As Diamondbacks celebrate 'unbelievable' playoff berth, Astros keep eyes on bigger prize

PHOENIX − One team won. The other team lost. They both clinched playoff berths.

And, oh, man, did they ever have vastly different reactions Saturday night.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost 1-0 to the Houston Astros but still clinched a National League wild-card berth, had a pool party for the ages. They wildly celebrated in the clubhouse, and then took their party to the pool in right field at Chase Field, doing cannonballs, belly-flops, and making sure that every player and coach on the staff got thoroughly drenched.

The Diamondbacks’ clubhouse looked like a mosh pit by the end of the night, the air filled with champagne and the floor covered with puddles of beer, everyone still wiping the burn from their eyes.

The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after clinching a playoff berth.
The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after clinching a playoff berth.

The Astros, who clinched an American League wild-card berth, celebrated by having a quick champagne toast with all of the raucous atmosphere of an elementary school parent-teacher conference.

“We got bigger and better goals we want to accomplish,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We want to win the division, not just be a wild-card team.’’

Well, to achieve that feat, the Astros will have to win Sunday and sweep the Diamondbacks, and the Texas Rangers will have to lose to the Seattle Mariners.

Otherwise, the Rangers will have a week off and the Astros will be taking a flight — either to Minnesota to face the Twins in a best-of-three wild-card series or possibly to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Rays, if the Astros win and the Toronto Blue Jays lose.

The Diamondbacks, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2017, will likely be traveling to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in their best-of-three wild-card series.

MLB, according to two high-ranking officials with knowledge of the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has decided that the Miami Marlins, who qualified for playoffs with a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, will not have to complete their suspended game in New York on Monday against the Mets. Instead, MLB has determined that if the Marlins win on Sunday, they will be the No. 5 seed and play the Philadelphia Phillies. If the Marlins lose and the D-backs win, the Marlins instead will play the Brewers with the D-backs going to Philadelphia.

“We’re going to be the underdog in any series we play, no matter who we’re playing,’’ D-backs closer Paul Sewald said late in the evening as the D-backs clubhouse cleared out. “No one is going to give us a chance. That’s OK. I think we’re too young and naïve to even realize what we accomplished, which is great.

“We got too many young guys to know that you’re not supposed to go to the playoffs. You’re not supposed to lose 110 games, and two years later, be in the playoffs. It’s not that easy. Unbelievable.’’

The D-backs have won only 84 games, just two more than the New York Yankees, who are sitting home. They may be the biggest underdog of the entire postseason field.

Do they care?

Absolutely not.

“We’re on a journey, it doesn’t stop here,’’ D-backs manager Torey Lovullo yelled to his team before being bombarded by champagne spray.

Certainly, there’s a precedent to teams barely squeezing into the playoffs and playing deep into October.

The Phillies earned the final playoff berth last season with 87 victories, and were two games away from winning the World Series.

The St. Louis Cardinals got into the playoffs on the final day of the season in 2011, and won the entire thing, thanks to the heroics of David Freese.

Oh, yes, growing up a diehard Cardinals fan in New Jersey, Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen remembers.

“They needed a miracle from Atlanta, got it, and won the World Series,’’ Gallen says. “We’re in. The pressure is off of us now. We’re the team with the least amount of pressure. Let’s see what we got.’’

Says Sewald: “It’s nice to have no pressure, no pressure, right? Just go out there. Let everybody be surprised.’’

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In the Astros’ clubhouse, they embrace pressure.

This is a team that has reached the ALCS six consecutive years, so simply getting a ticket to the dance is almost taken for granted. They don’t want a wild-card berth. They still want the AL West title and a chance to have six days off before hosting an AL Division Series.

“If we win, and [the Rangers] win, then we gave it our best shot,’’ Baker says. “But we’re not satisfied, not by a long shot. They accomplished their goal by making the playoffs. We accomplished part of our goal.

“I just know we got action [Sunday].’’

This is why the Astros’ celebration consisted of nothing more than a quick champagne toast by Baker, followed by another by veteran catcher Martin Maldonado, with not a single drop of fluid sprayed by a soul.

“We tried to keep it calm,’’ Maldonado said. “It’s a big game [Sunday]. The division is still available and that was our main goal from the beginning.’’

Certainly, it was three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander’s goal to start the year, too, only he was in a New York Mets uniform. Never did he imagine he’d return to the Astros at the trade deadline, trying to win his third ring in an Astros uniform.

“Obviously, everybody’s excited,’’ Verlander said. “But there’s also an opportunity to potentially win one more and win the division.’’

So the Astros put down their champagne glasses, quietly dressed, and took buses to their Phoenix hotel.

The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, were still celebrating deep into the night, with Lovullo still hanging out at the pool with his family after taking a victory lap around the warning track.

“I think a lot of the emotion you see is that a lot of these guys were here the last few years,’’ D-backs first baseman Christian Walker said, “and we feel like we really earned this. We pulled ourselves out of a [tough] situation and turned ourselves into some winners.’’

Let the postseason begin.

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Diamondbacks' Merrill Kelly delivers a pitch against the Astros during the third inning.
Diamondbacks' Merrill Kelly delivers a pitch against the Astros during the third inning.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diamondbacks clinch playoff berth for first time since 2017