PHOENIX – In the annuals of sport, there is no surprise for those who come forward. In many cases, this is a player lightly regarded, less playing and usually slotted into a reserve for those who are not scripted to deliver dramatic moments.
As more the scripts change, the more they stay the same. Such a player delivered another dramatic moment.
Though a player noted for elite defensive skills and for a 2023 Gold Glove nominee, Arizona Diamondbacks’ centerfielder Alek Thomas joined those who stepped forward and authored another theatrical moment.
With the Diamondbacks down by two, one out, and in the bottom of the eighth of game four in the NLCS, manager Torey Lovullo called upon Thomas (hitting .160 in eight post-season games) to face veteran closer Craig Kimbrel. Benched because of his lack of offense, Thomas met briefly with Lovullo on the steps of the dugout and then proceeded to the batters’ box.
What followed was a note dramatic slice of baseball history where the unexpected ecomes the expected. Thomas proceeded to journey to the batter’s box and delivered with a massive drive into the right field Chase field pool area. Scoring ahead was Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. who doubled to lead off the Arizona inning.
Thomas’ blow tied the match at 5-5 and it was a two-out single up the middle for Garbiel Moreno that gave Arizonia a 6-5 come-from-behind victory before 47,806 Friday night in Chase Feid. The victory tied this best-of-seven tied two games and this series now goes to a sixth and possible seventh game in Philadelphia.
For now, Thomas represents one of a myriad who underachieved but somehow managed to capture the spirit of the moment. The journey for this 23-year-old traversed through a season split between Tripe AAA Reno and Arizona.
Sent down on May 16 and recalled to the majors on June 19, Thomas responded with improved metrics and renewed confidence.
Hitting .349 at Reno, Thomas’ return to the majors was highlighted by hitting .379 in eight initial games after the recall. This lasted from June 19 to July 27 and solidified his value. Known for stellar tools for an elite centerfielder, including movement toward the ball and creating angles to balls in the gap, Thomas appeared destined to help this team.
That moment transpired on Oct. 20 and the native of Chicago clearly responded.
“It’s been crazy and definitely a roller-coaster season for me,” Thomas said. “I was sent down, had to work on some things and changed some things. I came back up and things worked out. A shout-out to our coaching staff in the minors and here in the majors for helping turn things around.”
As with dramatic scenarios, Thomas almost did have a chance for theatrics. Lovullo explained Thomas was one of several options against Kimbrel in an inning in which the Diamondbacks would have to execute.
“I told (Thomas) to stay with me in the course of being on deck,” Lovullo said. “I might change my plan with pinch hit (Thomas) at that particular time. To be honest, I thinking about bunting (Jordan) Lawler in that spot and using Alek at a different point. But, Alek Thomas had an amazing moment and has a great deal of the proud.”
After Thomas rounded the bases, the dramatics were not over.
With one out, Ketel Marte lined a single, and Corbin Carroll was hit by a pitch. At this point, Phillies manager Rob Thomson saw enough of Kimbrel and called for Jose Alvarado. Cather Gabriel Moreno greeted the lefty with a single to center which scored Marte and produced the margin of victory.
“Yes, I faced Alvarado (in Thursday’s game) and I was looking for a pitch in a particular way,” Moreno said through an interpreter. “The previous at-bat definitely helped.”
While Thomas torched Kimbrel for the closer’s second defeat in as many games, that could affect his status as the Phillies closer. Following a 2-1 defeat in game three, Thomson was asked if his level of conference in Kimbrel remained high. Unequivocally, Thomson said yes and affirmed his choice of Kimbrel again in a closer’s role.
Now, that may change.
“The back end of our bullpen did not throw strikes and that’s a rarity,” Thomson said after game four. “Kimbrel’s inability to throw strikes right now hurt us and he is unable to command his pitches. I think he has gone a couple of spots like this and fought back. He is an experienced guy. He has a short memory and he’ll come back.”
In the end, Kimbrel may not be back to his traditional role.
“We’ll talk about Kimbrel,” Thomson added. “Do we want him in a lower leverage spot? I don’t know. I’ll talk with (Caleb Cotham, the pitching coach) and see where are with him.”
Next … for games five and six, both teams will have their principal starters. In game five, the Phillies will go game-one winner Zack Wheeler, and the Diamondbacks counter with Zac Gallen. In game six in Philadelphia on Monday night, look for Merrill Kelly to go for Arizona, and the Phillies will counter with Aaron Nola. …should this series go to seven, it’s likely Brandon Pfaadt will start for Arizona, and Thomson, at this point, is undecided.