LOS ANGELES — As a crowd gathered around Tommy Pham’s locker inside the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse, minutes after a resounding 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, he wanted to share something.
“What goes unnoticed,” Pham said, “was the stolen base I had in the first.”
He did not intend to brag about his own exploits, though he made sure to remind reporters that at 35, dealing with turf toe in his right foot, he still could scamper. The stolen base mattered, Pham explained, because it put Arizona in position to score two more runs in another first-inning ambush of its highly touted opponent.
“That’s what I would call ‘edges,’” Pham said. “If we can take the extra 90 feet, that’s how you win games.”
As both teams prepared to fly to Phoenix, where Chase Field will host Game 3 on Wednesday, only one more victory separated the Diamondbacks, up 2-0 in this series, from the franchise’s first berth in the National League Championship Series since 2007. And only one more defeat separated the Dodgers from another squandered October.
During these past 18 innings at Dodger Stadium, Arizona has been finding the edges. And the Dodgers have been pushed to the brink.
Oh yeah, and we’ll be going for a sweep of the Dodgers in front of a SOLD OUT @ChaseField crowd.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) October 10, 2023
For the second game in a row, Arizona handed its starting pitcher a significant lead upon taking the mound, an advantage the Dodgers could not overcome. In Game 1, the Diamondbacks pilloried Clayton Kershaw for six first-inning runs. The lineup treated rookie Bobby Miller with less malice Monday but still gifted Zac Gallen a three-run cushion. The Game 2 rally served as more emblematic than the Game 1 barrage. Arizona pulled ahead with a walk, a nifty bunt single, a couple of more hits, a sacrifice fly, a well-placed groundout and, crucially, Pham’s stolen base.
In the postseason, there can be results that defy explanation and there can be results that defy expectation. This series has been hard to believe but easy to explain. The Diamondbacks are doing the little things. And the Dodgers aren’t doing much of anything. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman have gone 1-for-13. The two Dodgers starting pitchers have recorded a total of six outs. The team has two hits with runners in scoring position in two days.
In short, the 100-win Dodgers have been caught flat-footed by the 84-win Diamondbacks. The discrepancy in regular-season records recalls last year’s early L.A. exit against San Diego. Those Padres overflowed with star power. This year feels different. Arizona’s cupboard of talent is not barren: Corbin Carroll, the likely National League Rookie of the Year, looks like a future MVP candidate, and the starting duo of Gallen and Merrill Kelly can stymie any lineup. But the Diamondbacks are also surging because of a collective relentlessness, an attention to detail, a realization that every chance to gain an edge must be taken.
“We do things right,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said Sunday afternoon. “We do it in a very uncommon way. We care about things that other teams probably don’t care about or talk about — and it’s showing up every single day for us.”
Asked to clarify a few minutes later, Lovullo walked back some of the braggadocio.
“I don’t want to be arrogant with that statement,” Lovullo said. “I don’t know what happens inside of every clubhouse or every dugout, but we talk about the minutiae, the granular wins, the pitch-by-pitch wins.”
What Lovullo meant was emphasizing the game’s fundamentals, the edges necessary for a club with the least expensive roster in the National League West.
“We’re young, and we have to instruct and teach these players through the course of the day and have those conversations,” Lovullo said. “It’s just coming together at the right time for us, and it looks good.”
Adjusting to the restrictions on infield shifts, the Diamondbacks committed the fewest errors in the majors in 2023 and finished third in FanGraphs’s version of defensive runs saved. Capitalizing on the newfound freedom on the basepaths, Arizona ranked second in stolen bases. They catch the baseball. They wreak havoc on the bases. And thus far this postseason, which began with a two-game Wild Card round sweep of Milwaukee, their players have not been rattled.
“To be able to keep our team in a spot where the pressure is on the opponent — that’s the goal,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “The little stuff is cool because it gives us our edge. But it also gives us a tangible goal. When the moment is crazy, right, the bases are loaded, the stadium’s going crazy, there’s 40,000 yelling at you, it becomes very clear: What is my job in this moment?”
In Monday’s first inning — after Carroll led off with a walk, second baseman Ketel Marte surprised Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy with a bunt single and Pham lined a single into left — Walker understood his responsibility as the next batter up.
“My skill set and what I offer to this team is hitting baseballs hard,” said Walker, who led the team with 33 homers.
He smashed a 105.6 mph liner that sent Dodgers outfielder James Outman to the center-field wall. Outman snagged the baseball for the game’s first out, but Carroll trotted home for the game’s first run. Arizona never trailed.
As rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno worked the count against Miller in the next at-bat, Pham swiped second base. He stole 22 bases this season, more than he had in any season since 2019. He took off without drawing a throw from Dodgers catcher Will Smith.
“I’m just fast, man,” Pham said. “You guys underestimated my speed for a 35-year-old. I joke around with these guys that 10 years ago, I was faster than all of them. That’s why I still run on that treadmill in the offseason — in all seriousness, to be able to take advantage of a situation like that.”
The extra 90 feet took away the potential for a double play. Moreno, a lumbering runner, drove in Marte with a groundout. Pham loped home when outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. laced a thigh-high fastball into center for an RBI single. It was the sort of sequence, a combination of sizzling drives and subterfuge, that the Dodgers could not replicate with runners aboard in the fifth and the sixth. The general jumpiness of the Dodgers — “I didn’t love the pitch selection” of the hitters, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said — made for a tidy contrast with Arizona’s approach.
“It’s two games, but our backs are against the wall,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to make some type of adjustments. And we have no more margin.”
The Diamondbacks put them in this unwelcome position after a two-night throttling in Chavez Ravine.
“Yeah, people are going to be surprised,” Pham said. “Because the Dodgers are a great organization, from top to bottom. And they have two guys over there who are going to finish in the top three in the MVP (voting). But we’re playing with an edge.”
And the Dodgers are on the edge of winter.
(Photo of, from left, Arizona’s Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. celebrating Monday’s victory: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)