PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks found out that the road to a wild-card win is a rocky one. But they reached the end of it, thanks to their fan favorites, and now the postseason's gate-crashers are heading to Los Angeles.
With 48,803 on hand at Chase Field, it was easy to tell whom the fans most adore. One favorite is MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, who electrified the crowd with a soaring, three-run homer in the first inning. But from that point, it was hold-on-to-your-hats time. In the end, Arizona held off the division rival Colorado Rockies and won the National League wild-card game 11-8 on Wednesday night. Next up is the NL Division Series, where the 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers are waiting.
"After one day, I think I've seen everything," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. "And this was an incredible game."
First crazy fact: Goldschmidt entered the game 0-for-11 against Colorado starter Jon Gray, who lasted just 1⅓ innings, the shortest postseason start for Colorado. It was the worst oh-fer Goldschmidt had produced against any pitcher. All it took was one hanging curveball to upend that history.
"The guy's an All-Star," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "He's one of the best players in the league, an MVP candidate, and he hit it out. So there's 3-0."
Kind of amazing, but the game was just getting started. Later, Daniel Descalso homered in the third inning against his former Colorado teammates to put Arizona up 6-0. The game seemed as though it had been broken open, but that didn't last long. The Rockies put up a four-spot in the fourth and added a run in the seventh, setting the stage for the wild wild-card finish.
Which brings us to our other Arizona fan favorite, reliever Archie Bradley. He is a beloved guy at Chase Field. The fans went nuts when the right-hander was introduced in pregame ceremonies. They went nuts when he came into to pitch. And they particularly went nuts when he played a key role in the late-game craziness.
First, Bradley simply did his usual job -- coming on to a thunderous roar in the seventh to get the last out and preserve the 6-5 Arizona lead. Then, Bradley pushed the drama in two most unexpected ways.
With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Arizona put two runners on base, but the pitcher's spot was up next. Again, the lead was only one run. So does Lovullo send up a pinch hitter in hopes of extending the lead but at the expense of burning Bradley, his ace reliever, after just one batter faced? Or does he let Bradley, a good athlete who was a star quarterback in high school, take some whacks against Rockies reliever Pat Neshek?
"Archie walks up there in a situation where I feel like he's prepared for and we talked to him about during the course of the year," Lovullo said. "Archie, he's built for that moment. That's his personality."
Of course Lovullo let Bradley hit, and the bubbly, bearded one smoked a Neshek pitch that Statcast assigned an exit velocity of 100 mph past Colorado center fielder Charlie Blackmon, scoring both baserunners and pushing the D-backs' lead up to 8-5. Those runs would have scored no matter where Bradley ended up, but as he rounded second base, it quickly became apparent that Bradley had his sights set on third.
"I was thinking, please stop right there," Lovullo said. "I was thinking, 'We're good.' I could see him turn that corner and pull a hamstring sliding. Our pitchers don't practice sliding very often."
Bradley made it intact, sliding into the bag safely and popping to his feet to celebrate. A triple! It was the first three-base hit for a reliever in the postseason, except for a game in the 1918 World Series in which a left-hander named Babe Ruth started in left field before moving to the mound. Bradley pumped his fist to egg on a crowd that had slipped into euphoria.
"There is only one way I know how to play, and that's to go as hard as I can until someone tells me to stop," Bradley said. "And that was the situation."
At that point, it sure felt as if the Rockies were at last on the ropes.
"It was one of those moments, [and] I hate to say this in front of him," said Arizona's Jake Lamb, who had four hits on the night and often carpools with Bradley to the ballpark. "But the pitcher is up, two outs. You're not expecting a whole lot, and he puts this Hall-of-Fame type swing on a pitch. The whole place went nuts."
But the emotional wave rolled back fast, as Bradley's game took another strange turn in the eighth inning. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story hit back-to-back homers off Bradley, reducing the D-backs' lead back down to one run at 8-7. Bradley, who had a 1.73 ERA this season, had given up only four homers the entire year.
"When Archie gives up runs, it kind of leaves you a little startled," Lovullo said. "How did that happen? But like I said, the Colorado Rockies are a tremendous team loaded with offensive talent."
Bradley recovered to finish the eighth inning. And the Diamondbacks kept pushing, adding three more runs in the bottom of the inning, a rally that included A.J. Pollock's two-run triple, Arizona's fourth three-bagger of the night.
In addition to Pollock and Bradley tripling, Ketel Marte hit two of his own in the early innings, becoming the first player since Mariano Duncan in 1993 to put up a multi-triple game in the playoffs. Arizona became the third team to have four triples in a playoff game and the first in 114 years. It was that kind of night.
"Nobody could have predicted that," Black said. "Again, that's why this game is so great."
Arizona's white-knuckle closer, Fernando Rodney, came on for the ninth. The Rockies scratched out one last run off Rodney, but this night had seen enough drama. Rodney got Arenado on a grounder to end it, and Arizona moves on, improving to 6-0 in win-or-go-home games.
"Every pitch, every swing, every play carries so much weight," Bradley said. "Whether it's a six-run lead or you're down by four, up by one, it doesn't matter. You feel the pressure and the intense amount of focus and energy that's involved in every single play that's going on."
After such a tough, emotional win, hopes are high in Arizona, but the Diamondbacks have to contend with the route that got them to the NLDS. Starter Zack Greinke's 3⅔ innings and 58 pitches were easily the lowest totals of his 10 career postseason outings. And it left Lovullo to navigate the rest of the game with a bullpen bolstered by the singular construction of a wild-card game roster.
That bullpen came through with the help of No. 2 starter Robbie Ray, who got seven outs, struck out three and gave up one run. Ray would have been the likely choice to go in the first game against the Dodgers.
Now Lovullo's charges go into the NLDS having burned through their top two starters to get 18 outs in one game. Lovullo will have to determine when to bring back Greinke and Ray, while figuring out who will get the nod to start Friday's Game 1 against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. After the game, Lovullo refused to rule out any of Arizona's five starters -- Greinke, Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin or Zack Godley.
Those are questions for Thursday. After surviving the Rockies, Lovullo just wanted to enjoy the moment.
"It's too hard to say right now," Lovullo said. "I haven't really gotten that far. I'm going to enjoy this moment and celebrate with my family. But we have a couple of candidates."
It's a rocky road, all right, but one thing was clear when the Diamondbacks charged Rodney after the final out: They are really happy to still be on it.