Looking (Diamond)back on 25 Years of Baseball in the Desert

This year marks the 25th season for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who started their franchise as well as any expansion team ever has.

Corbin Carroll
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JULY 08: Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is awarded a victory vest by teammate Even Longoria #3 after hitting an RBI single during the tenth inning for a 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chase Field on July 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Marlins set the standard for expansion teams to become contenders. The Arizona Diamondbacks said, “hold my cactus.”

It took them two years to win their division and four to win a World Series. They also boast a player who wears their cap in the Hall of Fame and it just happens to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.

Now having eclipsed a quarter-century, the D-Backs jerseys have changed, their fortunes didn’t always match how it went early on, and the pool at Chase Field is still there. Despite falling on hard times recently, an influx of young players highlighted by the certain Rookie of the Year gives Arizona reason to believe in sustained success in the near future.

For now, though, let’s talk about the past.

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The Opener – March 31, 1998

As is the case with all expansion clubs, the result of the first game is secondary to the fact that there is a game. The presence of a franchise surpasses all. The result of the inaugural contest in Diamondbacks history was a 9-2 loss to Colorado, but it’s pretty much forgotten.

When Andy Benes threw the first pitch to the Rockies’ Mike Lansing, regular season Major League Baseball was officially in Arizona. The initial version of the Diamondbacks went 65-97 under manager Buck Showalter. Better days were ahead — and soon.

Earliest Postseason Berth – September 24, 1999

From expansion team to division champs. Arizona added a crop of veterans led by Randy Johnson. The former Mariner didn’t disappoint, pitching to a 2.48 ERA and winning the NL Cy Young.

The offense was remarkably balanced, with newcomers Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley joining Devon White and Matt Williams. No player had more than 22 homers, but four different D-backs had at least 20. Buck Showalter’s club went from 97 down to 100 up, an incredible 35-game turnaround, to take the NL West by 14.

The Big Unit Fans 20 – May 8, 2001

In his prime, Randy Johnson was capable of a 20-strikeout performance each time he took the mound. He fanned 19 on multiple occasions and also had an 18-K outing. But against the Cincinnati Reds, he achieved a milestone nobody has exceeded.

Tying a major-league record with Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood, and Max Scherzer, Johnson got his 20 by the ninth while giving up just three hits and not allowing a walk. Arizona’s offense did little to support its ace, and the game went into extras tied at one. Johnson was saddled with a no-decision in a game the Diamondbacks won.

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Game 5 Dramatics – October 14, 2001

Arizona returned to the postseason for the second time in four years, but its journey to the World Series was very close to being derailed by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. The D-Backs’ biggest acquisition the past season, Curt Schilling, pitched like the clutch performer he was.

With the series in the balance, he held the visiting Redbirds to one run as it remained tied through eight. Arizona threatened with runners on first and third and a chance to walk it off. Tony Womack failed to get down a bunt on a suicide squeeze attempt. Swinging the bat worked a lot better. He singled to left-center field to bring in Danny Bautista for the run that sent the Diamondbacks to the LCS.

The Greatest World Series Ever – November 4, 2001

Just about everything was on the Yankees’ side: destiny, a roster of well-tested champions, dramatic comeback victories in Games 4 and 5. The Diamondbacks, though, had the two best pitchers: Johnson and Schilling. Each was at their best in this series.

The duo joined forces in the deciding contest. Schilling went 7.1 innings to match Roger Clemens. When he slipped, it was Johnson — who threw 104 pitches in a must-win Game 6 — relieving him. Together, they kept Arizona within reach heading to the bottom of the ninth. Down one, even that task seemed impossible with who the Yankees had coming to the mound: Mariano Rivera. But destiny was with the team in the desert.

They rallied to tie and had the bases loaded with one down. World Series heroics were there for Luis Gonzalez, who had hit 57 homers on the season. With the infield in, Gonzalez flared one in the ideal spot in shallow left-center. The Diamondbacks had done it.

Total Perfection – May 18, 2004

At 40 years old and the Hall of Fame now a certainty, Randy Johnson had done about everything. He’d even thrown a no-hitter while with the Mariners in 1990. Only 16 since the turn of the 20th century had done what all pitchers strive for when the Diamondbacks faced in Atlanta in mid-May.

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Johnson was making the ninth start of his 16th full season. On this night, the first no-hitter in Arizona history was the best kind. Among the immaculate outings, this is one of the most impressive. He struck out 13, including Eddie Perez to end it. When it was done, Johnson had become the oldest pitcher ever to toss a perfect game.

Sweep of Cubs in NLDS – October 6, 2007

These Diamondbacks had a whole new look. The purple, black, and teal were ditched for dark red and black. The roster was much improved, too. Brandon Webb, coming off a Cy Young season, was joined by Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes as well as call-ups like Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton.

They were outscored over the course of the whole year, yet finished with the league’s best record at 90-72. They took care of the first two against Chicago at home, then earned their first trip to the NLCS since ’01 with a victory at Wrigley. Unfortunately, Arizona’s next opponent was a Colorado Rockies’ buzzsaw. The D-Backs were swept out of the postseason.

J.D. Martinez for Four – September 4, 2017

A perfect game is rare, but a four-home run game is actually rarer. Dating back to 1894, only 18 have done it. And Martinez is still the most recent inductee. Maybe there’s a reason why Martinez is enjoying good power numbers in his first season with the Dodgers. Because nearly six years ago, he really enjoyed Dodger Stadium.

Martinez went deep in four consecutive at-bats: in the fourth, seventh, eighth, and ninth. Each came off a different Dodger pitcher. Los Angeles, meanwhile, could only collect three hits all night. Martinez’s hot bat continued that whole month, as he blasted 16 for the month of September.

Bradley’s Wild Card Triple – October 4, 2017

There isn’t a more exciting play in baseball. That excitement is heightened depending on the situation. Here, it was the bottom of the seventh in the NL Wild Card Game with Colorado. The Diamondbacks are holding on to a 6-5 lead and have two runners aboard. A perfect scenario for…pitcher Archie Bradley — with a career batting average of .098.

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It’s probably easier to luck into a home run. To leg out a triple takes hitting and speed. Bradley became the first reliever to do it in a playoff game and just the sixth pitcher ever to do it in the postseason. Arizona went on to an 11-8 win.

Gallen Surpasses Webb – September 11, 2022

For more than a month, Zac Gallen could barely be touched. Beginning on August 7 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he proceeds to string together an impressive set of zeros in succession. He was superb against the Rockies, Giants, Royals, Phillies, and Brewers. His scoreless streak reached 42 at Coors Field, which matches the seventh-longest ever, held by former D-Back Brandon Webb over a decade ago. He surpasses Webb and gets to 44.1 before a C.J. Cron RBI single in the fourth puts an end to this tremendous set of brilliance.