Monthly archives: October 2007
Baseball season is over.
No more baseball! For months!
I am inconsolable.
(It may be a few days until I recover enough to consider baseball rationally again. Until then, perhaps you might like to read this piece I wrote about a music festival in Colorado. The pictures will remind you how beautiful it is here, and how nice it really is to live in this place, like the weather today. It makes one start to suspect that perhaps there is indeed life beyond baseball, and November through February won't suck inclusively.)
(But only a little.)
Games Three and Four
Well, it was my plan to let Game Three speak for itself. It did. Now I hold a ticket to an execution, or a funeral.... How strange is baseball? If you told me when I was a little kid that I would one day hold a ticket to a game where the Red Sox would be clinching a World Series victory, and I'd take no joy in it, I'd have told you you were crazy. What a world.
Aaron Cook will try and keep the Rockies alive tonight, but I hate to tell you I don't see much point in it. Whatever magic Colorado had seemingly months ago when it was buzzsawing through the end of its schedule and the National League playoffs, it's gone now. The balls that were landing just fair are landing for the other team now, mostly since the other team puts the ball in play with relentless regularity. Could Ryan Spilborghs have hit that drive to center just a little further eight days ago? Would Todd Helton, representing the tying run, been have left on first with no outs were this game played back when the Rockies were golden? Sometimes the story the newspaper guys want to sell you is the right one. They have kept their jobs so long for a reason.
In due time, I will be able to reflect and say, "Hey, I got to go to World Series games." That's history in and of itself, let alone the fact that it's the Red Sox becoming Yankees II right before our very eyes. At some point I will appreciate my good tickets for all of this spectacle. Right now it just feels brutal that I have another game to attend.
Red Sox 2, Rockies 1
What can you say? I guess I have to say something. The Red Sox haven't had to use any of their vulnerable pitchers -- which is every single one of them besides Beckett, Schilling, Okajima, and Papelbon -- in a close-game situation yet. The Rockies have made the crippling mental mistakes, none more so than Matt Holliday's unconscionable stroll off of first last inning.
I didn't say much after Game 1 -- OK, I didn't say anything -- and I don't have much to say now. They have to win all three games at Coors. They should be able to. The first game, they had no chance in with Beckett aflame and Jeff Francis having a meltdown. The second game, they looked the whole time as if they belonged in the series but not as if they realized it was theirs to win (Ryan Spilborghs needs to be benched, he looks completely terrified... thankfully, NL rules will do that without Clint Hurdle having to come to the same realization). Now the rules change, there will be a least a couple of Rockies fans in the stands, and the Red Sox have the issues to deal with in their lineup. However, the Rockies aren't going to win Games 6 and 7 at Fenway -- maybe Game 6, maybe Game 7, but not both -- so they have to sweep these three. It will be very difficult, far more difficult than anything they have accomplished in the postseason so far.
And that's about all I have. Man, I don't want to have to write the "It was just nice to have a run for once" post. That post is lame. Rockies, help me out.
World Series Game 2
OK, guys, let's try this again, and let's get it right this time.
Last night's game was one the Red Sox needed more than Colorado, but it still hurt to lose it in that fashion. Jeff Francis tends to have one awful start about once every five weeks where he can't spot his fastball; there it was. The first game of the World Series wasn't the best time for it. Still, momentum in the World Series belongs to whomever won the last game; tonight's pitching matchup is far more favorable for the Rockies.
Something to watch out for: double plays. When the Rockies are turning them, they're winning. When they aren't (like when everything the starter throws is up in the zone and getting pasted to the outfield), they're not.
World Series Game 1
I don't know if I can stand searching around and reading every single World Series preview on the Internet this morning... but maybe you guys can. Please send along any links to thought-provoking previews you've read, whether they give the Rockies a chance or not. And what are your predictions? My feelings won't be hurt if you think the Red Sox are going to win. I don't think they are -- I'll admit it, while traditionally I'm a skeptic (and anything but a joiner) there is a Thing about this Rockies team, and the 2005 White Sox, the last World Series winner to which I really paid close attention for the whole season, had it too. And the Cubs I assure you have never had it, although they did have LaTroy Hawkins, which is a source of some concern.
Can the Rockies win a Game 6 or a Game 7 in Boston? Of course they can. The odds would not be in their favor but homefield advantage means by far the least in baseball among American team sports. I think it might be an even better question to ask if the Red Sox can win any games in Denver, where they will be at a huge disadvantage. It's hard to believe a name like his could be an X-factor, but Tim Wakefield was left off the World Series roster essentially because of Coors -- a guy who has been vital for Boston in about four of their last seven playoff series was sent to the cheering section because the altitude is already in their heads. I'm just saying.
Aaron Cook is going to replace Franklin Morales in the rotation, by the way. That gives the Rockies another strikeout lefty in the bullpen and if Cook is his old self it means that Colorado has another born double play-generator to soak up innings against the baserunner-intensive Boston offense. The Rockies' advantage on defense in the NLCS was merely slight -- Arizona is another young, athletic team, although an injury to Orlando Hudson hurt severely -- but their advantage in this series is massive. Other than Garrett Atkins and his lack of range at third (and Willy Taveras's deficient brain) the Rockies don't have massive defense/offense platoon issues at many positions. They can play their best defensive lineup and still send about the best offense they can muster out to hit, too. The Red Sox have issues with Papi's defense, Manny's defense, where Youkilis is going to play, Julio Lugo's defense AND hitting, J.D. Drew's utter lack of interest in anything besides J.D. Drew, and hey, Josh Beckett's back. The Rockies are healthier than they were for the entire regular season.
Also, if Boston loses Game 1, it's death, and they know it. The Rockies aren't expected to make contact off of Beckett, let alone beat him, and they know this too. I respect the power of an ace, but it always puzzles me when people confuse the fact that their team's going to get an automatic quality start with an automatic win. Beckett could throw seven shutout innings, Jeff Francis could go six and allow two, and the Rockies could win the game the bullpen. Or Francis could beat Beckett flat-out -- he's not chopped liver and southpaws have less of a disadvantage at Fenway. The Channel ought to be away, away, away to all of Boston's righthanded hitters, keeping fly balls well right of the teeth of the Monster.
