PHOENIX – In this critical game five of the NLCS, early efficiency was paramount. With that dynamic, Arizona Diamondbacks’ starter Zac Gallen may have fallen off the precipice.
In comparison to Philadelphia Phillies’ starter Zack Wheeler, Gallen’s effort against the Phillies in the games of this series was atypical of his season-long effort. Usually well-defined and razor-sharp, Gallen fell behind early in each of his two NLCS starts and the efficiency for which he demonstrated during the regular season seems to have disappeared.
In dropping a 6-1 decision to the Phillies before 47,897 in Chase Field on Saturday, the loss pushed the Diamondbacks nearly off the plank. For his two NLCS starts against Philly, Gallen is 0-2 with a post-season 5.24 ERA.
The Phillies now take a 3-2 series back to Philly for game six on Monday night.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said Gallen’s workload of over 200 innings and the potential of fatigue does not enter into the equation. Instead, Gallen and his teammates fell victim to a rare double steal in the first inning from which the Phillies scored twice. Bryce Harper’s steal of home in the first inning was the first steal of home in Phillies post-season history.
That immediately put Gallen on the defensive as was the case in game one of this series. In the series opener, first-inning home runs from Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, all of Gallen placed the Arizona right-hander in peril.
The lack of early efficiency doomed Gallen in this series and Lovullo discounted the notion that fatigue may have entered into the equation. Including the post-season, Gallen threw 236.1 innings as far in 2023.
“I’ve had discussions with Zac about the fatigue factor and he understands that it’s been a full season’s worth of work,” Lovullo said after game five. “What this means is that he has been healthy. He’s taken care of his body and he’s been getting the baseball every five days.”
In comparison, Wheeler was simply better when he had to be consistent. In limiting the Diamondbacks to one run, and that was a solo homer in the seventh from Alek Thomas, Wheeler improved to 3-0 in this post-season and a sparkling 2.08 ERA.
Recognizing the need to limit crowd participation and the importance of an early lead, Wheel said after the game these were conditions of which he was keenly aware.
“You just try and not let them get to second base,” Wheeler said after game five. “Don’t let it be easy for them. You can’t let them get the monument at home. The crowd will get back into it. Try and shut that down the best you can and let out guys get the momentum.”
That’s exactly what happened.
After getting that lead against Gallen early, the Phillies’ arial attack contributed. Homers from Schwarber and Harper in the sixth and both against Gallen, pushed the needle forward. Then, catcher J. T. Realmuto’s blast beyond the Diamondbacks’ left-field bullpen with a runner in the eighth cemented the lead and pushed Arizona to the brink of elimination.
Afterward, Phillies’ manager Rob Thomson pointed out the significance of the win. With one victory from their second consecutive trip to the World Series, the Phillies know the faithful in Citizens Bank Park will border on the crazy. The Phillies are 6-0 at home this post-season with 17 home runs.
“Winning a game (at Chase Field) was huge,” Thomson said after game five. “It really is and that’s after we lost the first two here. It just shows our toughness, the resiliency of our club because they will not quit.”
Importance of a fanbase … For the three games in Chase Field, a great deal of the crowd was comprised of Phillies fans, Among the faithful, the wardrobe of choice was Harper’s number three in red Phillies pinstripes.
“Whenever you’re able to have fans travel with you on the road and be here for you in these spots is huge,” Harper said afterward. “Knowing you have Philadelphia fans here with us is motivation in itself.”
Game six … for the potential clincher on Monday night, Thomson will turn to right-hander Aaron Nola, who shut down the Diamondbacks in game two. In that one, he allowed no runs, and three hits in six innings in gaining a lop-sided 10-0. Arizona will counter with Merrill Kelly, who dropped that 10-0 contest. Here, he allowed home runs to Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber and labored through an 89-pitch effort.
Should this series go the maximum of seven games, that would be played on Tuesday night in Citizen Bank Park.