PHOENIX – Fall is for relief pitchers, big ones. If they’re tattooed, wholly bearded, slightly disheveled and like their beer domestic, even better.
And, well, dang, the way things are going, if they can hit a little …
So, Archie Bradley, the erstwhile Arizona Diamondbacks starter turned reliever, two strikes on him, the dumb luck of an unruly wild-card game having handed him a baseball bat against a guy almost nobody can hit, did hit, and then raced past first base, and past second, and headed to third, and may as well have kept going, due west on I-10, the Papago Freeway, straight to Los Angeles.
Baseball games don’t often get further out there, out on the fringes of how we like to frame October baseball, than what went on here on Wednesday night. Not to those 30 hits off 14 pitchers over just about four hours, not to Zack Greinke in a single pitch falling from postseason hammer to just another jamoke in trouble, not to the Colorado Rockies leaning hard against deficits of six runs through three innings, then three through seven innings, then four through eight, before running out of time, and not to good ol’ Arch bloodying up the Rockies before getting bloodied himself and refusing to believe this was anything but a helluva good time.
The Diamondbacks were 11-8 winners, though they may still be totaling the whole thing up, we’ll get back to you if anything was lost in the paperwork. They never did trail, and just kept swinging the bats, kept themselves pointed toward Dodger Stadium and Friday night, toward a destiny that is, today, just as much theirs as anyone else’s.
A lot of who they are, what they have become, and why the next round of this October looks pretty good to them may well be summed up in Bradley’s experience. In the four outs he recorded. In the two-run liner off his bat he chased until everything landed in a heap at third base. In the home runs he allowed. In the young man who skittered across the top of the dugout when Archie was coming off the field, whose hand Bradley obligingly slapped.
See, it was just a wild-card game, and wild-card games almost always feel like the bouncer may or may not pull away the velvet rope, may or may not reveal the real thing. A wild-card game, like the leap from an airplane, hair pulled back, tears racing past your ears, lips flapping, the ground comin’ in hot, and you’re going to land, one way or the other.
Then ol’ Arch rips a triple, the first triple ever hit by a reliever in the postseason, and two runs score, and the whole place is chanting, “Ar-CHEE! Ar-CHEE!” because he wants to win so badly he feels like one of them. Next thing they know, well not the very next thing because plenty happened after that, some of it settling in their stomachs, but soon enough, they’re chanting, “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” And it’s on the scoreboard and in their throats and rattling around Chase Field and echoing from East Jefferson Street.
“Today’s awesome,” said Bradley, his hair soaked in something beery and pushed to one side. “Trust me, I’m really pumped we’re moving on. This is what you dream about. But at some point tonight we’re going to turn the page and realize this was one step of the process, one step of what we want to accomplish, and now it’s about going to play the Dodgers and finding a way to beat them.”
So, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hundred-and-four-game winners. Run-away National League West champions. Again. Fiscal wherewithal of a teenager on his first payday at Trader Joe’s. All their fancy weather and palm trees and four days off and stuff.
Well, along come the Diamondbacks, the hearty enough squad that completely lost sight of the Dodgers three months ago, that just gassed its best starting pitcher and its second-best starting pitcher inside several perilous hours against the Rockies, that intend to show up Friday night at Dodger Stadium anyway, and that care not for how this might look, all things considered.
Greinke threw 58 pitches Wednesday night. Robbie Ray, the emergency wild-card long man and preferred division series Game 1 starter, came along not long after and threw 34. That means either Taijuan Walker or Patrick Corbin or Zack Godley for Friday. And maybe Ray or Greinke for Saturday’s Game 2. And maybe not. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said he’d still be sorting that out for a bit. This is not the textbook way to roll into L.A., but, turned out, it was the only way. Nobody was complaining. The plan was to beat the Rockies. The plan was to show up Friday, to play a team they’d beaten already 11 times in 19 tries, to mop up any blood spilled and get after Kershaw.
“Yeah,” third baseman Jake Lamb said, “in our clubhouse we’re saying it’s our time. This is our year, and we feel like we’ve got the best chance to win the World Series. At the same time, that’s what’s being said in every clubhouse that’s doing it. … You’ve obviously seen the year they’ve had. They’ve got a great team over there. But in our clubhouse with our guys, we know how good we are.”
It’s not that they’re cocky. Not that they’ve filled themselves on a single outcome that could’ve gone either way until Fernando Rodney finally shot that arrow into the sky. Or would’ve been the sky had the roof been open. It’s that they’re game. It’s that they belong. Hell, they won 93 games. They beat the Dodgers plenty. They got big, bearded, tattooed guys. And they’ve got five chances to win three.
“This,” ol’ Arch said, “is what you want.”