In Arlington, Texas, the Diamondbacks showcased a masterclass of fundamental baseball in their Game 2 triumph, a performance that would have garnered approval from the legendary Tom Emanski, known for his emphasis on the basics of the game.
Their defense was impervious, and their swings were calculated for contact rather than sheer power. They executed sacrifice plays three times, exhibiting an aggressive approach on the base paths. Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly displayed a brilliant performance, relying on precision and movement rather than relying solely on raw velocity. This marked one of the most outstanding displays by a starting pitcher in recent memory.
If there was anything more reminiscent of old-school baseball, it might have involved donning the vintage five-finger Ty Cobb model Stall & Dean gloves on the synthetic turf of Globe Life Field. When I asked Evan Longoria, the seasoned 38-year-old third baseman, if he viewed his team as a throwback to the old-school era, he chuckled.
“Well, you guys tell me. I dunno. I see it as the game that we’ve played all year,” he mused, sporting his vibrant Snakes Alive t-shirt. “Maybe that’s the way to winning, right? Just playing fundamentally sound. We protect the ball on defense, we move guys over and I think when we’re able to do that, we feel pretty confident in winning games.”
While the Diamondbacks may not be entirely rooted in old-school traditions, their proficiency, and perhaps more importantly, their willingness and enthusiasm to embrace and execute these elements, sets them apart. It’s a significant factor in their current situation, being tied 1-1 in the World Series as they head back to Phoenix.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo shared his perspective on the team’s style of play before Game 2. “My philosophy is I have to manage the team that we have, and it’s always going to be a little bit different,” he explained. “I might have a team in a year or two that can hit three-run home runs and win a different way. But in this particular case we have a bunch of speed and guys that love to execute. I will manage them accordingly.”
Consider this: In Game 2, the Diamondbacks executed three sacrifice bunts, and two of those runners went on to score. Out of the 2,430 regular season games this year, only once did a team achieve at least three sac bunts in a game.
That lone instance? It was, of course, the Diamondbacks, back in May. Remarkably, two out of the three Arizona runners who advanced went on to score in that game, including the walk-off run in the ninth, sealing an 8-7 victory.
I delved into a random year of “old-school” baseball, 1986, and discovered that a total of 18 teams had at least one game with three or more sacrifice bunts (a combined total of 42 such games). Two teams, the Giants and Cardinals, accounted for 15 of these games. Their record in those contests? A staggering 13-2.
When executed correctly, with the right players and approach, old-school baseball proves effective. In today’s game, the sacrifice bunt is almost a radical concept, occasionally catching opponents off guard. The Diamondbacks executed a sacrifice bunt in Game 1 as well, resulting in a scored run. Altogether, Arizona has notched five sacrifice bunts in the 2023 postseason; in contrast, all other teams combined for six.
This success isn’t coincidental. The Diamondbacks are doing what elite teams do: recognizing what works and capitalizing on it.
“This postseason has been kind of the Corbin (Carroll) and (Ketel) Marte show. It feels like anytime we can turn it over with runners on base, we’ve had significant success offensively,” noted Longoria, who executed Arizona’s first sac bunt on Saturday. “I think the bottom-of-the-order guys have really embraced that. However we can get on base, however we can advance runners into scoring position, we feel pretty confident that if we can get it to those guys, they’re going to put together quality at-bats and ultimately drive some runs in.”