posted: November 11, 2023
tl;dr: Once you get in the World Series, all that matters is how well you play in October and November...
(continued from part one):
The World Series was a whole other level of playoff experience, both for myself and the team I was rooting for, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Tickets were much more expensive, around three to five times more expensive than the National League Championship series and ten to twenty times the price of a regular season game. On the plus side the Diamondbacks’ stadium has one of the largest capacities in MLB and the large number of seats keeps prices down, because the team wants a sellout and has more seats to sell. The Diamondbacks did sell out all three games in Phoenix fairly easily, and tickets went for even higher prices on the resale market. The Diamondbacks were last in the World Series in 2001, twenty-two years ago, so there was a fair bit of pent-up demand. We get Super Bowls more frequently than World Series in the Valley (the 2023 Super Bowl was played in Glendale), albeit rarely with the hometown Arizona Cardinals.
I purchased two club level seats at $750 apiece, once again for Game 3 because it fit my schedule the best. Since I was going to go to a World Series game for the first time in my life, I wanted to be able to clearly see the ball. Still, that was a lot cheaper than the $1,425 per ticket my father claims he paid in 2004 so that he and my mom could attend a World Series game in St. Louis against the Boston Red Sox. And after posting about how expensive the parking was in Seattle this past summer on a Taylor Swift concert day, I paid $100 for a spot in a lot near the stadium that normally costs me $20 or less.
The price of the tickets, and other factors, changed the composition of the crowd considerably. Diamondbacks fans did show up in droves. But instead of the usual cross-section of society that attends a regular season game, this Diamondbacks crowd was older, richer, and less vociferous. There were hardly any kids present, as a World Series game is a terribly expensive family outing. The most excited, loudest crowd for a Diamondbacks playoff game in 2023 was not the World Series but Game 3 of the division series against the Dodgers.
In addition to the Diamondbacks fans and a smattering of Rangers fans, there were a considerable number of ticket holders who weren’t fans of either team. There are wealthy people who like attending the most exclusive sporting events regardless of who is playing or even what sport. There are also passionate baseball fans who want to see the championship round even if their team isn’t in it. For these folks, who could choose between attending a game in Arlington, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona, the weather and the many resorts in the area made Phoenix the obvious choice.
Besides the crowd composition, one other aspect of the crowd’s behavior surprised me even more: the desire for World Series-branded merchandise. All the team stores and team booths in the stadium were packed, with huge lines. It took 45 minutes to buy a couple T-shirts in the least crowded team store on club level, even though we entered the stadium two hours before first pitch. I am sure that plenty of fans missed some of the action on the field in their desire for merchandise, which rivaled what you see at major concerts, such as Taylor Swift’s recent tour. The coolest thing in Arizona, I guess, was to wear World Series-branded merchandise the day of or the day after the first game was played. Few people were following my strategy of seeing how far the Diamondbacks went in the playoffs and then after it was over, buying merchandise branded with whatever level of success they achieved. I was hoping to buy “World Series Champion” branded merchandise, not just World Series participant branded merchandise. But I was clearly in the minority.
The two teams were fairly evenly matched, but this would turn into a series of “what ifs” for the Diamondbacks. In Game 1 in Texas, the Diamondbacks took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning and sent their recently-acquired closer, Paul Sewald, to the mound to get three outs. Sewald hadn’t given up a run in the playoffs, but he gave up a game-tying two run home run to the eventual series MVP, Corey Seager. Seager is going to hit home runs, but Sewald’s big mistake was walking the weak-hitting, bottom-of-the-order center fielder, Leody Taveras, ahead of Seager. Taveras would finish the series without a hit, but he scored two runs on three free passes. Sewald was traded to the Diamondbacks by the Seattle Mariners, who are division rivals of the Rangers, so the Rangers’ hitters have seen him a lot.
My favorite Diamondbacks starting pitcher, hometown boy Merrill Kelly, pitched a gem in Game 2, giving up just one run in seven innings, a long outing by today’s MLB playoff standards. The Diamondbacks tacked on runs against the Rangers’ bullpen and won handily, 9-1. With the series tied at one game apiece, Game 3 would put one team within two games of winning the World Series.
In Game 3 a single swing by Corey Seager, another two-run home run, was again the difference, with the Rangers winning by a score of 3-1. The Rangers starting pitcher, Max Scherzer, was shaky and ended up only pitching three innings, escaping with no runs scored against him only because the Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker was thrown out at the plate after getting a late break from second base on a line drive to the outfield. The Diamondbacks could not do much damage against the Rangers bullpen. They almost broke through in the eighth, scoring one run against power left handed reliever Aroldis Chapman, but a well-turned double play that beat the runner at first by an eyelash prevented further damage. What if the Diamondbacks had done a better job pitching around Seager? What if Walker had gotten a better read on that line drive?
Game 4 appeared to be a blowout, with the Rangers taking a 10-0 lead with five runs in both the second and third innings. All five of the Rangers’ runs in the third scored after Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker, who would go on to win the National League’s Gold Glove award at first base, lost the handle on a ground ball that could easily have been a 3-6-1 double play, which I’ve seen him turn many times. Even if Walker had been able to get one out, all five runs didn’t score until there were two outs in the inning. The Diamondbacks offense eventually got going to make the final score somewhat respectable, 11-7 in favor of the Rangers. Game 5 would be a must-win for the Diamondbacks, who would then pitch Merrill Kelly if there was a Game 6. I felt confident that Kelly could win again to force a Game 7, if only the Diamondbacks could win Game 5.
Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen pitched his best game of the postseason, throwing a perfect game through 4 innings and taking a no-hitter into the 7th. The “what if” in this game was “what if the Diamondbacks had gotten a hit with runner(s) in scoring position instead of going 0 for 9?” Still, the Rangers only led 1-0 going into the ninth inning, but again Paul Sewald came on to pitch, and the Rangers hit him hard. Two runs scored when Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas, who was a Gold Glove finalist, failed to field a ball that then rolled past him all the way to the wall. Perhaps the bright lights of the biggest stage in baseball, the World Series, got to the young Diamondbacks team, giving the advantage to the veterans on the Rangers.
Still, the Diamondbacks had a great playoff run in 2023, earning their second National League Championship in the twenty-six seasons the franchise has played. Here’s hoping that Arizona doesn’t go another twenty-two years before hosting its next World Series game.