The Arizona Diamondbacks are undoubtedly the unexpected success story of the Major League Baseball postseason. After coming back from a 3-2 series deficit to win the National League pennant over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Diamondbacks became the second No. 6 seed from the NL in as many years to reach the World Series.
An unexpected key piece to their bullpen has been Ryan Thompson, who wasn’t even on the roster until the end of August. He was released by the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 17 after posting a 6.11 ERA over 18 appearances with the team. The Diamondbacks claimed him 10 days later and he retired the side in his first outing Aug. 27 to earn the save.
Perhaps it was a sign of what was to come in October. He earned manager Torey Lovullo’s trust enough to where he was used in high-leverage situations in both games of the Wild Card Series against Milwaukee, and then he retired the top of the Dodgers’ order in Game 2 of the NL Division Series.
With Arizona trailing 2-0 in the NL Championship Series, Lovullo went back to Thompson, who responded by pitching three innings and allowing one run combined between Games 3 and 4. In what may have seemed like a lost season, Thompson now has a chance to help the Diamondbacks win a World Series.
All glory to God!! The best story-teller of all time.
— Ryan Thompson (@R_Thompson15) October 25, 2023
“This year, I think especially the first half of the year, there were a lot of times where I got punched in the face a little bit,” Thompson told MLB.com. “That helped me get better. Coming over here, something that I thought was really special about this team was how many different coaches that we have.”
For some players, a change of scenery makes all the difference. And one new piece to a roster can have a ripple effect on the rest of the team.
“Our bullpen really took off when he got here,” closer Paul Sewald told MLB.com. “I started to feel a little more comfortable, and we really started to roll with that group. I think that is really when everyone settled into the roles and really started to pitch their best.”
This will be Thompson’s second time playing in the World Series. He was a member of the Rays team that lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020. While he hopes his fortunes are different this time around with a new team, he learned in 2020 that his perspective needed to change, regardless of the result.
“Going as far as I did, making it to the World Series and performing in the World Series, I thought that was the Holy Grail,” he said in a 2021 interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s the pinnacle of my sport. I’m there and this is supposed to give me this pleasure, this reward. And it didn’t.”
Just a few days after losing in the World Series, Thompson said he broke down while flying home to Oregon.
“I was in the middle of a flight, and I cannot explain it,” he told the Times. “I just had a breakdown. Everything just hit me at once … I’ve never cried in public before, and it just hit me.”
Thompson, who describes himself as a “Follower of Jesus Christ” on X (formerly Twitter), became a Christian in 2016, and he said on that flight he had a “come to Jesus” moment. What he realized was that his behavior wasn’t reflecting his priorities, like his faith and a relationship with his girlfriend he had just ended.
“I had all these revelations,” he said. “I had sacrificed this relationship that I knew was a gift from God. I sacrificed my relationship with God. I had basically given up everything I could give up for this baseball dream.”
While on the Sports Spectrum Podcast this past May, Thompson said he’s begun to understand that baseball isn’t his identity, and he’s become more intentional about sharing his faith in recent years. One example is a long thread on X from May, when he opened up about suffering, the existence of evil, mental health and a host of other issues related to faith and life.
You won’t be able to find someone in the Bible who didn’t suffer to some extent. God cannot prevent suffering (for it would override fundamental free will) but he can and will deliver you from it, if you so desire him to.
— Ryan Thompson (@R_Thompson15) May 2, 2023
“At the end of the day, I started having a lot more conversations about the Lord I wasn’t expecting,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t know if it was connected to the post or not, but in the past three days I’ve had four different deep, Biblical, theological Jesus conversations that I don’t know if I would’ve had otherwise. Maybe it’s just me being more intentional about it where that post kind of catapulted me to have these other conversations.”
Game 1 of the World Series between Arizona and the Texas Rangers starts Friday at 8 p.m. ET. Thompson and the Diamondbacks will be looking to bring the second World Series championship back to the desert and the first since 2001.
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