Merrill Kelly called his four-season detour to South Korea a Lost in Translation experience. When he made his World Series debut, it was Texas Rangers batters who were disoriented.
The 35-year-old right-hander pitched three-hit ball over seven innings, Ketel Marte extended his postseason hitting streak to a record 18 games and the Arizona Diamondbacks routed Texas 9-1 on Saturday night to even the World Series at one game apiece.
“At this point in my career, nothing is going to shock me,” Kelly said. “I think going over to Korea as a 26-year-old is way scarier than pitching in the big leagues or even in the World Series.”
Kelly struck out nine, walked none and allowed his only run on Mitch Garver’s leadoff homer in the fifth on a sinker at the bottom of the strike zone. His 22 called strikes were the most for a Series pitcher since Stephen Strasburg in Game 6 for the 2019 Washington Nationals.
“I thought he might go nine innings today at one point,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said, contemplating what would have been the first complete game in the World Series since 2015. “But for that to happen, 89 pitches, you’ve got to jump him up probably another 35. I wasn’t going to let him throw 120 pitches.”
Gabriel Moreno hit a go-ahead homer in a two-run fourth against Jordan Montgomery, and Tommy Pham went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles. Arizona batters broke it open late as the young Diamondbacks rebounded quickly from an agonizing defeat the night before.
Marte had a two-run single in a three-run eighth, snapping a tie for the longest postseason hitting streak with Derek Jeter, Manny Ramírez and Hank Bauer. Marte has a hit in every postseason game he’s ever played.
A night after wasting a two-run, ninth-inning lead in a 6-5, 11-inning loss, the Diamondbacks outhit Texas 16-4 – the most hits for one team in a Series game in nine years.
Emmanuel Rivera also had a two-run single, and rookie Corbin Carroll had a pair of RBI singles. Lourdes Gurriel Jr and 38-year-old Evan Longoria each singled in a run for Arizona, which got their first World Series road win after four losses dating to 2001.
The best-of-seven Series, just the third between wildcard teams, shifts to Arizona for Game 3 on Monday in the first Series game at Phoenix since 2001.Geraldo Perdomo of the Diamondbacks slides into home plate to score a run past Jonah Heim Rangers in the eighth inning of Saturday’s Game 2 of the World Series. Photograph: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Texas have won all eight of their road games this postseason, equaling a major league record.
“We’d be naive to think that we’re going to run away with four in a row against a team that really fights hard like the same way we did,” Rangers first baseman Nathanial Lowe said.
Kelly was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2010 and had spent six seasons in the minors when he was told by pitcher Doug Mathis he had been spotted by a South Korean scout while pitching in Rochester, New York. Kelly’s agents at Apex Baseball arranged a contract and Kelly spent 2015-18 with SK Wyverns in Incheon.
“I definitely had visions and images about me sitting on this podium,” Kelly said in the postgame interview room, recounting how he got up each morning, made coffee and checked MLB games. “It felt literally and figuratively miles away.”
In an on-field interview with MLB Network, he called it Lost in Translation type stuff, referring to the 2003 Sofia Coppola movie of cultural displacement, saying “as far as how they view pitching, for four years I pretty much had to figure it out myself.”
“The coaches that I had, the translation factor, obviously, is a bit of a hindrance,” he said later in the interview room. “At the end of the day, I think what helped over there the most is almost being my own voice and my own pitching coach.”
Kelly made his big league debut with Arizona in 2019 and is 48-43. He went 12-8 with a 3.29 ERA in 30 starts this season and is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four postseason starts.
He went to only one three-ball count Saturday.
“Just great command. He hit his spots all night, four pitches. He was on,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said.
Kelly’s grandmother June was at the game and he looked forward to seeing her for the first time since a 2011 visit when he was driving to spring training with his wife.
Kelly’s brother Reed also was in the stands. Last year, Merrill took Reed to Game 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia.
“His birthday is Halloween,” Merrill Kelly said. “He texted me the other day saying that obviously this is probably the best birthday present I could give him.”