'Dream come true:' Diamondbacks defy the odds on chaotic journey to World Series

PHILADELPHIA − They ripped their shirts off screaming. They sang. They danced a Conga Line. They sprayed champagne. They dumped buckets of ice on each other. They filled the air with cigar smoke. And they nearly drank as much beer as they spilled.

It was nearly 1 in the morning, and no one was going anywhere.

They were savoring every possible moment and making sure to file it all away in their memory bank.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to the World Series.

Yes, the same team that lost 110 games two years ago, the same team that barely snuck into the playoffs with 84 victories, the same team that was actually outscored during the season, the same team that is now one of the last two standing.

They shocked the Philadelphia Phillies, winning Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, 4-2, and will play the Texas Rangers for the World Series championship beginning Friday night (8:03 p.m. ET, FOX) in Arlington, Texas.

Can you believe it?

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, covered from head to toe in champagne, was asked if he allowed himself to reflect back to that gruesome 52-110 season on the most glorious night of his career.

"I’ve thought about it 100 times, for sure," Lovullo said. "I’ve thought about it 110 times. How about that?

"I can’t wrap my mind around it. It just goes to show you perseverance, persistence, hard work, that anything’s possible. We’re a small-market organization, and we’ve done it from within.

"That makes it very sweet."

RECAP OF GAME 7: Diamondbacks shock Phillies, advance to first World Series since 2001

The D-backs still are not sure how they pulled this off, but maybe, just maybe, there was some divine intervention.

General manager Mike Hazen grew misty-eyed when he talked about his wife, Nicole. She died of brain cancer a year ago, leaving Mike and four boys. She was a diehard Diamondbacks fan, and would have loved this moment.

"Look, I’m missing the person that’s supposed to be here with me," Hazen said, "but I know she’s been with us the whole way. Sometimes when I think about how improbable this is, that’s part of why I think we’re good."

Ketel Marte, the MVP of the NLCS, hitting .387 with four doubles and a triple to go along with his 16-game postseason hitting streak, spoke about his mother. She was killed in a car accident in 2018.

"This," Marte said, "was for my mom. This team needed me."

The clubhouse was filled with emotional, moving stories − guys who were released, guys who were unwanted, guys who spent the summer going up and down to the minors − who together are having their dreams come true.

"It feels unreal," said rookie starter Brandon Pfaadt, who was sent down to the minors twice this summer. "It’s like a dream come true. You grow up wanting this moment."

D-backs ace Zac Gallen, who grew up just outside Philadelphia, never cared for the Phillies. He was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Even though he left tickets for friends and family during the NLCS, he wondered how many were still rooting for the Phillies in Game 7, considering he wasn’t pitching.

"The city I grew up in, this makes 10-year-old Zac Gallen who rooted for the Cardinals (against the Phillies), that much sweeter," Gallen said. "I had a lot of text messages from people who showed their true colors to me, who they’re rooting for.

"It’s a beautiful thing."

D-backs third baseman Evan Longoria, 38, the oldest player on the team, went to the World Series in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays as a rookie. Now, he’s returning to the World Series for the first time in 15 years, the longest stretch by any position player in World Series history.

"It’s an opportunity to win a ring now," Longoria said. "I don’t know how else to put it. Obviously, you have to get there to get that opportunity. We traveled a very hard road to get here, but here we are."

D-backs outfielder Tommy Pham was stuck on an underachieving team going nowhere with the New York Mets. He was shipped off to Arizona when the Phillies and other teams all passed on him at the trade deadline, and now he was leaning up against a table, reminiscing on the craziness of the past three months.

"Damn, how did we do it?" Pham said. "It’s real. We got there. We’re going to the World Series. So don’t count us out now."

There was D-backs bench coach Jeff Banister, with the only dry thing on his body the cigar in his mouth, knowing he now faces his former team. Banister was manager of the Rangers for four seasons, twice reaching the postseason, before being dismissed after going 67-95 in 2018. The team got worse after he departed, losing 102 games in 2021.

Now, Banister is going back to Texas, where a piece of his heart remains.

