By Dan Gelston
Corbin Carroll ducked late into the Arizona Diamondbacks' clubhouse with his uniform pants stained in dirt — two stolen bases will get a player dirty — but was otherwise clean when he was spotted by the rest of his bubbly-bathed teammates.
"Have yourself a Game 7!" jubilant teammates shouted as they chased down the breakout postseason star. "Why are you dry?”
Carroll had little room to escape inside a cramped visitors' locker room — not that he wanted to — and was soon doused with beer before a victory cigar followed.
World Series trips don't come often for this franchise in the desert. So when it was time to celebrate, the Diamondbacks did it with the same vigor they used to knock off last year's NL champs.
Carroll went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and Arizona advanced to the World Series for the first time in 22 years Tuesday night by stunning the homestanding Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
“We did it! That’s all I can say,” said Carroll, the frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. “Just believe in each other, believe in our guys. We know what we have in that clubhouse, and it’s special. We’ve known it all year.”
Arizona will play the Texas Rangers in an all-wild card World Series no one saw coming, with Game 1 set for Friday night at Globe Life Field.
In their only other trip to the Fall Classic, the Diamondbacks won a seven-game thriller against the New York Yankees in 2001.
The young Diamondbacks, who at 84-78 squeezed into the playoffs as the final NL wild card, completed their comeback from an 0-2 hole in the NLCS. They won Games 6 and 7 in Philadelphia, where the defending National League champions had been 12-2 over the past two postseasons — including 11-0 in NL playoff games.
“I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: A connected team is a very dangerous team,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “No matter what happened in those times of crisis, these guys stuck together.”
Rookie starter Brandon Pfaadt struck out seven, and five relievers combined on five scoreless innings of one-hit ball for the surprising NL pennant winners.
“They played great baseball,” Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “There's no way around it. Everyone's got a sick feeling in their stomach. It's not the way we pictured this thing ending.”
Bryce Harper and the rest of the Phillies are forced to ponder this offseason how they let a second straight World Series trip slip away. Philadelphia returned home one win from another pennant but couldn't close it out, falling behind early in Game 6 and then losing the first Game 7 in the 141-year history of the franchise.
“It’s very disappointing. It really is,” manager Rob Thomson said. “I told the club if you asked me two days ago, two weeks ago, two months ago if we would be going home tonight, I would have said no. So that’s how much belief I have in this club.”
Kevin Ginkel, the fourth Arizona reliever, showed his mettle with a gutsy performance in the seventh. After left-hander Andrew Saalfrank walked consecutive batters with one out, Ginkel entered and retired Trea Turner and Harper on flyouts to center field.
Ginkel then struck out all three hitters in the eighth, and Paul Sewald pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save this postseason.
With that, Arizona's bullpen slammed the door on Philadelphia's powerful lineup — and shushed Phillies fans who were left weeping on their own.
“That’s a good club, and they really played well. You come into this building and beat us twice in this type of atmosphere, you’re doing some things right,” Thomson said. “They pitched well. They really did.”
Again, the Diamondbacks struck first when Christian Walker grounded into a fielder’s choice against Phillies starter Ranger Suárez in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. It may have seemed like a rather innocuous play, but Arizona was already 5-0 this postseason when scoring first. And that run — similar to a three-run second for the Diamondbacks in Game 6 — deflated a boisterous crowd that came prepped for a clinch.
Well, Phillies fans did see one.
Just not the pennant winner they paid to watch at Citizens Bank Park.
Pfaadt, who struck out nine in Game 3, allowed Alec Bohm’s tying homer in the second that put a jolt in the crowd and a needed one into the offense. Bohm pointed to his ring finger — symbolizing the World Series bling he wanted to win.
Bohm was at it again in the fourth when he walked and scored on Bryson Stott’s double for a 2-1 lead.
But the free-swinging Phillies let prime opportunities go to waste. With runners on the corners, Nick Castellanos struck out — at that point, 0 for 21 with 11 strikeouts since a Game 1 homer — and, after a walk to Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas struck out to end the fourth.
Thomson had few pinch-hitting options for Rojas, so he let the light-hitting center fielder take his cuts and promptly fall to 3 for 22 in the NLCS.
Pfaadt’s big strikeout let the Diamondbacks exhale.
Suárez fanned Ketel Marte for the third straight time in the fifth to make it two outs and a runner on second. Carroll — just 3 for 23 in the first six games of the series — grounded an RBI single up the middle for his third hit of Game 7. Suárez was replaced by Jeff Hoffman, and Carroll stole second before 23-year-old catcher Gabriel Moreno made it 3-2 with another single.
“The performance hasn't been there for me, for whatever reason,” Carroll said. “I kind of chalked it up to it just being baseball and I kind of stuck to my approach.”
Pfaadt had done his part and the 25-year-old righty who went just 3-9 this year kept Arizona — which swept the division champion Brewers and Dodgers to reach the NLCS — in position for one of the biggest wins in team history.
“He knows when he is the center of the moment,” Lovullo said ahead of Game 7. “I think he’s used to that.”
Carroll tacked on a sacrifice fly in the seventh for a 4-2 lead, and the Diamondbacks never looked back.
“They started to run a little bit, started to put pressure on us. They started playing their game,” Thomson said about the momentum shift when the series returned to Philly.
By the time Philadelphia broke the in-case-of-emergency on ace Zack Wheeler in the seventh, it was too late. The Phillies team that bashed homers at a record pace against Miami and Atlanta never cashed in back home, finishing 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position in Game 7.
“We had some people on base tonight. We couldn’t get the big hit,” Thomson said.
Marte batted .387 with 12 hits, four doubles, a triple and a stolen base in the series to earn NLCS MVP honors. His 19 hits in a single postseason are a club record.
“There was times this year where it was like, how do you even pitch this guy? He is kind of back in that mode right now. It’s special to watch,” Carroll said.
Marte has hit safely in all 16 career postseason games, the longest streak in NL history and second in major league annals to Derek Jeter's 17-game postseason hitting streak for the Yankees.
Arizona ace Zac Gallen was raised in South Jersey and considers himself a diehard fan of Philly sports teams.
Except the Phillies.
He actually grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan because he loved Mark McGwire. It was his mother, Stacey, who considered herself a diehard Phillies fan and took Gallen and his brother to games at Citizens Bank Park.
“I have a lot of text messages that I'm going to have to send out after this game,” Gallen said. “A lot of people showed their true colors, asking me for tickets back in May when we played the Phillies. This feels sweeter to the 11-year-old kid who used to be a Cardinals fan.”
After winning their first six home playoff games this year, the Phillies dropped the last two and fell to 28-13 in the postseason at Citizens Bank Park.