SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the four division series and predicts who will be left standing for the championship series.
USA TODAY Sports
PHOENIX — Jake Lamb knew he may live to regret his words, but he had to be honest.
There were so many key moments in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 11-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Wednesday’s National League wild-card game, Lamb could have picked any of them. Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer. Starter Robbie Ray coming in to throw 2⅓ innings of relief. A.J. Pollock’s eighth-inning triple with two on base.
Instead, with loquacious reliever Archie Bradley sitting next to him in the postgame interview session, the Diamondbacks third baseman acknowledged what was obvious to anybody who watched the wild and entertaining game: Bradley’s two-run triple in the seventh really was the turning point, even if he’s going to crow about it forever.
The Diamondbacks were clinging to the remnants of a 6-0 lead that had dwindled to one. All-Star reliever Pat Neshek, who’s murder on right-handed hitters, was a strike away from sending the Rockies back into the dugout with the momentum, the middle of their potent lineup about to come up.
PLAYOFF PRESSURE: Which teams will feel it the most?
PLAYOFF RANKINGS: Who has the best World Series shot?
FULL SCHEDULE: Start times, pitching matchups and TV info
Suddenly Bradley, in just his fifth plate appearance of the year, lashed a long drive to left-center, bringing in Lamb and Daniel Descalso to stretch the lead to 8-5. And not content with a ringing double, the ebullient Bradley turned the corner and slid into third with the first postseason triple ever by a reliever.
“It was one of those moments where, I hate to say this in front of him, but the pitcher’s up, two outs. You’re not expecting a whole lot,” Lamb said. “And he puts this Hall of Fame-type swing on a pitch, and yeah, the whole place went nuts.”
Even though Bradley then served up solo homers to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story that narrowed the margin to one run again, his hitting heroics exemplified the spirit of an Arizona club determined to do whatever it took to advance to the division series, where the Diamondbacks will face the Los Angeles Dodgers starting Friday.
The Diamondbacks banged out 17 hits, among them four triples to tie a postseason record not accomplished since 1903. They got a combined six hits from leadoff man David Peralta and No. 2 hitter Ketel Marte. They bounced Rockies ace Jon Gray out of the game in the second inning.
And yet it wasn’t until Pollock cracked a two-run triple off Greg Holland in the eighth to make the score 10-7, followed by Jeff Mathis’ RBI single, that they could breathe easy. That’s how tough it was to dispatch the Rockies.
Bradley said his club learned something from watching Tuesday’s American League wild-card game, in which the New York Yankees surrendered a 3-0 lead to the Minnesota Twins in the top of the first, then came roaring back to win 8-4.
“Every pitch, every swing, every play just carries so much weight,” Bradley said. “Whether it’s a six-run lead or you’re down by four, up by one, it doesn’t matter. You feel the pressure and the intense amount of focus and just energy that’s involved in every single play that’s going on.”
That’s playoff baseball, and especially in a do-or-die situation. The Diamondbacks won’t be under the gun quite as much in the next series, which is best-of-five, but they go in at a distinct disadvantage against the team with the best regular-season record in the majors.
Arizona was given more than a puncher’s chance against the Dodgers in part because of their terrific 1-2 starting combo of Zack Greinke and Ray, a lefty who posted a nifty 2.27 ERA in five starts against Los Angeles this year. But Greinke failed to complete four innings despite the early 6-0 lead, and Ray threw 34 pitches in his relief stint.
Neither one will be ready to start Friday, leaving manager Torey Lovullo to pick from among Patrick Corbin, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley.
It wasn’t a tough call for Lovullo to call in Ray, though, not after seeing the six-run lead shrink so quickly.
“It’s not a time where you need to save pieces and you just manage differently,” Lovullo said. “I felt like Robbie was the best option for us, and he did enough to get us to that moment where Archie took over (in the seventh).”
And even though the Diamondbacks’ pitching did not perform according to plan, they found plenty to like in their offense. One of the highlights was watching Goldschmidt come alive after a dreadful late-season slump.
The MVP candidate batted .171 from Sept. 1 on and was hitless in his last 17 at-bats of the season. But not only did he make Gray pay for hanging a curveball by belting a three-run shot in the first, Goldschmidt also made hard contact a couple other times, one resulting in a single that sparked the eighth-inning rally.
“I was just trying to get the runs in or get on base. It wasn’t about me,” Goldschmidt said. “The thing we talked about was, it’s not about one guy, it’s not about your stats. Just try to find a way to win, especially in a one-game playoff. Even going forward, no matter what happens, if you get the win, who cares about your own stats?”
Well, Bradley may boast about his hitting, but the Diamondbacks will live with that.
Follow Jorge L. Ortiz on Twitter @jorgelortiz.