Hell, I'm confident and I'll tell you about it. My team's in the Series with a chance to win -- you always have a chance. I think it's a better one than a lot of people do, but what do you guys think?
They're Not Evil, They're Unprepared
Well, the Rockies' people say that the ticket system is working, but despite the fact that I personally know several people trying and have been trolling message boards everywhere, I haven't found independent confirmation of this elsewhere. Obviously the Rockies' spokespeople are not to be trusted, as they described the event yesterday as a "malicious attack" and now if the system is working it is taking forever and for many, including a lot of the people who filled the seats for the NL playoffs, it doesn't seem to be working at all. Here is what has happened: Colorado, a baseball team in a middle-sized market (while not densely populated Denver is isolated and is demographically and climatologically favorable for baseball) has long operated in the throes of men with a small-market mentality; and thus the Rockies employ the cheapest and least-established of all available online ticket vendors, at least as far as major league teams go. They certainly made a terrible decision in offering no alternative methods of purchase besides online (for single-game sales; as I try to keep reminding people, whole and partial season-ticket holders, including purchasers of mini-plans available as late as the first week of September, were able to order tickets a few weeks before the playoffs began), but they should have been able to count on their technology contractor having the capacity to handle it. That no such oversight took place compounds their first error and makes them look, as plenty of Rockies fans will tell you, very, very poor indeed.
Update: People got tickets. Maybe not you, sorry. It seems as if a fair number of locals did, and a lot people from far-off places did too. Some Red Sox fans did, and some Rockies fans from out of town did. The most soothing thing I read came from a Red Sox fan, whose perspective from having been through this for more than a few postseasons was that no teams' Internet ticket sales work flawlessly. I'll say it again: Fans, act like you've been here before. Don't boycott the games on TV because you couldn't get tickets, go out to a bar and drown out the Boston fans. It's the World Series!
When Denver Jumps a Bandwagon, That Bandwagon Sure Knows It's Been Jumped (NOW UPDATED with CONTENT!)
"This morning, after more than 8.5 million hits on the Colorado Rockies website... Major League Baseball's ticket vendor experienced a systemwide outage that impacted all of its North American customers. As a result, the Colorado Rockies have suspended the sale of 2007 World Series tickets scheduled to be played at Coors Field....
"Although some ticket transactions (less than 500 seats) did take place this morning, virtually the entire allotment for all three games of the World Series scheduled for Coors Field remains intact. A plan for the sale of the available World Series tickets will be announced as soon as the details are available."
Update: Well, let's all hope the second time's the charm for the Rockies' online ticket sale scheme. A lot of people locally are up in arms about the team not having alternative methods of ticket distribution like the Red Sox do (including walk-up sales, a lottery system, and phone sales for people without access to computers), but keep in mind both the demographic differences between Denver and New England and the fact that they've been doing this for some years now and we're brand new at it. The principle of acting like one's been here before, however, is one that should stand for fans as well as players.
Completely off-topic but one of those things you simply cannot allow to pass without comment: Athletics at Fremont? That sounds like the name of one of those emo bands with no chops and really long song titles. Come back, R**, all is forgiven. The Devil Rays could scuttle their plans to change the team name because they'd be completely safe from having the dumbest name in the league. "Come on, kids, let's all gather around the flatscreen to watch the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play the Athletics at Fremont at Overcapitalized I.T. Startup With No Business Model That Had a Different Name Last Year and Will Have Another Name in Two Years Field!"
At Last We Meet Again, My Old Nemesis
I can't believe it's going to be the Red Sox.
No, wait. That's not true. I wanted to tell myself for days it wasn't going to be Boston meeting the Rockies in the World Series, but I knew, somewhere inside, that it had to be the case. This remarkable season certainly could not come to a close without me personally facing perhaps my greatest demon when it comes to Rockies baseball.
The Rockies have a nickname -- no, wait, scratch that. Certain people, who are fools, or running low on column width, or both, have long referred to the Colorado major league franchise by a stupid, lame-sounding and ugly-looking diminutive that happens to share two letters with the second word in "Red Sox." In two years of Bad Altitude and the one on the MLBlogs site before that, I have never used this horrible term. I'm certainly not about to use it now. Suffice it to say that it seems like the name of a crummy low-level minor league team that isn't even in a large enough town to have a single city name, instead using a directional (West Tennessee), a region (Tri-City), or heaven help us, a slash (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, yikes). Denver is not a minor league city (anymore), and among the 90's expansion franchises their given name is by far the most reasonable and classy. Colorado Rockies: Sure, a team named that could win the World Series and Ban Johnson wouldn't roll over in his grave. But Colorado R**? Please. It sounds like the name of an ill-conceived state tourism campaign. Or a shoddy Fort Collins KISS tribute band.
And now we're going to have what headline writers are going to be completely unable to resist referring to in shorthand as the "Sox-R**" World Series. And the notion is even now some time before the fact preventing me from sleeping. Josh Beckett? Beckett we can handle. Big Papi? We have two nasty southpaws in the bullpen and three starters with no fear of lefty sluggers. Manny Ramirez? I would not be in the least surprised to hear tomorrow that Man-Ram is terrified of being eaten by mountain lions and is refusing to make the trip west for Games 3, 4, and 5. And even if he does, I don't fear him.
But boy, I freaking hate "R**." I hope this doesn't spoil the whole World Series for me.
Loud, Hacking Cough
I was confident about the long layoff not being at all bad for the Rockies... but the layoff has been so long that now I'm starting to have second thoughts, and there is enough time left before Wednesday for third and fourth thoughts as well. Getting out of my controlled environment didn't work as well as I thought it would. The woman who cut my hair on Friday in Chicago had no idea who Troy Tulowitki was, can you imagine? It was also quite a nasty blow to my sense of self-importance that pretty much to the last every member of my Irish Catholic family at the wedding today told me "It's really nice about the Rockies and everything, but we're still rooting for the Red Sox to win. Sorry."
