand, are off for Texas and a shot at the second World Series title in club history.

Before the season, I thought the Diamondbacks would be a team to watch going forward, but more with an eye toward a playoff run in 2024 or 2025. This group was young, a little underbaked.

Turns out that’s not the case. In Game 7, it was a trio of rookies who lifted the team over the final hurdle. Starter Brandon Pfaadt threw four innings that were more gutty than domineering, as his gem in Game 3 was. Gabriel Moreno, who got decleated by Bryce Harper in Game 5, chipped in two hits and an RBI.

But the hero of Game 7 was Corbin Carroll, the most important player to pull on an Arizona uniform since at least Paul Goldschmidt. This is the guy Arizona is building a team around, and through six NLCS games he’d been terrible: 3-for-23, all singles, to go with one walk and zero stolen bases.

“I talked about this with someone earlier just after the game,” Carroll said. “Six games ago you would have said that I was the hottest hitter on the planet, right? I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day and get caught up in just the minute. But just realizing that that’s all it is, right? It’s just a little hitch of things not going your way. … In the end, I think everything evens out eventually.”

Carroll finished the NLCS without an extra-base hit, but in the Diamondbacks’ biggest game since the 2001 World Series, he put the team on his back and ran. Carroll went 3-for-4 with a sacrifice fly and two stolen bases. He either drove in or scored every single Diamondbacks run. There will be volumes written in the next 24 hours about the Phillies’ inability to close this series out, and deservedly so. But had Carroll contributed any less than he did in Game 7, it would be the Diamondbacks headed for the offseason.

The second man up in the top of the first, Carroll pulled a sinker from Ranger Suárez over to the right of Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott. The second-year infielder made a nice stop, and with a normal runner coming out of the box, he might have arrested his momentum, popped up, and attempted to throw him out. With Carroll and his 80-grade speed on the way to first, Stott didn’t bother.

The next batter, Moreno, lined a single the other way with Carroll in motion; Carroll had time to pause briefly at second, assess the situation, and make it to third base with time to spare. Two pitches later, he was home on a Christian Walker fielder’s choice.

His next time up, Carroll fought off a curveball on his hands for a single the other way. There had been much discussion early in this series about how the Diamondbacks, one of the fastest teams in the league, had abandoned the running game against the Phillies. The reasons were obvious, and twofold: First, the Diamondbacks weren’t getting many runners on base. And second, the Phillies are good at controlling the running game, particularly Suárez and Zack Wheeler. The Diamondbacks are fast, but they’re not stupid. But this time, Carroll ran; Suárez had him picked off, but Carroll is so fast he was able to beat the throw.

Carroll’s first two at-bats put the Diamondbacks in the driver’s seat. His third would make their whole season. The Phillies had just taken their first lead of the game — their first lead since Game 5, in fact — in the bottom of the fourth. The crowd, loud but nervous up to that point, was back in it.

Suárez opened the fifth by allowing a single, but with two quick outs was all but out of the inning. Carroll was getting a third look at the Phillies’ starter, but it was a left-on-left matchup, so manager Rob Thomson let it ride. On his last pitch of the night, Suárez reached back for a sinker, and left it down and over the plate. Carroll lanced it up the middle at the best part of 110 mph, scoring the tying run.

Then he conjured the game-winner. Carroll once again stole second. Jeff Hoffman quickly got ahead on Moreno 0-2, but just in case, Carroll was in scoring position. The 0-2 slider was up and in on Moreno’s hands, and the rookie catcher fought it off and into right field. Carroll scored easily, and the Phillies never answered.

The Phillies, with their lineup full of power hitters, are never out of a one-run game. Carroll’s fourth plate appearance was his least productive of the night to that point, but it provided the Diamondbacks with insurance: A one-out sacrifice fly off José Alvarado to put Arizona out of reach of the Phillies’ greatest weapon, the solo home run.

Once Carroll had done his job, the Phillies put up one last rally, as back-to-back walks by Andrew Saalfrank put the tying run on first base with one out in the seventh inning and the most dangerous sector of the Phillies’ lineup coming to the plate: Trea Turner and Bryce Harper.

Turner was the hottest hitter on the planet when the Phillies and Diamondbacks decamped for Phoenix last week; since then, he suffered a season-ending 2-for-19 run, including 0-for-12 in the Phillies final three games. The last of those at-bats was a tame flyout to center field.

But that brought Harper to the plate, and he came closer than most people probably realized at the time to duplicating his NLCS-winning home run from a year ago. Kevin Ginkel threw Harper not one but two dead-red fastballs. The first he took for a strike. The second he smashed into left center at 107.6 mph. Again, Zac Gallen’s post-Game 1 comments sprung to mind: The difference between a tape measure home run and a flyout is a couple inches. This time, Harper just got under the ball, knocking it into the air at a 44 degree launch angle; instead of troubling the wall, it fell into Alek Thomas’ glove.

The Phillies went down in order in the eighth and ninth. When pinch-hitter Jake Cave put the game’s final pitch in play, it was Carroll (Who else?) who tracked it down to seal the pennant.

“‘Better squeeze it,'” is what Carroll said he thought in that moment. “They fought us hard all series, and so to be able to finally put it away and run towards that dogpile, man… just a hell of a feeling.”

“I allowed myself to go there,” Lovullo said. “I tried not to. It’s a dangerous thought because you can be let down emotionally. But when it finally happened and I saw the fly ball go up, it was a pretty euphoric feeling.”

This was a starmaking performance by one of the most talented young players in the game, and it underscores the most remarkable thing about Arizona’s series victory.

This was an upset, and a fairly big one; don’t let anyone tell you differently. But no upset in a short series should be that surprising. Playoff baseball isn’t a random exercise, but it is chaotic enough to throw up plenty of surprises.

There was a pretty obvious path to Arizona winning this series; it involved Carroll pestering Phillies pitchers all week long, and probably at least one game stolen by Gallen. Instead, the Diamondbacks won despite getting bupkis from their two best players for the first six games of the series; more than that, the Phillies were able to throw fastballs straight by Walker, who went 2-for-22 with seven walks.

Arizona went down 2-0 in the series, the second loss a crushing 10-0 rout. They were two and a half innings from going down 3-0, and one inning from going down 3-1. Nevertheless, when they needed one walk to stay alive, or one seeing-eye single, or one audacious strikeout, they got it. And when they needed their franchise player to have the game of his life, they got that too.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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jetzzfanmember
4 months ago

AHHHHHH I get to see my team play World Series games in person!

AHHHHHH

Corbin Carroll finally doing something in the LCS leads the Diamondbacks to the promised land.