Wow. What a game that was. This really is making up for years in the baseball wilderness all at once. It's why we love baseball. It's why MLB should be doing everything they can to keep teams in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. I couldn't say it this afternoon, for obvious reasons, but I felt hugely confident that the Rockies were going to win the game tonight. I'm a pessimistic person by nature and doubly so when it comes to baseball, but I felt real sure about this one. I hardly think I was alone among those in attendance at Coors Field tonight who didn't think even for a passing moment that the Rockies were going to lose. There were a few parts when I worried that I wasn't going to live until the end of the game, but losing? Never entered the picture.
I left Boulder very early for this game. Normally, there's not a lot of point in hanging around outside Coors Field before a Rockies game. It's a ghost town. You can go to a half-empty sports bar and pick a fight with all the fans of whatever team the Rockies are playing, but that's pretty much all there is to do for kicks. Normally. Today, I left early because I wanted to see if it'd be any different (and also because the "check engine" light on my venerable Jetta's dash has been glowing ominously for some days now). What a world of difference -- the sports bars were packed to overflowing, every parking lot had a tailgate going, the folks in the cookie-cutter yuppie shoebox lofts on Blake Street were waving flags off of their decks, and little kids were playing catch in the street. In other words, it was just like Wrigleyville is all of the time. Neat thing to see in Lower Dowtown Denver.
Let's all give a tip of the cap to Jamie Moyer. Man, that guy has nothing and he still got the job done for the Phillies tonight. The guys sitting behind me argued for innings that the 81-MPH pitch Moyer kept throwing couldn't possibly be a fastball, but that's all it is. Moyer moved around in the strike zone, stayed ahead in counts, and got an unbelievable number of hitters to just barely miss the sweet spot. Not only that, he employed every trick there is in the book to keep the Colorado hitters off balance. He stepped off the rubber. He threw to first. He'd ask for new baseballs. He'd call "mound conferences" where nobody actually said anything. If I didn't know any better, I would suggest that the 14-minute light failure delay in the top of the second was caused by Jamie's electrician second cousin from Pueblo, Roscoe Moyer. Maybe Roscoe was messing around with the power flow to the humidor, making the balls even yet still more Cirillic than usual.
Moyer's Trachseling was completely within the rules and I give the veteran all available credit. His teammates, save Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, didn't give him a whole lot of help. However, enough is enough. This is one of those situations where some people will claim baseball needs entirely new rules to fix something that it's already well within the umpires' power to control, if only they would actually do it. You can warn a guy for delay of game. If he delays more, it's at the crew chief's discretion to start calling balls. I've seen this happen maybe twice in 25 years of watching baseball, and I don't understand why the league chief of officiating doesn't just call a meeting and tell guys to emphasize it. Five throws to first in one at-bat when the runner isn't even leading off is silly. Of course, a playoff elimination game would be a really, really bad time to start calling something umpires haven't called for ages; I'm just saying this is something I'd like the league to think about for next year.
Years from now, even if Chase Utley enters the Hall of Fame on the first possible ballot as the all-time home run leader among second basemen, I'm still going to remember the complete bum who barely even showed up for this series. While I was pretty confident that the Rockies were going to win tonight, it was clear just as soon as the wind started strafing my face that it was going to be nip-and-tuck the whole way. It's not so hard to lose a game you should have won; that's another reason we love baseball. So I had my teeth gritted when the Phillies were at bat, with one exception. Whenever Utley was announced, all the tension went out of my body. I started to relax and breathe normally. I was fairly sure the Rockies were going to finish this series off, but I was absolutely 100% no doubt in my mind stone cold lead pipe lock CERTAIN that Chase Utley wasn't going to be the Philadelphia player who prevented them from doing so. For good measure, Utley made a gigantically boneheaded play in the bottom of the eighth when he kicked a Brad Hawpe single that was already past him into foul territory, allowing the pokey Garrett Atkins to go first to third. It didn't end up mattering, as Jeff Baker's pinch-hit single would have scored Atkins easily from second anyway, but nonetheless, it was stupid, and the sort of thing that the Willy-less Rockies defense almost never does.