Also... I'm away from my fast computer and my reliable Internet connection, and I'm freaking out. Let's call a spade a spade: this is the highest-visibility period Bad Altitude has ever had and likely will ever have, and it's not doing me any favors being stuck in airports with no cell phone service and no computer for large chunks of it. For all the people who have contacted me in the last few days, journalists, radio personalities, fellow fans, and well-wishers, I apologize profusely for being unavailable. It's out of my hands. There are certain obligations families present that utterly supersede even playoff baseball. (Although tell that to all of my uncles and cousins who hovered over my cell phone for each update during ALCS Game 6.) Even with my deathly NLCS Game 3 cold moving into full-body expulsion mode, I still had to dance with every single pale, freckled first cousin in the joint or else face personal responsibility for having made the wedding less than a complete success.
Of course, a lot of other things had to go right, too: Had the Sox not won, the wedding would have gone into family memory as a fiasco anyway. That's what we need to be mindful of making this season about, as Rockies fans: Cultural memory. As of right now it's impossible to have grown up in the Denver area without the Broncos having made some impact in one's life, something that as a native Chicagoan it's always been incredibly hard for me to understand. You could easily, though, have gone your whole childhood quite happily ignoring the Rockies just as if they hadn't entered the league around when you were 10 or 11. But if people are still talking about this Rockies team in four or five years' time, then I don't see any way that the franchise can't have been permanently changed for the better. Even an ugly history (Cubs, Phillies) is better than no history at all (Devil Rays). The Rockies are only four wins away from an utterly undeniable slab of according-to-Webster's history, and I hope the players are as acutely aware of this as you and I.
Update: In the time-honored way of recklessly leftist alternative free weeklies everywhere, Westword has totally abused the praise I gave them on their Rockies coverage with this incredibly simple-minded socialist fairy tale regarding two idiots who went to jail for running on the field after the Rockies-Padres tiebreaker game. Oh, poor kids didn't want to go to jail? Then DON'T RUN ON THE FIELD.
Dispatch from the Normal World
I don't yet have the clout to take trips out of town on a whim. As it happens, the only reason I'm in Chicago this weekend is for my cousin's wedding. The trip was scheduled some months ago, long before the idea of the Rockies in the World Series entered anyone's minds. And yet... I left Thursday morning, the day after what would have been the last home game of the NLCS if they'd ended up needing one. And I return Tuesday, the day before the Series begins. Eerie, right?
If I was the sort of high-roller who randomly jets off to far-flung locales, this would have been a good weekend for it. Denver ("the best baseball city in the world since Monday before last") is going nuts for the Rockies and it's good to get out of that contained environment and see just how much the rest of the civilized world cares about Colorado baseball. Which is not a very lot.
Does anybody else think that the baseball media is doing itself a disservice by making such a big deal out of how low the ratings have been for the NLCS? Every year we hear this, to the point where I think sportswriters have convinced themselves that people really want to know. Even supposedly editorializing-free AP stories have put the ratings information right up at the top of the story. Aren't we just convincing people not to watch? The way sports fans in this country are -- and the viral spread of the Rockies' bandwagon is no exception -- people don't watch what they want to watch, they watch what they're told. By harping so consistently on how poor the ratings are, the media is telling casual sports fans loud and clear, "You don't care. You don't want to watch this." But there wouldn't be anything at all journalistically negligent about just writing that the games have been exciting and the team is on an unprecedented hot streak. That might make folks want to to tune in instead of assuring that they won't.
If you live in Denver and there's someone in your office who has been talking about how amazing it was to attend Game 3 of the NLCS in person, make sure to check their wastebasket. If there's not a disgusting thick lining of used Kleenex on the bottom, they weren't at Game 3. It took a few days to kick in, but despite wearing about 19 separate layers to Sunday night's game I now have the mother of all colds. Stuff is spraying out of every orifice. In this sense at least I appreciate MLB and its television masters giving us a long recovery delay before the Series begins.
Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 4
Let's do a preamble first: There is no way this is going to scan coherently. I have so many thoughts right now I feel like all 50,000 people at Coors Field tonight came home in my brain. But the fact remains that nothing like this has ever happened before -- or will ever happen again -- and at some point in the next few hours, I am going to pass out from exhaustion, hypothermia, and/or overstimulation. It is possible I will not recover until the World Series begins, in March of 2009. It would be unfortunate were there to be no fresh posts on Bad Altitude for that whole time.
I understand that even though I ran all the way back from the parking lot to change a possible mistake I might have made in the text of the post from this afternoon, I neglected to proofread the headline, which was "NLCS Game 3" instead of "Game 4." You know what, that's fine. Better I make that mistake than accidentally take the tickets printed "Home Game 3" instead of "Home Game 2." I heard a fairy tale true story on the radio as I was driving to the game tonight about a family of four that went to the game Sunday only to realize at the gate they'd made that very mistake. Out of politeness's sake a ticket agent checked to see if any last-minute seats had become available, and... like magic, six were, as if out of nowhere. Stuff like this is happening all around metro Denver. I heard a goat with two heads was born out in Deer Trail.
I like to park really far away from Coors Field and walk the same route there every game. I was nervous that my parking spot would be taken away tonight, but I don't know why -- there is a logical limit on the number of people that can be parking in the area even when the game is sold out, and my pointedly inconvenient spot is farther away than anyone without a superstitious reason to do so would ever park. It wasn't until tonight that the ritual significance of my weird fixation struck me in full. It was when I walked over a little hill and saw the lights of Coors Field; I made a mental note of the intersection -- 27th and Blake.
In the places where baseball is most magical -- the Cactus League, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and a handful of other lucky cities -- the approach to the cathedrals where the games are played is something of a pilgrimage. You start walking from far away and as you draw closer to the park, streams and currents of other fans begin marching with you, and the next thing you know you're swept up in a wave of shared experience that sweeps you in through the gates and into your seat.
