PHOENIX — If the Arizona Diamondbacks can live up to the Answerbacks moniker that they’ve adopted throughout October as the calendar flips to November, what happened in the final innings of their Game 4 loss will be where the latest story in a postseason full of surprises begins.
Arizona was down 10-1 entering the eighth inning on Tuesday night, but instead of rolling over, Arizona made Texas work — and perhaps most importantly, use closer Jose Leclerc — by scoring six runs in the final two innings of what turned into an 11-7 loss. Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series isn’t an enviable position to be in, but after their late awakening, the D-backs actually feeling like there’s a little momentum on their side.
“Got the fans engaged,” manager Torey Lovullo said after the game. “Got a ton of energy. Got their closer in the game. There was a lot of positives to draw upon, and I will.”
Is it wishful thinking or something real? Lovullo’s upbeat attitude permeated the clubhouse after the Game 4 defeat, and it was a more upbeat feeling than the last time the Diamondbacks got down big — when they lost Game 2 of the National League Championship Series 10-0 and appeared overmatched by a Philadelphia Phillies team they would eventually oust in seven games.
Now Arizona will have to take this World Series the distance to end an improbable run with a championship celebration. First, it starts with Game 5 on Wednesday night, and it helps to have one of their aces on the mound again after struggling in a bullpen game. With his team’s season on the line, Zac Gallen will get a second chance at a Rangers offense that tagged him for three runs on four hits and four walks over five innings in the World Series opener.
“I don’t get a sense that anyone is worried,” reliever Ryan Thompson stated. “I’m not worried. This is going to sound crazy, but I like where we’re at. Our backs have been against the wall since day one. This feeling is not new to us. We got the best pitcher in the world starting for us. We lost this game but the end of this game was on our side.”
Thompson may like having his ace on the mound in Game 5, but the D-backs will also be up against one of baseball’s top big-game pitchers with Nathan Eovaldi set to get the ball for the Rangers. And Gallen’s 5.27 postseason ERA doesn’t exactly match the best-in-world label his reliever gave him.
The first task on Gallen’s Game 5 to-do list will be attempting to limit the guy who has lit up D-backs pitching throughout this series, Rangers shortstop Corey Seager. He’s as hot as anyone right now, having hit three home runs off three different pitchers and three different pitches. Seager’s latest long ball came off a slider in Game 4, a day after he went deep on a Game 3 change-up. And, of course, there’s the dramatic Game 1-tying shot he hit off a fastball thrown by Arizona closer Paul Sewald.
“He’s locked in,” Gallen told ESPN late Tuesday night. “That’s what you see of the teams left standing. Someone is locked in. He’s always been a good player. I’m not shocked. You have to pick your spots when the time comes. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”
Solving Seager is easier said than done, but there is one factor that could work in Gallen’s favor, though it clearly did not in Game 5. With Adolis Garcia unavailable due to an oblique injury, the Diamondbacks have one less big bat to worry about in the deep Texas lineup. On Tuesday, Marcus Semien stepped up at the top of the lineup, but that doesn’t change the plan for facing Seager: Proceed with caution.
“We’ve done a really good job of picking and choosing which guys we don’t think can beat us,” Thompson said. “We neutralized [Freddie] Freeman and [Mookie] Betts really well in the divisional round. With the Phillies, we got off to a slow start with [Kyle] Schwarber and [Bryce] Harper but then slowed them down. I do think there needs a little more emphasis on Seager not beating us, but at the same time that’s been our plan from the get-go.
“The more unpredictable we can be in the zone the better.”
While Gallen deals with Seager, Semien and the rest of Texas’ hitters, the Diamondbacks know they need their offense to show up early and often with their season on the line. In two home games this series, Arizona scored just one run in Game 3 and didn’t put up a crooked number in Game 4 until after the outcome was decided. Still, Arizona’s hitters are looking at that late onslaught as inspiration going into Game 5.
“It certainly does help,” Tommy Pham said of the late-inning offense. “We’ve put ourselves in a very tough spot right now. It’s going to take a lot.”
While the end of Game 4 provided a window of hope, the D-backs’ biggest advantage might actually come from the experience gained in facing similar situations throughout this postseason: Arizona was down 2-0 and 3-2 in the NLCS against the Phillies but managed to extend and ultimately win the series.
First baseman Christian Walker said the biggest thing the D-backs learned was to “come in the next day and just be themselves,” which is what they plan on doing as they file into the Chase Field clubhouse on Wednesday knowing it could be their last game of the season..
“One thing I can promise is we’re going to fight as hard as we can every pitch,” Walker said. “We’ve had our backs against the wall before. We’re going to leave it all on the field.”
The attitude that the D-backs believe will permeate through 26 players on their roster for however many games are left starts with their manager. If there’s one person who won’t give in until the final out, it’s Lovullo. He has been an open book throughout every media session of the postseason, wearing his emotions on his sleeve whether standing up to the doubters or celebrating another series victory.
For all of their newfound experience and the belief that comes with it, the task is even tougher than last round. The Diamondbacks need to win three in a row — starting with Game 5 on Wednesday night. Can the Answerbacks do it again?
“It’s an all-in mentality,” Lovullo said. “And this team has done it every time I can remember. They’ve never let one another down. And I expect that to be the same.”
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