posted: November 4, 2023
tl;dr: Once you get in the playoffs, all that matters is how well you play in October...
It took me 59 years, but I finally attended a World Series game. Better yet, it was a home game for the team I currently root for, the Arizona Diamondbacks. But to get there, the Diamondbacks first had to navigate their way into and through the National League playoffs.
All the years that I lived in the Chicago area and was a partial season ticket holder for the White Sox, I attended a grand total of two playoff games: Games 3 and 4 of the 2008 American League Division series, which the White Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Rays. Nearly every year I would purchase playoff and World Series tickets, which were an inducement to renew for the following season. Alas, the White Sox never made it back to the playoffs until after I moved to Arizona. Playoff appearances can never be taken for granted.
So when the plucky, young Arizona Diamondbacks dispatched the Chicago Cubs and a few other teams to qualify for the sixth and final playoff spot in MLB’s 2023 postseason, I was primed to jump at the opportunity to attend a playoff game. As the lowest-seeded wildcard team, the Diamondbacks first had to travel to Milwaukee and win two games against the Brewers, which they did. They would open their National League Division series against the feared Los Angeles Dodgers with two games in L.A. As a best-of-five series, the only game guaranteed to be played in Arizona was Game 3, so that’s the game for which I purchased tickets. It cost around $100 plus service fees to sit in the club level.
Normally I don’t like to attend Diamondbacks games when the Dodgers are in town, because so many Dodgers fans show up and unabashedly root for their team. The current number one city from which people relocate to the Valley of the Sun is Los Angeles, so there are plenty of baseball fans who moved here who still root for the Dodgers. Also, before the Diamondbacks were formed and played their first season in 1998, the southwest U.S. was Dodger territory. I believe in rooting for the home team: if you’ve abandoned L.A., or if MLB has gone to the trouble of granting your city and state a franchise, you should adopt the team that’s here in the Valley.
This particular Dodgers game was a very different experience. The Diamondbacks won the first two games in L.A., and ended up clinching the series with a 4-2 victory in Game 3. It was a sellout, and instead of 30% of the crowd being Dodgers fans, as is typical for a regular season game, I would estimate that 95% of the crowd were rabid Diamondbacks fans who take a strong dislike to the wealthier team from California. “Beat L.A.” chants, many spontaneous and some triggered by the scoreboard, arose throughout the game. With a capacity of over 48,000, the Diamondbacks have one of the largest stadiums in MLB, and when it is packed with vociferous Diamondbacks fans, it is very loud.
The Diamondbacks scored their runs on four consecutive solo home runs, a rare feat in major league baseball. The crowd actually celebrated five apparent home runs: after the first three, Gabby Moreno hit an apparent home run on a ball that sliced into the visitors’ bullpen located behind the right field foul pole, touching off the fourth celebration. Upon review it was declared to be a foul ball. On the very next pitch Moreno hit a clearly fair home run to center field, touching off the fifth home run celebration and finally sending the Dodgers starting pitcher to the showers. The crowd was in a frenzy. This transpired in the third inning, so there was still plenty of game left to play, but with the Diamondbacks in control the crowd could smell a series victory and rooted them on to achieve it. The fact that it was against the Dodgers made it all the sweeter. It was the loudest, most fun major league baseball game I’ve ever attended.
Next up were the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship series. Again the Diamondbacks opened the series with two games on the road, which they lost. As a best-of-seven series, the only games guaranteed to be played in Arizona were Games 3 and 4, and I chose to attend Game 3, which fit my schedule better. Tickets were a bit pricier, and since I still wanted to spend around $100 a ticket, I ended up in the third row of the upper deck. The start time was dictated by the demands of the national television networks televising the MLB playoffs, which ended up being 2pm on a Thursday afternoon (5pm in Philadelphia), an unusual time for a game in Phoenix. The game was still a sellout, and while the crowd was firmly behind the Diamondbacks, it didn’t reach the intensity level as the Dodgers game.
The Diamondbacks had gotten blown out 10-0 in Game 2, but Game 3 was much tighter. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the ninth, Philadelphia sent their closer to the mound, Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel loaded the bases with one out. Ketel Marte became the hero with a game-winning walk-off single, which brought back memories of Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off single in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees in the same stadium.
The Diamondbacks won one more game in Phoenix and then, amazingly, the final two games of the series in the Phillies home ballpark. That earned them the National League pennant and sent them into the World Series to face the American League Champion Texas Rangers, a series that would again start with two games on the road.