PHOENIX — When Ketel Marte sauntered to the plate on Thursday afternoon, it had been 21 years, 11 months and 15 days since Luis Gonzalez’s single evaded the reach of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and delivered the first, and only, championship in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In all those years and months and days, the Diamondbacks had never recorded a walk-off victory in the postseason. In all those years and months and days, there had never been a scene like the one in center field after Marte’s game-winning single splashed into the outfield grass to give Arizona a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
The Diamondbacks dugout emptied en masse, a horde of players swarming Marte after he supplied the go-ahead hit. The single reduced the lead of the Phillies in this series to 2-1. Marte came through after a sterling outing from Diamondbacks starter Brandon Pfaadt, who silenced the Philadelphia lineup with nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Marte capitalized on the skittish command of Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel, who issued a pair of walks and an infield single to load the bases before Marte ended the game.
“This is our house,” Marte said in a breathless postgame interview, as the crowd still lingered to salute him. After getting overrun during two games at Citizens Bank Park, the Diamondbacks displayed their backbone in Game 3.
KETEL MARTE WALKS IT OFF FOR THE D-BACKS 🐍
Arizona avoids going down 3-0 with their third #postseason walk-off.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) October 19, 2023
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo reconfigured his lineup to face Phillies left-handed starter Ranger Suarez. Lovullo moved rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno into the No. 3 spot. He placed Tommy Pham, who had not played the field since Sept. 22 while dealing with turf toe, in right field. He inserted Emmanuel Rivera, who had taken one at-bat all postseason, at third base. Evan Longoria shifted to the designated hitter.
Arizona achieved progress on Thursday. The team escaped the first inning without permitting a home run. Pfaadt induced a double-play grounder from first baseman Bryce Harper that erased shortstop Trea Turner’s one-out single. Pfaadt, a rookie right-hander, had done his best pitching in October. He permitted 22 homers in 19 regular-season appearances, lugging a 5.72 ERA into the postseason. The Diamondbacks still turned to him for Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Pfaadt responded with 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball in the clincher against the Dodgers.
Pfaadt navigated around a one-out double in the third. After outfielder Brandon Marsh cranked a 2-0 fastball past Pham, Pfaadt did not crumble. He pumped a 93-mph fastball past rookie outfielder Johan Rojas and froze designated hitter Kyle Schwarber with a backdoor sweep. Through three innings, Pfaadt had struck out six, with the Phillies unable to touch his elevated heater.
Suarez yielded a third-inning double of his own when Marte smoked a hanging curveball into the left-field corner. Suarez snuffed out the threat two pitches later. Corbin Carroll pounded a sinker into the ground for the third out. Suarez produced a bevy of grounders in his first turn through Arizona’s lineup.
By the fifth, Pfaadt looked like he was toying with the Phillies. He befuddled Nick Castellanos for the final out of the frame. Castellanos swung through a first-pitch fastball with such force that he required a 360-degree spin. His helmet went flying as he fouled off the second fastball. Castellanos made no contact with Pfaadt’s 0-2 sweeper, connecting with only the air for the eighth Phillies strikeout.
The crowd showered Pfaadt with a standing ovation when he exited with two outs in the sixth. He had thrown only 70 pitches. The Phillies had appeared unsteady against him, only able to produce two base runners. But Lovullo preferred to deploy his bullpen rather than trust Pfaadt to traverse the Philadelphia lineup for a third time. Lovullo did not turn to a seasoned vet. Instead, he called upon left-handed rookie Andrew Saalfrank, who had appeared in 10 big-league games before the postseason. Saalfrank walked Schwarber but escaped when Turner grounded out on a curveball.
As the bottom of the sixth inning began, Suarez was pitching deeper into a postseason start than ever before. His first pitch of the frame was a waist-high fastball. Marte clubbed the baseball off the top of the wall in left-center field for a double. Marte advanced to second on a groundout by Carroll. The jam prompted Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson to leave his dugout. Even with Suarez at just 69 pitches, Thomson preferred a right-handed reliever to face Moreno and first baseman Christian Walker, a pair of right-handed hitters.
Into the game came Jeff Hoffman. He sped up Moreno’s bat with a series of sliders, striking him out in four pitches. Walker swung a tad too early on a hanging breaking ball, pulling the pitch foul rather than demolishing it. Walker pounded another slider into the ground for the third out, to send the game into the seventh still in a scoreless deadlock.
The deadlock did not last long. Harper took a leadoff walk against Saalfrank. Alec Bohm nubbed an infield single against the next reliever, Ryan Thompson. Harper advanced to third when second baseman Bryson Stott grounded into a double play. Harper scored on a wild pitch from Thompson to put the Phillies ahead.
To protect the lead, Thomson went with Orion Kerkering. He had pitched in only seven big-league games, four of them this postseason. Never before had he given up a run. That changed when Pham led off with a single and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. followed with a double. The hit by Gurriel scored pinch-runner Alek Thomas. A single by pinch hitter Pavin Smith forced Thomson to use left-handed relief ace Jose Alvarado.
The magicians in Las Vegas would struggle to replicate Alvarado’s subsequent escape act. He required three pitches to secure the necessary three outs. Rivera whacked a shin-high cutter toward Turner, who held Gurriel at third before turning a double play. Alvarado knocked down a subsequent come-backer from shortstop Gerardo Perdomo to end the inning.
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)