After years of absence, baseball as a presence has returned to Denver, Colorado, and it's terrible indeed -- as crazy as this city has gone in the past for their Broncos and their Avs, there remains still even among those whose activity as baseball fans has long been dormant a vague awareness that baseball has a greater significance. Football and hockey and basketball are marvelous but ever-changing and hardly recognizable from the forms they were played in even 25 years ago; baseball is more the same than ever. I don't know to what degree most of the fans at Coors Field tonight could articulate these concerns. I do know at several points during the contest this evening the crowd seemed for all the world to will the team to an NLCS sweep; no one had any interest in returning for another game Wednesday night, as wonderful an experience as every home playoff game has been so far. Rockies fans might not get all the details yet -- the rather crude group of enthusiastic but recent converts behind me couldn't stop talking about how Matt Herges had "done it for us all year" when Herges only threw 10 innings for Colorado before August 1st. But they do understand that the team is in the middle of something utterly unique and ineffable, something delicate -- were the Rockies to fail to take care of business on this night, the magic could be over like that. And that would be a shame, because on the whole I think it would be quite pleasant to win the World Series.
What's great about baseball, I always tell people, is that they play so many games that the wildly improbable happens rather often. No-hitters are unusual, but when we go more than a couple seasons without one, that's what's remarked upon as being really odd. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers shouldn't happen hardly at all, but we've had what in a relative sense is a rash of them lately. And of course the first remarkable thing the Rockies did in 2007, Troy Tulowitzki's unassisted triple play, looks pretty commonplace now -- I mean, Tulowitzki came this close to starting another one in Game 3 and that play might not even make the top ten of Tulo's defensive gems in this postseason.
But this thing now, this thing with the Rockies, I mean -- well, it's not like that at all. This hasn't happened ever before to any team or competitor in any sport. Colorado is on the hottest run a baseball team has ever been on -- at the time of the year when it's most difficult to win even a single game. Hardly any of their wins have been blowouts, and it was only fitting that Brian Fuentes (and a rare lack of focus by the Rockies' hitters, who were clearly looking forward to champagne showers while Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon whiffed 9 of the last 13 of them) conspired to prevent this series from ending in one by allowing an eighth-inning home run. Manny Corpas had to work the tough, multi-inning save (the "Mariano Special") and the Diamondbacks (who deserve kudos for even staying on the field against a team that was not only on a once-in-a-lifetime run but was also flat-out better than them -- by a lot) put the tying run on in the ninth. That's how it is. These Rockies don't dominate. They just win. Every game.
We'll have lots and lots of time to break down last night's action, and the action ahead, and also to watch our children grow old, while waiting for the World Series to begin. My vision is beginning to go now as I haven't really properly slept or eaten in some hours and both my shoulders ache from my advanced twirl towel/pump broom cheer technique. As for now, well, I didn't name the site Bad Altitude, a top-secret Baseball Toaster focus group did, but it's mostly appropriate -- I'm a dour dude. It's my nature.
I'm happy now.
Update: A few posts ago I took what I thought in retrospect might have been a gratuitous shot at Tracy Ringolsby, what with all the general goodwill buzzing around all involved with the Rockies these days. Turns out for the first time ever I was almost a prophet. Indefensibly, this childish, petty man has elected to make his first published work after the greatest triumph in franchise history a raging, incoherent attack on a five-year-old book written by a baseball outsider. Tracy, you're embarrassing yourself. Make the Rockies celebration complete and retire effective at the end of these playoffs. Please.
NLCS Game 4
Well, it really is high time I loaded on all of my warmth armor, balanced my broom on my shoulder, and headed out to Coors Field. I want to make sure to get there early enough that my lucky parking spot is free.
A few thoughts before I do: Clint Hurdle has never been thought of as much of an in-game strategist before, but then again he'd never before managed even a slightly meaningful game. I thought his move last night of bringing in the recently invisible Jeremy Affeldt to pitch the seventh instead of his usual automatic seventh-inning guy, LaTroy Hawkins, was a nice balance of the game situation and the Rockies' possible future needs (sharp bullpen lefties are every manager's friend). So maybe Clint, like his players, is tapping a previously unexercised level of talent and control. He maybe deserves a little credit.
Rockies 4, Diamondbacks 1
It would be unconscionable not to put up a post the morning after the Rockies moved one game away from their first pennant in franchise history, but what more can you say at this point? They won't lose. There's not a lot to analyze.
I've been to a few playoff games in my time, mostly Division Series games in Oakland and the fateful (though not by a long stretch the most fateful game in the series) Game 1 of the 2003 NLCS in Chicago. Going to Rockies' home games during the current run -- and remember, there's only been two games at Coors since the playoffs began a year and a half ago -- has been entirely unlike these experiences. What's it like to go to a playoff game where there's no tension whatsoever involved? I don't know if I can compare it to anything because I don't believe I've experienced anything comparable. The Cubs and A's games were almost unbearable; you watched through your fingers and you wobbled home like you'd just taken a good professional beating to the midsection. Coors Field last night was like... well, I was going to say the waiting room outside a hospital delivery room, because you know the baby's going to get born eventually and you're just kind of mildly uncomfortable but mostly anticipating the celebration, but I don't think that analogy works. There's going to be some tension involved there; what if the kid comes out with three eyes or a different skin color than the father? The Rockies were simply not losing last night.
It wasn't as loud as it could have been (or as it will be tonight) because it's hard to clap wearing mittens, but once again Denver fans were tested and found worthy. No way the game last night even starts if baseball hadn't long ago totally prostituted itself to television. It was unpleasant. With long underwear, two pairs of thick socks, a knit cap, heavy jacket, and sweatshirt, I went prepared. I was too preoccupied during the game to notice the mounting hypothermia, but when I finally returned to my apartment and removed all of my layers (all of which except the innermost of three T-shirts were completely saturated) to hit the shower, I started shivering uncontrollably. I don't have a lot of body fat, and I suspect my body temperature was probably several degrees less than a healthy living person's ought to be by the time Manny Corpas nonchalantly worked a 1-2-3 ninth.
