Power surge in the desert; HRs power Arizona Diamondbacks into NLCS

PHOENIX – If there was one improbable moment in this improbable season, this transpired during the Arizona Diamondbacks half of the third inning on Wednesday night. After Arizona slammed three homers in that frame, catcher Gabriel Moreno lifted a fly down the right-field line.

At initial thought, the ball appeared to wrap fair around the foul pole, but the Los Angeles Dodgers challenged. Then, plate umpire and crew chief Todd Tichenor announced to the Chase Field sellout crowd, “foul ball; count’s at 2-2.”

On the very next pitch from Dodgers’ starter Lance Lynn, Moreno drilled a rocket into the left field bleachers and helped power the Diamondbacks to a 4-2 decision over the Dodgers before 48,175 and a sweep of Los Angeles in the NLDS.

Moreno’s blast characterized this season of resiliency and belief. All season, manager Torey Lovullo told those who would listen that “we are a very good baseball team.” So far in this post-season, the Diamondbacks have proved equal partners with the Astros, Rangers, Phillies, and Braves.

The NLDS victory now sets up a date with either the Phillies or the Braves for the 2023 National League title.

In concert with the barrage of homers, the final total of four in the third inning from Geraldo Perdomo, Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, and Moreno propelled the Diamondbacks into the history books. That marked the first time in post-season play that a team hit four homers in the same inning.

Into the seventh inning, the Diamondbacks managed only six hits, but the offense was generated by those four home runs.

“As far as the power is concerned, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Lovullo afterward. “Who hits a home run foul and on the next pitch hits a home run fair? Never happens. You usually strike out. That’s the quality of the hitters we have.”

Lost in the homer madness was the effort from Brandon Pfaadt, the Arizona starter. Pulled in the fifth inning, the rookie righthander allowed only two hits and no walks in tossing 42 pitches. Striking was his ability to hit the strike zone. Overall, Pfaadt threw 12 first-pitch strikes to the 14 hitters he faced.

The journey to this stage was arduous. Spending the first half of the season at Triple AAA Reno, Pfaadt was called up to the majors for the third time this season on July 16. In his first appearance since that recall on July 22 at Cincinnati, his ERA was 8.31. At the start of Wednesday’s playoff game, his ERA dropped to 5.72, and gained the confidence of Lovullo to give him the ball.

“It’s been a wild year,” he admitted. “I think going down, working on certain things, and coming back up a better pitcher was the main goal. The first time I was sent down, they said, you’re going to pitch in important games later in the season for us. So, to be able to be in this spot like they said is pretty cool.”

Elsewhere … Moreno left for a pinch hitter in the fifth. During the top of the inning, he was struck by a foul ball on the right wrist and after a pause for treatment, remained in the game. However, Lovullo pulled Moreno and the factor of several off-days before the start of the NLCS influenced his decision.

After the game, Lovullo said X-rays were negative and Moreno returned to the bench. He was seen in the victorious clubhouse with his right wrist heavily bandaged.

More history … the last time the Dodgers were swept in post-season-play was 2006. That’s when the New York Mets took the NLCS. The Dodgers’ defeat in straight games of any series was the fifth sweep in their franchise history.

Betts-Freeman power outage … a particular key to the Arizona series win was the way L.A. hitters Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, at the top of the Dodgers’ lineup, were handled. Combined, they were 1-for-21 in the series and Betts finished 0-for-the series.

“You know what, I know those guys were prepared,” said L.A. manager Dave Roberts after the series. “Those are our guys, two great players. It’s one of those things in baseball. I don’t have an answer. I really don’t.”

Next … the Diamondbacks have Thursday off and will work out in Chase Field on Friday. The National League Championship Series starts next Tuesday in either Atlanta or Philadelphia. Righty Merrill Kelly is slated to open for Arizona and right-hander Zac Gallen will start game two.

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