PHOENIX – Merrill Kelly surfed the internet to find a few tickets, threw on a hoodie and hat so he wouldn't be recognized and took his brother Reid to Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park last year, where the two watched Philadelphia hit five homers in a 7-0 win against Houston.
Kelly felt the postseason electricity of the crowd, the energy in the city, and relished it.
“This is where I want to be a year from now,” Kelly told his brother.
The Arizona right-hander will get his wish starting Monday when his team faces the Phillies in the NL Championship Series opener. The Diamondbacks haven't made it this far in the playoffs since 2007, while the Phillies are back for a second straight year after beating the Braves in a four-game Division Series capped by Thursday's 3-1 win.
Kelly said watching Philadelphia's five-homer barrage against the Astros gave him a good feeling for what to expect.
“I have a hard time believing that anything I'm about to experience is going to be louder than that,” Kelly said.
In many ways, the Diamondbacks are hoping to blaze the same trail as the Phillies, who were also a No. 6 seed last season before an unlikely run to the World Series, where they lost to the Astros in six games. The D-backs are 5-0 this postseason, sweeping two games from Milwaukee before winning three straight against the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers.
Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker — who grew up in suburban Philadelphia — said watching the Phillies make it deep in the postseason for a second straight year is impressive.
“Winning in the postseason is not lucky. You have to earn it,” Walker said. “Doing it more than one year in a row feels a little different. Repeating the success, establishing a presence in the postseason.”
Philadelphia won the season series from the Diamondbacks 4-3. The Phillies have a deep lineup with Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto and two workhorse pitchers at the top of the rotation in Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola.
Harper added to his postseason lore with two clutch homers in Game 3. Castellanos hit two solo homers Thursday.
“I'm looking forward to competing with those guys,” Walker said. “We've had some good battles early this season already. It's a great group of guys. They have a lot of chemistry, a lot like we do. But yeah, top to bottom, I'm really looking forward to battling them.”
D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said his team will start right-hander Zac Gallen in Game 1 and Kelly in Game 2. Kelly said the team has a lot of respect for the Phillies but feels battle-tested after big wins over the Brewers and Dodgers.
“If you make mistakes more than you don’t, then they’re probably going to beat you,” Kelly said. “If you don’t, then they’re still human, they’re still hitters, and if you make good pitches, they’ll get out, just like everyone else.”
The Diamondbacks have shown a little pop of their own during the postseason, capped by a postseason-record four solo homers in the third inning of their 4-2 win that finished the Dodgers. Rookie Corbin Carroll has been terrific at the top of the lineup and the offense can be a terror on the basepaths, stealing the second-most bases in the big leagues this season.
“This team believes it can compete against anybody," manager Torey Lovullo said.
The D-backs should be at full strength for Game 1. Catcher Gabriel Moreno left Wednesday after taking a foul ball off his right throwing hand, but X-rays were negative and Lovullo expects that he'll be in the lineup.
The team went through an intrasquad game on Friday and will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday. The D-backs know a raucous environment awaits.
“Everyone says it's kind of intimidating, but I feel like that's the fun part,” Kelly said. “That's kind of why we're here. We do it for the fans. The fans are the reason why even have a league. So if they're yelling at you or for you, as long as there are 40,000, 50,000 people in the stands, that's what we get excited for.”
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