Individual game details seem largely beside the point in the midst of a run that's only now beginning to register on a widespread basis as the once-in-a-lifetime freak occurrence that it is. Also, my $10 NLCS program is so completely waterlogged that I can only really make out the bottom half of the Rockies lineup on the scorecard -- that and that Arizona sure hit into a lot of double plays in the early innings.
I'm really disappointed the commenters didn't point out the moment in the game last night where Willy Taveras infuriated me. With none out and runners on first and second, Willy was attempting to bunt for a hit. How is that going to score the runner from second? Was anybody surprised when Willy's selfishness resulted in an out at third? Isn't this what I've been telling you about all year? Isn't it? Hmm. Might be time to just let the Willy thing go. I don't know if I can, though. He does really suck.
Not as much as Eric Boo-yrnes. Ever heard by leading by example, Byrnesy the Clown? I know whenever I think of a team's leader stepping up under pressure with the season on the line, I'll think of Byrnes from last night, whose at-bat results I can tell you right now off the top of my head without even a legible scorecard. Lined into double (nearly triple) play, struck out looking, popped up the chute, popped higher up the chute. Although I did not see it from my vantage point in the stands later on the highlights I caught him deliberately running into the wall on Matt Holliday's homer and theatrically sprawling out on the ground as if taking a UEFA-level dive was somehow going to spur his team on to greater feats of glory. Go home, Eric Byrnes. If I see you on TV during the World Series I'm calling my cable system to tell them to drop whichever network hired your worthless behind.
Who else saw this photo of Yorvit Torrealba and thought to themselves, "Wow, best desktop wallpaper ever"?
The white flag is waved by our new favorite out-of-town beat writer, the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro. Why do we like Piecoro? Well, his writing is pretty good, and he does a good job with the tough assignment of maintaining journalistic objectivity while still supporting his D-Backs loyally. This is a pretty evocative closing paragraph: "Having booed the outspoken Byrnes throughout the game, they seemed to delight in his popout that ended the eighth. As he made his way to his position, the fans in the left-field bleachers surely reminded him of his defiant comments. They also might have reminded him of the hole his team has dug itself, the one in which it might wind up buried." But mostly we like Piecoro because his picture is up on the azcentral.com page and he looks like D.J. Qualls.
You know who we don't like among local print columnists, or at least when he's not shouting at Jay Mariotti? Woody Paige. The other Denver sports opinion guys, Lincicome, Kiszla, Ringolsby, have struggled and been at best competent and open-minded during the current indescribable run. That's hard for them to do considering the talent vacuum in this region; I barely have any contacts at all in the "pro" baseball media and yet every one I do have seems to go out of their way to mention to me how much they freaking loathe Tracy Ringolsby every time I write them with a Rockies question. (I freaking loathe Tracy Ringolsby too. I think after the Monforts and Dan O'Dowd he's the person most responsible for how long it's taken Colorado baseball to matter, with his relentlessly uncritical attitude and Plaschke-like fear of new baseball ideas.) But while his peers have been mostly harmless this October -- not for a second worth your time, but at least not actively harming the cause -- this new Woody column is the sort of thing that angers the baseball gods. Win just one more game, Paige writes. Win one more game and the Rockies will have accomplished something!
My goodness, Woody. You're too old for drugs and still too healthily-colored to be in the early stages of senility, so what's the haps? Isn't the whole mantra the Rockies are riding on based on not assuming they've won anything until they've actually won? Aren't they not considering the larger importance of any game that they play until there aren't any left on the schedule? The Rockies are trying to win the World Series, not just get there. Indeed, I feel increasingly as if they have to win the Series, because otherwise the quality of this run will never be acknowledged by a lumpen majority of American sports fans. If the Rockies get to the big stage and lose to Boston or Cleveland, it will allow folks to write them off as merely the product of a historically poor National League. That's as may be, but... 20 out of 21? That's not competitive imbalance. That's just unreal. It means nothing if the Rockies make the World Series and don't win it. Woody should know better.
By the way, if you are hard up for further opinions from intelligent people from Denver on what living in the eye of the purple hurricane is like, I recommend Westword. The writers at Denver's free alternative weekly mostly don't have sports backgrounds but they've written cogently and humorously on a singular moment in city history. "Woody Paige" and "cogent," I know, is like "Clint Hurdle" and "Weaver-like in-game savvy."
I kid because I care! Come on, nothing I could possibly say is going to make any difference at this point. I've bagged on Clint and Willy all year long and the team keeps winning, mostly despite those two guys. I'm going to keep riding the horse I came in on, if you don't mind.
NLCS Game 3
Lots of storylines for this one. You can try guessing Livan Hernandez's age, or his weight. You could try and list Game 3 starters for playoff teams up 2-0 less imposing than Josh Fogg. You can start speculating as to which long-dead god Clint Hurdle sacrificed his firstborn to in exchange for his sudden powers of divination. You can search for a reason Eric Byrnes' best efforts to prop back up the dying Diamondbacks clubhouse involved his shagging flyballs from the top half of the Rockpile at Coors Field (my guess: Byrnes wanted us all to get used to throws of his not quite making the infield dirt).
Ask yourself as many questions as you want, but seek not a reason for the Rockies' 19-of-20 run. There isn't one.
Eric Byrnes Is Clown Shoes
Big, floppy ones, with a fright wig and honking red nose to go with them. Who does this guy think he is? It took the Diamondbacks the entire season to win my reluctant respect, now it's taken them all of two home games and one off day to permanently lose it. What a bunch of whining little kids. Bob Melvin is still talking about the (self-evidently correct) Upton call. If you look at any of the news stories on MLB.com regarding the NLCS, a gigantic banner ad will fill the entire right-hand side of your screen announcing that good seats are still available for all the games at Chase Field. Needless to say, a corresponding ad for Coors Field would serve no purpose. Even with an evening of freezing rain and sobering wind chill facing them, fans in Denver are paying premium rates for the right to possibly not see an official game tonight. If Game 3 is rained out and it's even more miserable tomorrow night, Coors will still be full.
