MILWAUKEE — Before Game 1 of Arizona‘s National League Wild Card Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Diamondbacks veteran Evan Longoria was asked what advice he had about postseason baseball for the numerous young players who have sparked the team’s 2023 resurgence.
“A lot of these games are going to come down to one or two big moments,” Longoria said. “We have to be ready and be prepared for those.”
In case Longoria’s inexperienced teammates missed the message, he spent Tuesday’s series-opening, 6-3 Arizona win providing plenty of examples of what winning the big moment looks like.
The third baseman made a lunging, tumbling fifth-inning grab of a Tyrone Taylor line drive that seemed ticketed for left field, snuffing a bases-loaded Brewers rally when he got to his knees and doubled Willy Adames off second base for a twin killing.
“I just kind of jumped and threw my glove up,” Longoria said. “Sometimes, those plays, it’s just a reaction. Sometimes, I don’t even jump for those. In that moment, we’re just trying to kind of leave it all out on the field.”
The play was the most crucial in an early back-and-forth tussle that settled down after it, allowing an airtight Arizona bullpen to pitch with a lead until the Diamondbacks finally tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the ninth.
Longoria, a 16-year veteran who will turn 38 on Saturday, was playing in his 36th career postseason game. But the three-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star has been more of a role player this season for a breakout Diamondbacks squad led by a wave of young talent, most prominently featuring NL Rookie of the Year front-runner Corbin Carroll.
Indeed, it was no sure bet that Longoria would draw a Game 1 assignment. He started in just 41 games at the hot corner during the regular season. Before Tuesday’s contest, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said Longoria demonstrated why he was the right guy for the job by the way he responded to the news that he would start before a team workout on Monday.
“Most people would be, like, awesome, high-five, shake my hand, give me a hug, whatever,” Lovullo said. “He is, like, ‘Gotcha.’ He was tying his shoe and didn’t even pick up his head and said, ‘Gotcha.’ That’s why I like him.”
Lovullo liked Longoria even more after the veteran put on a defensive clinic. In addition to the crucial fifth-inning snag, Longoria made two other key plays in the field.
In the sixth, with Christian Yelich on first and no one out, Longoria charged a slow roller off the bat of William Contreras. Longoria bobbled the ball but alertly saw that Yelich had made a wide turn at second. He threw behind Yelich, who was initially called safe, but the play was overturned, and the budding Milwaukee rally was halted.
In the seventh, Longoria made a diving snag of an Adames sharp grounder up the third-base line. Adames beat out the play for a single, but by preventing what would have been a surefire double, Longoria set up what came next — a double play he started off the bat of Josh Donaldson.
“Incredible,” said Arizona first baseman Christian Walker, who drove in those two ninth-inning insurance runs. “The guy just continues to rise to the occasion when we need him. Not only is he an excellent veteran presence, but when the moment calls for it, he is amazing.”
The Diamondbacks have gained a reputation for their collective athleticism and speed all over the field, though their offense in Game 1 all came courtesy of a trio of home runs, the most impressive of which was as 440-foot bomb off the bat of Carroll.
While Carroll is still but a rookie, even he knows that the long ball heroics wouldn’t have mattered if the Diamondbacks had not done what Longoria presaged they would have to do: Win the big moments.
“There were a number of game-changing plays tonight offensively and on the defensive side of the ball,” Carroll said. “One or two of those doesn’t go our way and we’re looking at a different game.”
Arizona can close out the series on Wednesday, and things seem to line up nicely for the D-backs, as ace Zac Gallen will take the mound.
But after his turn-back-the-clock Game 1 performance, Longoria has more advice for his precocious teammates about how to handle a postseason win, especially with the Brewers countering Gallen with a top righty in Freddy Peralta.
“You never feel that confident in the playoffs, especially on the road,” Longoria said. “You should never take anything for granted. We still have to go out there and perform.”