PHILADELPHIA — Merrill Kelly understands the David vs. Goliath storyline permeating the National League Championship Series.
But after knocking off two division champions earlier this month, Kelly and the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks — two years removed from a 110-loss season and with one player making more than $10 million this year — will have their slingshot ready to go in their biggest game yet on Tuesday night.
The Diamondbacks will look to continue their unlikely October run and the Phillies will look to return to the World Series when Arizona visits Philadelphia for Game 7 of the NLCS.
Rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt (0-0, 2.13 ERA this postseason) is slated to start for the Diamondbacks against left-hander Ranger Suarez (1-0, 0.64).
The Diamondbacks forced the winner-take-all finale Monday night, when Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit back-to-back homers to open the second inning and Kelly gave up one run over five frames in a 5-1 victory.
Tuesday’s winner will begin the World Series on Friday against the Texas Rangers, who clinched the American League pennant by rolling to an 11-4 win over the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series on Monday night. The Rangers will have home-field advantage in the Fall Classic regardless of who they play.
“I don’t think anybody thought we were going to take them to Game 6,” Kelly said on TBS following Monday’s win. “I don’t think anybody even thought we were going to make it to Game 1. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to make it past Milwaukee, to be honest with you.”
After sweeps of the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks dropped the first two games of the NLCS by a combined score of 15-3 to the defending NL champion Phillies, who have five players on deals of at least $100 million. None of those players are Kyle Schwarber, one of the most prolific home run hitters in postseason history, or Aaron Nola, who is one of only three pitchers in franchise history to earn at least five postseason wins.
The Diamondbacks mounted comeback wins in Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix before losing 6-1 in Game 5. But the Phillies could never mount a sustained rally on Monday, when they were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We earned the right to play in that game and I’m proud of the guys for that,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said.
The Diamondbacks’ comeback has endangered the Phillies’ bid to win a second straight pennant — a feat that seemed to be their destiny after opening the playoffs with seven wins in eight games, a stretch in which Philadelphia outscored the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves and Diamondbacks by a combined score of 46-13.
The Game 7 will be the first in the 141-season history of the Phillies, who faced elimination only once last season, when they lost Game 6 of the World Series to the Astros.
“It’s going to be fight, scratch, claw, do whatever you can to score a run, find a way to get outs, find a way to move up an extra 90 feet — anything that you can,” Schwarber said. “It’s going to be good anxious nerves coming onto the field (Tuesday). This is what you live for, going into the backyard (as a kid), Game 7. It’s going to be fun.”
Pfaadt and Suarez matched zeroes in Game 3 last Thursday, when neither pitcher factored into the decision in the Diamondbacks’ 2-1 win. Pfaadt gave up two hits and struck out nine over 5 2/3 innings while Suarez allowed three hits and whiffed seven in 5 1/3 innings.
Pfaadt has made all three of his postseason starts this month. He has never faced the Phillies in the regular season.
Suarez is 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA and one save in eight career playoff games (six starts). He is 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA in nine regular-season games (six starts) against the Diamondbacks.