"I’ve got a lot of friends over there," Banister says. "It’s a great organization. I’m still friends with the ownership group. I’m so happy for them. My family will be able to go back home, go back to that stadium in these circumstances. I was hoping this would happen."

There’s D-backs closer Paul Sewald, who was happily closing out games for the Seattle Mariners, and left stunned when they traded him at the deadline. He was in disbelief. The Mariners were still in the race, but they dumped him, figuring they didn’t need him.

Well, look who got the last laugh.

The Mariners are sitting home.

The D-backs are going to the World Series.

It’s why he got emotional when Phillies pinch-hitter Jake Cave flied out to rookie right fielder Corbin Carroll, ending the game, with his teammates calling upon him to give a victory speech.

"I was just trying to take it all in," Sewald said. "The last catch, just pure joy, pure relief. This whole season has been surreal."

Really, the D-backs' journey to the World Series defies all belief.

It’s a team that was in an absolute free-fall for two months, going 16-34 from June 13 to Aug. 11, with broadcasters and writers declaring their season was over. They were the underdog in every postseason series with even national talk-show host Chris "Mad Dog" Russo pledging that he’d retire if the Phillies lost the final two games to the D-backs.

"I know he probably worked his last day at the MLB Network," Lovullo said, "and we're taking applications over there in Arizona right now to work for the D-backs. We need good people.

"He’s got to put his money where his mouth is."

MAD DOG: Sports talk host Chris Russo must face the music after Diamondbacks reach World Series

It’s not as if Russo was just some isolated person believing the D-backs weren’t for real. Most of the country felt the same way. The D-backs entered the season with a 1.2% chance of reaching the World Series, according to FanGraphs. The Las Vegas oddsmakers had them at 125-to-1 to reach the World Series. The PECOTA projections had them finishing fourth in the NL West with a 74-88 record.

They were splattered by the Phillies the first two games of the NLCS, 15-3, a deficit only four teams have recovered from in LCS history.

And they headed back to Philadelphia down 3 games to 2, having to win two consecutive games at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies were 6-0 this postseason, with a record .683 home winning percentage in its postseason history.

"Watching them prior to this series," Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper said, "I don’t think anything scared that team. I don’t think they had any doubts in their minds of coming back here and playing in Philadelphia. They did it to the Brewers. They did it to the Dodgers. And then they were able to do it to us as well.

"I don’t think that team is scared of any situation or any spot."

Here they are now, joining the 1987 Minnesota Twins as only the second team to be outscored during the regular season and reach the World Series, with the fourth-worst record by any postseason team, and having the glorious opportunity to have a World Series parade in downtown Phoenix.

"There were a lot of teams that probably felt like we didn’t deserve to be here," Gallen said. "It was almost like this quiet, 'All right. We’ll show you.'"

Well, the D-backs proved that the same team that was a laughingstock in 2021 suddenly has become baseball’s biggest surprise.

"There were some dark days there, some long nights for players and coaches," said D-backs rookie Corbin Carroll, who entered the game in a 3-for-23 skid, and went 3-for-4 with two RBI and two stolen bases. "I had a photo on my phone from two years ago that popped on my phone (Monday). It was me on my couch in Seattle watching the 2021 NLCS.

"How cool is this, that I was sitting on my couch at that point, and now I get to play in these games."

The pain, the frustration, and all of that angst ended when Lovullo watched the final at-bat, with the ball floating into Carroll’s glove. Lovullo spun around, and hugged Banister for 15, maybe 20 seconds, not wanting to let go.

"In that last at-bat," Lovullo said, "I let my mind wander for about 15 seconds in between pitches, and thought, 'We’re really close to doing something special.' I allowed myself to go there. I tried not to because it’s a dangerous thought because you can be let down emotionally.

"But when it finally happened, and I saw the fly ball go up, it was a pretty euphoric feeling."

The Diamondbacks, for the first time since 2001, are going to the World Series.

The Phillies are staying home.

"Unbelievable," Gallen said. "That’s the only way I can describe it. Unbelievable."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diamondbacks defy the odds on chaotic journey to World Series