I don't know if you can make a case for Denver as a great baseball town, as the Post is now trying hastily to do, but at the very least the desire is there, and frustrated fans who haven't paid attention to Colorado since the franchise was in its infancy are working out their guilt while they try and make up for all that lost time. It's going to be roaring tonight. The colder, the better.
And the national media still is a little slow on the uptake. Here's SI's John Donovan: "The NLCS now moves to Denver for the first postseason game in that city -- not counting Game No. 163 that earned the Rockies their ticket into this postseason -- since 1995."
Um. What about Game 3 of the 2007 NLDS? Could have sworn I was there, but it could have been a collective delusion of 50,000 people -- it's been that kind of autumn in Denver.
Fine, give the Rockies a day off. Make them change out of the sleeveless black alternate jerseys. Hold them to one extra-base hit in two road playoff games... and watch them return to Denver up 2-0 in a series that seems bound to end quickly, probably to the relief of TBS's ratings hawks. Brad Hawpe was the star of the game last night, not that the television broadcast team noticed. Hawpe had two brilliant at-bats against lefthanded starter Doug Davis, one ending in a walk and another in a single, and extended the rallies that led both to the first Colorado run and the game-winner.
I miss the days where I was innocent enough to keep worrying about my team in a postseason series until the local newspaper columnists would all sound in the next morning and tell me it was okay to be confident. Today, I am simply looking for one writer -- one writer! -- who wonders why Willy Taveras was playing hugely out-of-position in far left center field with the switch-hitting Tony Clark, a pull hitter either way, at the plate swinging left-handed in the bottom of the seventh. Taveras made a great catch on a full-out sprint to his left to keep Eric Byrnes from scoring from first and tying the game. But... why when Clark put the ball into play was Willy standing very near where Matt Holliday would normally stand against a right-handed hitter and with no runners on base? I watched the positioning back on the TiVo several times and until Clint Hurdle tells me otherwise I am secure in the belief that Willy totally spaced on a signal from the bench and this "great" play, like so many of Taveras's, would have been made perfectly routine by a real ballplayer.
The dark side of Willy Taveras is right there on the field for the opposition. Eric Byrnes is a disastrous choice to be the #3 hitter/face of the offense for Arizona. When Taveras scored the go-ahead run in the fifth, Byrnes fielded Todd Helton's sacrifice fly in left and flung himself into the air trying to throw home, spontaneously inventing the world's worst shot put mechanics in a futile effort to get a tiny little baseball all the way to home plate. Even with the rigorous windup the ball still dribbled up the first-base line to Chris Snyder like a wounded quail. I wondered why Jamey Carroll (nice playoff beard, Jamey) pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot in the top of the ninth of a one-run game instead of a guy who could realistically finish the game with one swing. (Jeff Baker, Ryan Spilborghs, and Chris Iannetta were all available.) Clearly, Clint Hurdle was just being sporting; it's not classy to bring more power in off the bench than your opponent has 3-8.
Another great start from Ubaldo Jimenez. You can't really see until Ubaldo smiles just how young he is. They showed him beaming in the dugout as the Rockies were taking the lead for good in the eleventh and grinning ear to ear he looked as if his umbilical cord had just been severed. Good thing because I don't know whether he would have been able to strike out six in five innings with one still attached. Manny Corpas suffered a rare blown save but looked utterly at ease returning for a 1-2-3 tenth. Even if no one is watching, this NLCS is serving an important larger purpose for baseball. Finally we're not going to be able to suffer through useless generalizations about veteran intangibles. Here are two teams made up close to entirely of young, system-grown players. The Rockies look comfortable and functional, Arizona looks distressed and wide-eyed, as exemplified by Jose Valverde in the top of the eleventh. Same origins, different results. Do you think anyone in the mainstream media is absorbing the lesson here?
Leave it to Jayson Stark to find the one natural comedian in the Rockies' Clubhouse for Christ. He's no Rich Donnelly yet, but Ryan Spilborghs has one or two good zingers about his infield single that led to the game-winner: "It'll be a line drive in my book," Spilborghs is quoted as saying by Stark. "I think the details always get a little fuzzy over time, don't they? And I'm hoping that there will be no TVs for my grandchildren to watch it on." On the topic of Arizona's desperate bid to cool down Colorado by forcing them into their road grays: "Aw, gray, black. It doesn't really matter to us anymore. Right now, we'd wear pink if we had to."
Spotted in the comments to azcentral.com's game story: "Dbacks season is over. Let's go Coyotes!"
In the bottom of the ninth, after Eric Byrnes scored the tying run with a fielder's choice grounder, Troy Tulowitzki was drawn well off of the second base bag by a high throw from Kaz Matsui. Oh no, the winning run was on second! Only it wasn't, because Stephen Drew, perhaps after a harsh upbraiding from his elder brother on the topic of all his clutch play in the NLDS against the Cubs risking the scuttling of J.D.'s years of hard work making "Drew" synonymous with "aloof, team-killing, and stupid," skipped merrily down the line towards third base without even so much as a glance toward the second-base umpire, the third base coach, the third-base umpire... I don't know what he was looking at, really. Maybe that guy with the mirror was back behind home plate and he was staring at his reflection.
The playoffs can be different for the players, if they let them, but they are different from the fans. When Taveras came up in the eleventh with two outs and the bases loaded, I immediately thought back to Ramon Hernandez in a similar situation (it was the 12th, and at home, but still) bunting for the win in the first game of the 2003 ALDS. What the players choose to remember is up to them, and the Rockies seem to have a good thing going right now by not even paying attention to the larger significance of their games. The Cubs and Phillies crashed and burned by their managers trying to win series before first winning any games. Colorado is just playing to win the game today, and look how well that's worked recently! But as for fans, we rate the playoffs way too highly and we know we do and we still go ahead and do it anyway. Chase Utley and Drew and Jose Valverde can play for twenty more seasons apiece and put up all the regular season numbers you want. Until each one of them returns to the playoffs and cleans up like Carlos Beltran '05, their names are mud in my book.
