2023 World Series: Merrill Kelly Delivers All-time Great Counterpunch Performance in Game Two

Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly during Game Two of the 2023 World Series against the Texas Rangers
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

2023 World Series: Merrill Kelly Delivers All-time Counterpunch in Game Two

ARLINGTON, Tex. (Oct. 28) — The Arizona Diamondbacks suffered a gut-punch of a loss in Game One of the 2023 World Series against the Texas Rangers, but there was a sense of calm over the team, given that Merrill Kelly was starting Game Two. Kelly, nicknamed “Merrill the Mainstay,” has been known to give the team much-needed wins following either a tough loss or a losing streak. He did so in Game Six of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies after the Diamondbacks had lost Game Five at home to fall in a 3–2 hole. And he did so again in Game Two of the World Series.

Extra-Inning World Series Walk-off Homers

The Rangers won Game One with a walk-off home run by Adolis Garcia in the bottom of the 11th. That homer was the 10th extra-inning walk-off homer in World Series history. Here is the complete list.

 

Year Gm Inn Batter Team Opponent Pitcher
1954 1 10 Dusty Rhodes New York Giants Cleveland Indians Bob Feller
1957 4 10 Eddie Mathews Milwaukee Braves New York Yankees Bob Grim
1975 6 12 Carlton Fisk Boston Red Sox Cincinnati Reds Pat Darcy
1991 6 11 Kirby Puckett Minnesota Twins Atlanta Braves Charlie Leibrandt
1999 3 10 Chad Curtis New York Yankees Atlanta Braves Mike Remlinger
2001 4 10 Derek Jeter New York Yankees Arizona Diamondbacks Byung-Hyun Kim
2003 4 12 Alex Gonzalez Florida Marlins New York Yankees Jeff Weaver
2011 6 11 David Freese St Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers Mark Lowe
2018 3 18 Max Muncy Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Nathan Eovaldi
2023 1 11 Adolis Garcia Texas Rangers Arizona Diamondbacks Miguel Castro

 

Kelly certainly faced a tall order when he took the mound Saturday evening for Game Two. Only two of the previous nine teams to lose in that fashion won the next game — the ’75 Reds and the ’18 Red Sox. But Kelly rose to the occasion, allowing one run on three hits, walking none and striking out nine across seven innings. His lone blemish on the scoreboard came on a solo home run by Rangers designated hitter Mitch Garver. It was the best performance in World Series history by a starting pitcher whose team lost on a walk-off extra-inning home run in the previous game.

Teams That Won on “The Day After”

Don Gullett started Game Seven of the 1975 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. He tossed four innings, allowing three runs on four hits while walking five and striking out five. The Reds ultimately won, 4–3, but it was in spite of Gullett, who trailed 3–0 when he left the game.

Eduardo Rodriguez started Game Four of the 2018 World Series for the Boston Red Sox. He started well, tossing five scoreless innings initially. But he plunked the leadoff man in the sixth, and it all fell apart from there. Rodriguez only managed to record two outs in the sixth, leaving after surrendering a three-run homer to Yasiel Puig. His line was four runs on four hits with two walks, a hit batter, and six strikeouts. The Red Sox ultimately won the game, but that was due to a Dodger bullpen collapse, not due to a strong start from Rodriguez.

Other Starts on “The Day After”

What about pitchers in the other seven games? There were some who did well. Whitey Ford started Game Five of the 1957 Series for the Yankees, allowing one run on six hits while walking one and fanning two in seven innings. But he and the Yankees lost, 1–0, since Braves starter Lew Burdette threw a complete-game shutout.

John Smoltz of the Braves pitched into the eighth during Game Seven against the Twins in 1991, allowing no runs on six hits while walking one, hitting one, and striking out four across 7 1/3 innings. But he left the game with runners on the corners and one out. Reliever Mike Stanton got out of the jam after an intentional walk and a fortuitous line-drive double play.

Miguel Batista of the Diamondbacks started Game Five in 2001 against the Yankees. He lasted 7 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on five hits and striking out six. But he walked five.

Merrill Kelly Made History

Using the Game Score (GmSc) stat developed by Bill James, we can quantify these starts to see which was most dominant. Here is the list, presented in a handy table.

 

Year Gm Pitcher Team Opponent GmSc
2023 2 Merrill Kelly Arizona Diamondbacks Texas Rangers 76
2001 5 Miguel Batista Arizona Diamondbacks New York Yankees 70
1991 7 John Smoltz Atlanta Braves Minnesota Twins 69
1957 5 Whitey Ford New York Yankees Milwaukee Braves 62
2018 4 Eduardo Rodriguez Boston Red Sox Los Angeles Dodgers 49
1975 7 Don Gullett Cincinnati Reds Boston Red Sox 42

Although three pitchers on this list pitched for the team that won said game, only one pitcher was credited with the win — Kelly.

What Made Merrill Kelly Effective

So what made Kelly so effective Saturday night? Rangers left fielder Evan Carter attributed it to pitch execution. “No matter who you are as a pitcher,” he said, “if you’re executing your pitch, you’re going to be good that night. He was doing a really good job executing what he wanted to do — living on the edges.”

Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien agreed. “He just stayed out of the middle,” Semien concurred. “He’s a guy who can do a lot of things with the baseball — cut it, sink it, change up. His fastball is good. You have to respect it. We try our best to get good pitches to hit, (but) he didn’t give us any. He had a good night.”

Diamondbacks reliever Ryan Thompson added, “Merrill’s ability to control the strike zone was unmatched. He was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes, where he wanted. That’s the difference between control and command. He had elite command today.” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy also mentioned his “great command.”

Right-hander Zac Gallen, who started Game One for the Diamondbacks, mentioned Kelly’s plan going into the game. “(Merrill) was able to very intentional with his plan,” Gallen explained. “He was able to stay one, maybe two steps ahead of their lineup and sequence really well. From that sequence, he was able to execute really well at the same time.”

Diamondbacks Had No Doubt

Kelly faced a lineup loaded with talent and completely shut them down. Some looked discouraged postgame. But this is something Kelly has done more than once this postseason. Manager Torey Lovullo said Kelly has “really stepped on it” this postseason, which isn’t surprising to him. “That’s who he is at his core,” Lovullo said in his postgame press conference. “He wants the biggest moment, the biggest stage, to show what he’s capable of doing. This was a big win. You’re talking about a team that got beat last night after being two outs away from a win.”

It would have been easy to worry about momentum going the Rangers’ way, but the Diamondbacks were not worried. “Everyone had faith,” Gallen said. “It was like, ‘Yeah, last night was a heartbreaker, but we have Merrill going tomorrow. We’ll be alright.’”

Their faith was well-placed. Now the series is tied, and the Diamondbacks have stolen home field advantage heading into Game Three.

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images

Share "2023 World Series: Merrill Kelly Delivers All-time Great Counterpunch Performance in Game Two" on social media:
More Arizona Diamondbacks News
Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

Order Evan's book at store.bookbaby.com
Follow Evan on Twitter: @evan_m_thompson
Support Evan on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=81411994

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *