PHILADELPHIA — Corbin Carroll, the only member of the Arizona Diamondbacks not yet soaked in champagne and beer, peeked through the folds of plastic covering the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.
He nursed a Gatorade cup of something that looked like hot chocolate as he watched members of the unlikely National League champions drenching one another in the boozy glory of proving everyone wrong, chanting “Mad-Dog, Mad-Dog” at the radio host who said he would resign if they somehow managed to beat the mighty Philadelphia Phillies. Then he turned away.
This, it was clear as he eventually changed into a NL champion T-shirt, winced through his obligatory champagne shower and grimaced through reporters’ endless questions, was not Carroll’s scene. But this a scene the rookie sensation helped create after he produced three hits, two stolen bases, two runs and two RBI in the Diamondbacks’ 4-2, Game 7 upset of the Phillies on Tuesday night.
“I think we had our backs against the wall,” Carroll said. “Definitely not an easy place to play, but I’m proud of our guys for the way we were able to block everything out and focus on the game.”
If the 23-year-old’s take seems understated, it is. What the Diamondbacks achieved this month after winning 84 regular season games is stunning. The Diamondbacks are this year’s 2019 Washington Nationals, the team that was never really considered a World Series contender until they ended up in the World Series. Statistically, the Diamondbacks might be more like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games before winning the World Series that year.
They will be underdogs again in the World Series, but that does not matter much now. If they win four games before the expensive, star-studded Texas Rangers win three, they will be World Series champions. And nothing they did or didn’t do from March until September will change that one bit.
Because at times, teams cling to the idea that nobody believed in them because it offers motivation. At times — and this was one of them — it is simply the truth. No one thought the Diamondbacks would finish higher than third in their division, let alone with the National League pennant.
But they believed they had something different, an approach all their own that involved aggressiveness on the bases and a willingness to put the ball in play, a constantly candid manager and a general manager who worked through unimaginable grief as his team transformed from an 100-game loser to National League champion.
And as the year went on, they became something better than the sum of their parts. Their starters held up to postseason scrutiny. Their young players did that and more. Their veterans provided key hits when it mattered. Over and over, they rose to the job in front of them, undaunted by anyone else’s vision of how high they should be able to climb.
Over and over, it was Carroll who propelled them. In the biggest game of his career, Carroll took a season into his hands like few veterans ever do.
And when a combination of rookie Brandon Pfaadt and an inexperienced but sturdy Arizona bullpen held down the mighty Phillies, which included right-hander Kevin Ginkel getting Trea Turner and Bryce Harper to fly out to center when either would have been the go-ahead run in the seventh, the gleeful Diamondbacks ran onto a field where the beloved home team, alone, was supposed to dance in October.
This is the field where the Phillies had once looked invincible, a field where, over three nervous hours Tuesday night, the Diamondbacks transformed them from confident sluggers into anxious hopefuls swinging for their season. They charged onto a field in relative silence, with no music playing, with fans throwing things onto the outfield grass, and ended up booing back at the few angry Phillies fans who stayed long enough to boo them goodbye.
“When you’re a young team, and you’re down, the veteran team, they think you’ll quit, think about next year, think ‘maybe we’re not ready,’ ” Dave McKay, Arizona’s first base coach and a member of the organization since 2014 said. “But don’t quit. You keep pushing, pushing, pushing. You might surprise yourselves. And I think we did just that.”
McKay knew Carroll was feeling some pressure coming into Game 7. The rookie, who will probably win the National League rookie of the year after finishing second in the majors in stolen bases and 13th in all of baseball with an .868 OPS, was 3 for 26 in the first six games of this series.
On one hand, he was conspicuous in his absence on the bases, where his presence changes games whether he runs or not. On the other hand, it was remarkable that the Diamondbacks had pushed the series to a seventh game without his production — though, Carroll, of course, was consumed more by the first thought than the second. McKay could sense the tension, so he gave Carroll a message.
“I told him, ‘thanks for getting us here. Just enjoy it. Don’t try to put the team on your shoulders,’ ” McKay said. “As long as you commit like you have, you can have no regrets.”
And a few hours later, Carroll finally put the Diamondbacks back on his shoulders again. He chopped an infield hit up the middle in his first at-bat, moved to third on a Gabriel Moreno single, and scored on Christian Walker’s chopper. That run meant the Diamondbacks led before the Phillies had even batted, and in this series, that meant victory: Every time the Phillies scored first, they won. Every time the Diamondbacks scored first, they won.
Two innings later, Carroll singled again. This time he stole second, breaking his series-long stolen base drought and seemingly breaking the dam. Because two innings later he repeated the feat — singled and stole second — so he was in position to score when Moreno singled again. His sacrifice fly in the seventh inning drove home an insurance run.
“It felt good to help the team out,” Carroll said after his teammates finally got their chance to douse him. “Performance hasn’t been there from me for whatever reasons, but I’ve kind of chalked it up to just being baseball, stuck with my approach.”
His Diamondbacks did the same, using small ball and stolen bases and a formidable, if consistently underestimated, pitching staff to come back from two games down, then a 3-2 series deficit, to end what had been another magical October for Philadelphia. Pfaadt, who projected to be an ace of future Diamondbacks contenders until he and this team both assumed those roles ahead of schedule, threw four strong innings. Ginkel was dominant in relief. Moreno, another rookie who arrived ahead of time, played like a star all series.
“I won’t speak for other people, but I thought it would take a little more time,” Carroll said. “To be able to do it in this first year just makes it all the more special.”
Fittingly, when Jake Cave hit a flyball with two outs in the ninth, that ball eventually settled in Carroll’s glove. He did not pump his fist or make a scene. He just ran straight toward his teammates, as fast as he could, into the middle of a celebration none of them could have known was coming. This — sprinting across a baseball field celebrating an achievement that came more quickly than anyone could have imagined — this is Carroll’s scene.
“Just a hell of a feeling,” he said.