I stand to lose a rather substantial amount of money if the Rockies finish this one off in the minimum, since my extra tickets for Wednesday's Game 5 would no longer be saleable. But that's fine. I would far rather cut the head off the snake, as it were, right now when we've got it in both hands. Arizona has done their thing all year roaring back when they've looked dead -- if you didn't see the ninth inning of last night's game coming, you haven't been paying attention. Let us assure that they are undeniably four games to zero dead before entertaining any discussion involving a certain Series played this time of year.
NLCS Game 2
For the last couple of weeks, my expression has been fixed as one kind of like the one Kazuo Matsui had last night after Miguel Montero stumbled over second base to make the Diamondbacks' last out of the night an appropriately ugly summary. Really?
You know, there's nothing lamer than an unknown blogger taking potshots at the throne. It's self-serving and unseemly. But I am really disappointed in Bill Simmons lately -- he's so busy deeply inhaling the rich Boston smell of his own farts that he's completely ignored the best sports story of the whole year. Is it so wrong to want my favorite sportswriter to notice my favorite team, now that they're actually worthy of notice? It's a bummer. On the other hand Jeff Francis's Sports Illustrated cover is already framed and hanging in my living room.
My gut feeling entering this series was that either the Rockies would win in four or five or the Diamondbacks would win in six or seven. A lot of the local radio guys -- who can be excused for getting overexcited since they're in the same boat as me, ignored for years and suddenly now the most popular kids at the dance with no time to adjust to it -- have been crying "sweep!" I don't know about that. Arizona has been harder to beat than they look all year, and after spending the whole season waiting for a dramatic correction that never came I'm hardly going to be fool enough to write them off now.
I took the exact right course with the "controversy" in the NLDS. Manny Corpas poured a "liquid" on his jersey? In hundred-degree, hundred-percent-humidity weather in Philadelphia? Oh my stars, whatever could it have been? Likewise, there's no story about Game 1 other than how professionally Francis handled himself and how profoundly undeserving of a playoff team the Phoenix "fans" were. Justin Upton interfered with Matsui. Period. Shoulder charges are legal in the UFC, but not in MLB.
It's funny how many statheads have picked Arizona to win this series. Why is that, do you suppose? I think since the Diamondbacks made it all the way through the regular season defying all the experts' predictions regarding their negative run differential, sabermetrics folk have somewhat perversely rewarded them for doing so: "We don't know why they win, but they do." Also, stat guys have a problem with doubt. Once they're convinced of something, they tend to highly overvalue the difference between a guy of whom, say, they're 95% certain he's good and a guy whom they only feel 80% sure about. The Diamondbacks have a guy everybody is sure about in Brandon Webb. The Rockies have a lot more guys in the second category between Webb and rest of the Arizona players (who fall into two categories, might-one-day-be-good and for-sure-bad). The fact that Webb is definitely a really good player doesn't guarantee he will beat the Rockies three times, as Nate Silver wrote in his preview for SI.
Now he'll have to beat them at least twice, but we'll see if it even comes to that. The Rockies have an immensely favorable matchup tonight between better-each-time-out Ubaldo Jimenez and Doug Davis. Davis is the sort of savvy, timing-disrupting no-stuff veteran that used to give the Rockies fits. Something has really changed in the organization's culture these last few weeks, and Colorado has suddenly been doing what it needs do go in games like the one earlier this week at Coors where Jamie Moyer was writing a textbook on how a veteran pitches in a playoff game. Even the return of Willy Taveras can't stop us now, although in a reduced-run atmosphere like the playoffs, Taveras has a lot more value than he does as an everyday regular season player. He's also the Rockies' best defensive option in center, and with the middle of the Rockies lineup already far better than the Diamondbacks, they can afford to take Ryan Spilborghs' pop back to the bench.
If he misplays a pop-up into a game-losing triple, we'll assess Willy anew. But for now it seems like nothing can stop the momentum. It might even be time, dare I suggest it, for the Rockies to get out of those ugly sleeveless black things and start wearing their classier normal home and road jerseys again.
Update: Although his Arizona Fall League start went fine, Clint Hurdle used his discretion in leaving Aaron Cook off of the NLCS roster. Franklin Morales will start Game 4; Josh Fogg will start Game 3.
Update #2: If you want to read the analysis of someone less fearful than I of naming the Rockies winners of the NLCS after only one game, this is where to go.
NLCS Game 1
Does anybody else think that these stories about the MLB competing with the NFL in profites aren't just smoke and mirrors? Even the dedicated football fans I know right now seem disillusioned, more interested in their fantasy teams than their real teams. The MLB playoffs are full of fresh blood and and there have been pulse-pounding endings to spare in the last three weeks. In the NFL, Peter King is grasping at straws, describing a game where the winning team's quarterback threw five interceptions and probably should have thrown another three or four had both teams not played so badly as one for the ages. Only a few flat-earthers (who coincidentally seem to be all Patriots fans and as such have awarded the World Series to the Red Sox already) think that the Rockies and the Diamondbacks being in the NLCS is bad for baseball.
You know what? TV ratings are one thing, but the atmosphere in Denver (and the resale I'm going to get on my extra tickets for Games 4 and, if necessary, 5) are another entirely. People want to be baseball fans again in Denver, and people in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles aren't going to stop being baseball fans because some of the have-nots are having a go of it this year. In fact, maybe this NLCS will be the one that reminds people who have become Red Sox or Yankee or Dodger followers exclusively of the days when people all over the country used to watch the national game on weekends no matter what two team were playing. Baseball is more fun to watch the more you know about it, and this year you're going to have to learn the names of at least a few young guys you don't know about yet. Myself included -- I've been sleeping like everyone else on the young arms Cleveland has both in the rotation and in relief.
