The most exciting play in baseball, they say, is the triple. The Diamondbacks hit four of them en route to an 11-8 win over Colorado. Arizona took the lead on the sixth batter of the game and never let go, advancing to the division series for the first time since 2011. But it wasn’t that simple, and from the fourth inning on, its lead never felt secure.
The Rockies drafted hard-throwing right-hander Jon Gray third overall out of the University of Oklahoma in 2013, hoping he’d become precisely the kind of power front-end starter they’d someday entrust with a winner-take-all playoff game. Gray lasted just 1.1 innings, as the Diamondbacks punished him for leaving his fastball up and his curveball out over the plate. Gray surrendered four runs on seven hits, including a first-inning home run to Paul Goldschmidt that opened the scoring and a second-inning RBI triple to Ketel Marté that closed the book on the Rockies’ ace.
Marté’s triple was his first of two. The Diamondbacks’ shortstop, playing in place of the injured Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings, went 3-for-5 out of the two-hole and became the first player to hit at least two triples in a playoff game since Mariano Duncan in 1993—and the first ever to hit at least one triple from both sides of the plate.
When the Diamondbacks stretched their lead to 6-0 in the third, it looked over. Arizona ace Zack Greinke—who’d signed a $206.5 million contract to be precisely the kind of pitcher the Diamondbacks would entrust with a winner-take-all playoff game—was cruising until the Rockies touched him up for four runs in four straight at-bats in the top of the fourth. Greinke departed after just 3.2 innings, the first time in 10 career playoff starts in which he’d failed to get through the fifth.
Every run after that was puzzling. NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon, who hit 37 home runs on the year, overhit a bunt with Jonathan Lucroy on third base in the seventh inning, scoring Lucroy but giving up one of Colorado’s last eight outs and taking the bat out of the team’s best hitter’s hands in the process.
In the bottom of the inning, Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley batted with a one-run lead and two men on base and two outs. It was shocking enough that Arizona manager Torey Lovullo allowed this to happen in the first place, but Bradley went to a knee to hit a two-strike slider to the center-field wall. Bradley, a former Oklahoma football recruit, motored into third base with an 8-5 lead and the first triple ever hit by a relief pitcher in postseason history.
Then Bradley, who’d been one of the best relievers in baseball all season, allowed back-to-back home runs to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. A scalded foul ball off the bat of pinch hitter Pat Valaika two batters later almost tied it. In the regular season, Bradley allowed just four home runs and gave up more than one run in just three of his 63 appearances, but the triple must have left him either physically or emotionally exhausted, and this was just the kind of thing that happens in a game this weird.
With one out in the eighth and J.D. Martinez on first, Colorado manager Bud Black went to his closer, Greg Holland, to hold Arizona’s lead to one. Holland threw 18 pitches. One of them went to the backstop for a wild pitch, and three more ended up as hits, including the game’s fourth triple—this one a two-run hit off the bat of A.J. Pollock—and an RBI bunt single by catcher Jeff Mathis that stretched the lead to 11-7.
That was more than enough room, even for Fernando Rodney, one of three active closers with 300 saves, but also the most terrifying late-inning high-wire act in the game. Rodney pitched the ninth, allowing two singles and a run, but striking out Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu—the past two NL batting champions—and forcing Arenado to ground the ball to second baseman Daniel Descalso. Descalso flipped to Marté, who planted one of his 1960s refrigerator green cleats on the bag to end the game.
In some ways this was a throwback game, with two successful squeeze bunts and four Diamondbacks triples—the Boston Red Sox hit five triples in a game twice in three games in the first World Series in 1903, but until Wednesday night, no team had ever hit four in a playoff game since. Two starting pitchers, Colorado’s Tyler Anderson and Arizona’s Robbie Ray—the presumptive Game 1 NLDS starter—appeared out of the bullpen.
But it was in other respects an ultra-modern affair between a pair of clubs that didn’t exist until the 1990s: Arizona and Colorado combined for four home runs, 12 pitching changes, and just five innings pitched from the two starters. The winning pitcher, Andrew Chafin, faced one batter in the fourth inning and threw seven pitches.
The Diamondbacks will now face the Dodgers in the NLDS, starting Friday night in Los Angeles.