Maybe we need to just throw up our hands in surrender. Clint Hurdle deeply needs to spend a few offseason weekends getting schooled in in-game strategy by some hardcore Strat-o-Matic guys (by the way, it has been checked and confirmed: Jeff Francis wasn't hurt at all when Hurdle did the stupid let him bat, then take him out thing in Game 1), but his gut is on the hottest streak it'll ever be on. Going to Matt Herges in the seventh worked out brilliantly. I would have double-switched so that Brian Fuentes could have faced lefty Ryan Howard, the first batter in the ninth, and then gone to Manny Corpas, but Hurdle let Corpas handle the ninth by himself and Corpas smoked Howard like a fine Cuban stogie. As for Charlie Manuel, well... better luck next time, if there is one. With Moyer on the mound it made perfect sense to me to start the glove leg of the Phillies' third-base tripod, Abraham Nuñez, but with his 2 through 5 hitters going 1-for-14, Manuel looked awfully bad when Nuñez killed a rally dead with a double play ball in the fifth. And Manuel used his bullpen as well as he could in this game given that his bullpen was a heaping pile of toxic garbage. One obviously bad Manuel move: Why pitch to Yorvit Torrealba with two out and two on in the bottom of the second? The pitcher was coming up and Torrealba came within inches of getting one down the third-base line that would have scored both runners. One really obviously bad Hurdle move: No way Troy Tulowitzki should have been in motion with Matt Holliday up and one out in the bottom of the third. You know with Moyer that most guys who come up are going to put the ball into play -- why give away an out on the basepaths? Not smart, Clint.
Here's something interesting to discuss. Why when every expert and their mother was guaranteeing a series of four or five football scores did we see two lower-the-mound specials? Seems like this is a repeated mistake. Sure, the Phillies and Rockies didn't have great overall pitching numbers this season. But a lot of the very worst part of those numbers fell away when the postseason rosters were finalized, and the few remaining firestarters tend to stay safely locked away in the bullpen unless disaster strikes. I think this explains a lot of why the experts were wrong about Rockies-Phillies, but to a certain extent the quality of the top half of the Rockies' rotation and the same portion of their bullpen is still being heavily slept on. Hey, that's fine, let's keep it that way. It seems to be working.
Free suggestion for TBS or the people in the Rockies' promotions department: A montage of Rockies fans simply losing their sh-- in the Coors Field stands set to Gogol Bordello's "Start Wearing Purple" would be awesome:
Start wearing purple, wearing purple
Start wearing purple for me now
All your sanity and wits, they will all vanish
I promise, it's just a matter of time
Ubaldo Jimenez just kept getting stronger as the night went on. At one point he retired 11 straight. He was throwing 95 in the first, 96 in the middle innings, and touched 97 in the seventh. Unfortunately, that little extra juice might have made all the difference in giving Shane Victorino's game-tying rocket the momentum to get out on a night when the cool, wet air made Coors Field into a real pitchers' park.
I'm about as happy with the Rockies organization I've ever been right now, but they still seem to go out of their way to make sure to bug me at least a little. For the playoffs, they've stopped selling the standard buck-fifty scorecards at Coors and are only selling five-dollar programs. What is that about? Profiteering so-and-so's. And the new PA announcer has just got to go. He has the worst timing imaginable -- most of his announcements of pitching changes were completely drowned out by the crowd, which was rowdy all evening, and when explaining the situation during the light delay he said play would resume in "approximately a couple of minutes." Isn't "a couple" an approximation? Moron.
Well, I sure am relieved the Rockies took care of business tonight. I don't know if I could possibly have summoned the energy to go and do it all again tomorrow. Isn't it hysterical that in a year celebrated for rampant parity (or mediocrity, depending on your perspective) in Major League Baseball, two playoff series have already ended in sweeps and two more are set to do so as well? I only saw as much of the early game as I could fit in at the Walnut Room (nice place, by the way, good place to get food and my band's favorite venue to play at in Denver) between driving to the city and going into the ballpark. Thanks for showing up, Cubbies. My goodness, what a malaise that organization is in. Even Lou Piniella seems powerless to convince the players that nothing is keeping them from winning except their own hangups. When Jacque Jones is the only guy on your roster showing even a little bit of fight, it's gotten bad. I would blow that team to smithereens, putting special emphasis on getting rid of confirmed cold fishes Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.
Remember the "Entourage" bit, repurposed as a DirecTV commercial, where Ari calls the boys trying to entice them to go to a Lakers game instead of a party at a competing agent's place? Turtle asks what visiting team it is, Ari says "Wizards," and the guys are having none of it. The Rockies' Wizards are the Diamondbacks. If you got a 25-game plan this year, you were getting the Yankees, Cubs, and Mets once and the Diamondbacks at least three times. Both teams train in Tucson and all told they must play each other something like 30 times a year including split-squad games. Now Rockies-Diamondbacks is the hottest ticket in town. That's why we love baseball.
As I drove home, spent, my shoulders aching from nine innings of furious broom-waving and listening to the Rockies' radio guys trying valiantly to describe the indescribable, the "check engine" light in my car suddenly flipped off. Everything is all right.