MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two years after suffering through a 110-loss season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are spraying champagne and heading to the NL Division Series.
They feel like they belong, too.
“In ’22, you kind of saw the shift toward the end of the year, and then we came in this year and this is what we expected to do,” Zac Gallen said after he pitched the Diamondbacks to a 5-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night and a sweep of their NL Wild Card Series. “We expected to be playing in October.”
It’s the first NL Division Series for the franchise since 2017. The Diamondbacks will take on the NL West champion Dodgers in the opener of their best-of-five series on Saturday in Los Angeles.
The NL Central champion Brewers have dropped nine of their last 10 playoff games, a stretch that started with their Game 7 home loss to the Dodgers in the 2018 NL Championship Series.
“The playoffs are a tough animal to conquer,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “They are. Unfortunately, we have not.”
Attention in Milwaukee now turns to the future of Counsell, who has managed the Brewers since 2015 and guided them to five playoff appearances over the last six seasons. Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio has said the team wants Counsell back, but the manager hasn’t indicated whether he wants to return.
The 53-year-old Counsell declined to address his future after Wednesday’s loss.
“That ain’t for tonight, man,” he said.
Ketel Marte put Arizona ahead for good with a two-run single during a four-run rally in the sixth inning as Milwaukee right-hander Freddy Peralta faded after a strong start. Gallen allowed two runs in the first, and then sailed through the rest of his six innings.
The sweep was another step in a rapid climb for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona’s 52-110 record in 2021 tied the Baltimore Orioles — another team currently in the playoffs — for MLB’s worst record that year. The Diamondbacks went 74-88 last season.
Now they’re in the playoffs thanks in part to Corbin Carroll’s breakthrough rookie season and stellar performances by Gallen and Merrill Kelly atop the rotation.
“Considering what we’ve walked through and the dark times that we had, this is a pretty special moment,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “There’s a lot of emotion inside of this organization, inside of this clubhouse right now.”
Arizona showed its grit by rallying each of the last two nights. They erased an early 3-0 deficit against Corbin Burnes to win 6-3 in Game 1. They trailed 2-0 on Wednesday and were hitless for the first 4 2/3 innings.
The only other teams to win their first two postseason games after trailing each by multiple runs are the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers, 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and 2009 New York Yankees.
“You’re down like that, you can’t get back into the game with one swing, right,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to have a full team bought in willing to take quality at-bats. We had that both nights.”
One swing from Alek Thomas sure helped, though.
Thomas gave the Diamondbacks their first hit when he homered on a 2-0 changeup from Peralta in the fifth.
“I think maybe my at-bat maybe changed a little bit of his flow,” Thomas said.
Arizona took the lead in the sixth as Peralta and Abner Uribe faltered on the mound.
Geraldo Perdomo drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on Carroll’s double, a broken-bat shot that got past first baseman Carlos Santana and went down the right-field line. Marte singled home both runners and advanced to second on the throw to the plate.
Tommy Pham then greeted Uribe with a single to right that put runners on the corners. One out later, José Herrera walked to load the bases. Uribe threw a wild pitch that brought home Pham and then allowed an RBI single to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. before departing with the Diamondbacks ahead 5-2.
The Brewers tried to put together a late rally, but an Arizona bullpen that was criticized earlier this season closed it out. Arizona’s relievers combined for 9 1/3 scoreless innings in the series.
Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but 26-year-old rookie Andrew Saalfrank preserved Arizona’s 5-2 lead with some stellar relief work.
When Sal Frelick hit a comebacker to the mound, Saalfrank threw Christian Yelich out at the plate. Willy Adames then hit a shot up the middle, but Marte was positioned perfectly behind second base and stepped on the bag for the final out.
The Brewers had runners on second and third after Yelich’s two-out double in the ninth, but Paul Sewald struck out William Contreras to end the series.
“I think the bullpen has been our MVP the last month or so, and I think it’s the part of our team that’s kept us in a lot of games,” Gallen said.
Diamondbacks C Gabriel Moreno left with a head injury after getting hit by a backswing. When Milwaukee’s Brice Turang struck out swinging to lead off the second inning, his bat his Moreno’s helmet. After a delay of several minutes, Moreno remained in the game for the rest of that inning. Herrera took over for him in the third.
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