PHILADELPHIA — At 8:09 p.m., the crowd went quiet. In truth, they had been muted for much of the evening, shocked by the performance of the Philadelphia Phillies starter, irritated by the fruitless at-bats from their lineup, galled by the gumption of their guests, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park had rocked and reeled for so much of this October, but no game this October had ended like this one did, at 8:09 p.m., with a 5-1 Phillies loss.
The Diamondbacks victory in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series ended the Phillies’ October unbeaten streak at home and shattered the club’s veneer of invincibility in South Philadelphia. It also set the stage for glorious theater on Tuesday evening, when the two clubs will reconvene for Game 7. Arizona would be delighted to silence the red-and-blue-clad hordes who have galvanized this Phillies team these past two Octobers.
The Phillies remain one victory away from capturing a second consecutive National League pennant. The Diamondbacks have not reached the World Series since winning it all in 2001. The billing of starting pitchers will list Ranger Suarez for Philadelphia versus Brandon Pfaadt for Arizona. Neither man figures to stay in the game for long. Game 7 will test the depth of each club’s roster.
On Monday, Arizona hung three runs on Phillies starter Aaron Nola in the second inning. Nola surrendered another run in the fifth and left without finishing the frame. Arizona starter Merrill Kelly limited the Phillies to one run in five innings. He struck out eight. The Diamondbacks relievers did not allow a Phillie to reach second base.
Before the game, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo struck a defiant tone. He did not expect his team to fold. “We didn’t come cross-country to get our a—es kicked,” Lovullo said. The Diamondbacks had swept a pair of division winners, the Brewers and the Dodgers, to reach this stage. The group displayed its backbone by taking two of the three games at Chase Field and keeping this series alive.
The pitching matchup featured a rematch from Philadelphia’s 10-0 Game 2 drubbing: Nola for the Phillies, Kelly for the Diamondbacks. Nola scattered a single around three strikeouts in the first. In the bottom of the frame, Kelly walked Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper, opting for discretion rather than valor against Philadelphia’s two most dangerous hitters, but avoided further incident.
For the first time in three games here, Arizona struck first. Lovullo had benched veteran Tommy Pham in favor of Pavin Smith for Game 5. After Smith failed to produce a hit, Lovullo reinstalled Pham. “Tommy Pham is Tommy Pham, right?” Lovullo said before the game. “He’s a professional hitter.” The description looked fitting after Pham’s first at-bat, in the second inning. He hammered a 2-2 curveball over the left-field fence to break the ice.
Nola did not receive a reprieve from the next batter. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. turned on a 90.6-mph sinker and supplied a solo shot of his own. Nola had permitted only two runs in his previous three starts this postseason. Now he had given up a pair of runs in a pair of at-bats. And his plight did not end there.
Alek Thomas, the late-game hero of Game 4, took a four-pitch walk. Evan Longoria, the veteran third baseman, recorded just his second hit of this series in the next at-bat. Longoria crushed a belt-high fastball into the left-center gap. Thomas breezed home. Longoria cruised into second base. Nola managed to strand Longoria, but still ended the inning with Philadelphia in a 3-0 hole.
The flurry quieted the crowd. They did not stay silent for long. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto woke them up with a leadoff double in the bottom of the second. Brandon Marsh brought Realmuto home by shuttling a single into right field. Kelly walked Schwarber for a second time before inducing a groundout from shortstop Trea Turner to snuff out the threat.
Nola did not permit another hit until rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll bested him in an eight-pitch duel with a single. Carroll did not linger at first for long. Two pitches later, second baseman Ketel Marte scalded a fastball into the right-field corner. The baseball rattled around the outfield wall as Marte scooted into third with an RBI triple.
The triple ended Nola’s evening. He lingered in the dugout as Michael Lorenzen made his first appearance of the series. Lorenzen managed to strand Marte at third. He induced a groundout from catcher Gabriel Moreno. After walking first baseman Christian Walker, Lorenzen flung a 95.3 mph fastball, his first of the game, past Pham for a strikeout.
Kelly refused to be cowed by his opponents. He had given up three homers in Game 2. He gave up none on Monday. He struck out Schwarber with a curveball in their third encounter, in the fifth inning. The frame ended when Harper swung through another curve. The curveball was Kelly’s 90th of the evening. He would not throw another. Lovullo opened up his bullpen to begin the sixth.
The relievers held the line. Arizona pulled ahead by four when Phillies rookie Orion Kerkering stumbled in his third consecutive appearance, with Marte delivering an RBI single in the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, a leadoff single by Marsh gave the crowd life. The optimism did not last long. Schwarber hit into a fielder’s choice and replaced Marsh at first base. When reliever Andrew Saalfrank bounced a curve, Schwarber tried to take second base. Moreno retrieved the ball and threw out Schwarber to end the inning.
The discontent inside the stands only increased moments later, as the lights went out and the opening lick of Guns n’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle” played over the loud speakers. Craig Kimbrel, the team’s former closer, was met with resounding jeers. He had botched both Game 3 and Game 4 in Arizona, which allowed the Diamondbacks to keep the series going. Now all that remains is Game 7.
The Phillies won 90 games during the regular season. The Diamondbacks won only 84. Neither seriously contended for its division in the second half. But they took flight at the opportune time, blitzing their opponents before meeting in this series. Philadelphia will play Game 7 with home-field advantage. And Arizona will play Game 7 knowing they are good enough to make the crowd go quiet.
(Photo: Eric Hartline / USA Today)