But tonight it's all about the Mountain Time Zone, as the Arizona Diamondbacks host your Colorado Rockies. I have band practice for the first part of the game, but I trust you all to break this one down and build it back up on your own.
Clint Hurdle Takes Playoff Fever Slightly Too Literally
During the Rockies' celebrations of their wins a week ago Monday and then again Saturday night, the postgame radio crew made a point of noting that Clint Hurdle for the most part kept out of the spotlight and let his players have their fun. That's to his credit, but maybe Hurdle's self-restraint wasn't deep strategy -- now breaks the news that the Rockies skipper is fighting a flu bug.
So that's what's changed about him. I knew it was something. The AP story notes that he is continuing to supervise workouts, but keeping several feet of distance between himself and any players. I don't think this is a bad rule of thumb for Hurdle to keep even when 100% healthy.
Now if only matching elbow injuries could prevent him from giving the sacrifice and steal signs and a sore ankle could keep him from making such quick pitching hooks, we'd really have something. We can build a better manager!
It's a jinx to start talking about your team's moves in the offseason when they're still alive in the playoffs. I know it. But on the other hand, never have I been under more pressure to come up with interesting new Rockies content every day. There was something Phil Rogers wrote yesterday that was just killing me, I wanted to post it so badly, and then this morning I woke up and started reading all of the Yankee obits and I had another Hot Stove notion that combined with Rogers' tidbit overwhelmed my fear of putting the evil eye on Colorado.
Besides, the Rockies are playing now in a series where they have so many intangibles going for them in almost seems like a good idea to try to put the whammy on a little just to balance it out. A solid 70% of ESPN.com poll responders say they are rooting for the Rockies in the NLCS, which makes sense given 1) their September run was a hell of a story and 2) the Diamondbacks won a World Series quite recently and nobody particularly needs to live in a world where Florida and Arizona have two championships apiece. Especially Phillies fans.
Here is the real kick in the face about the Diamondbacks, though, with thanks on the link going to Buster Olney: As of this morning, some 12,000 seats for the NLCS at Chase Field remained unsold. I told you Phoenix was a crummy sports town. Of course, that didn't do the Yankees much good in 2001, but that Diamondbacks team was constructed of veterans from other organizations, many of whom got their starts in cities to which big chunks of the retired community in Arizona remained loyal. Rockies fans are now completely on board with this youth movement thing; Arizona fans still seem to wonder where Luis Gonzalez and Mark Grace went. It's hard to develop from the inside in an area where half the biggest stars in the game play for peanuts right in your backyard for a month every year. Phoenix might be a market where you have to get at least a few already-famous free agents on your roster to convince fans you mean business. The Cardinals and Coyotes certainly work this angle, although look how successful they've been. The best franchise in the area is the Suns, who have mixed and matched free agent signings and player development, but I've always felt like the Suns are far more appreciated by NBA junkies out of town than the locals, who show up for the games when the team is good but will never approach the loudness of the fans of Sacramento or Denver.
OK, so here are my two offseason stories, and I'm knocking on wood, throwing salt over my shoulder, and tracing pentagrams in the rug with my toes while I write this: Number one, Rogers says that Dan O'Dowd could make a run at Johan Santana with a package including Garrett Atkins and Brian Fuentes. That is too dreamy to even really comment. Number two, I have this fantasy where the Rockies' magical playoff run convinces the increasingly threatened and inessential George Steinbrenner that the Yankees HAVE to have Clint Hurdle, and the Rockies get a nice prospect from New York AND get rid of Hurdle and his sacrifice bunts. Probably not going to happen -- randomly cherry-picking the coaching staffs of the last year's most successful teams sounds more like a Daniel Snyder move than Steinbrenner, who has His Guys. But it would be awesome.
Look, I would love to take a day off today. It would be totally justified. It's sort of a holiday. The Rockies certainly aren't agitated with the four-day break between series, particularly since it's entirely possible that Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh could join the team in time for the beginning of the NLCS. Hirsh has quite possibly lost his role with this team with Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales' emergences, but a healthy Cook would certainly be an improvement over Josh Fogg as a Game 4 starter.
I don't think that taking my eye off the ball for even one morning would be a good idea, though. Four days is an eternity in baseball time. It only took four days for the Phillies' and Cubs' seasons to fall apart. So we're going to do our best, whatever it takes, to keep the aura of Not Losing Pretty Much Ever surrounding the Rockies hovering nearby until Thursday. They're going to need that and more since Game 1 brings Brandon Webb, the only guy to beat Colorado since September 15th.
You might presume that since the Rockies starters and bullpen were able to hobble the mighty Philadelphia offense without too much exertion the pathetic Diamondbacks offense should present them no problem. Not so much. Arizona doesn't score runs in bunches very often, but they seldom don't score at all, and their Angel-like balanced hitting doesn't have an obvious Achilles heel the way the Phillies did (strikeout lefties). I think it's going to be vitally important for Arizona to win both of the first two games in Phoenix. The atmosphere at Coors Field is such that if the D-Backs leave the opportunity open for the Rockies to run the table at home and prevent the series from ever returning to Chase Field, the odds are pretty good that that's exactly what will happen. Denver isn't a good baseball town but it is a great sports town and the fans here only took one weekend of playoff atmosphere to figure out what they need to do to work their heroes into the proper frenzy state. Phoenix on the other hand is just not a good sports city -- too few of the people living there are actually from there. I honestly think Phoenicians (like St. Petersburgers) get more excited for spring training than they do for regular-season Diamondbacks baseball, and despite a vastly better performance record since their expansion year, the Arizona MLB club has struggled just as Colorado has to build a genuine, persistently attentive fanbase.
What is my big piece of evidence for this? Well, this year the D-Backs changed their uniform colors from their old unique (but hideous) teal-and-purple scheme to a more utilitarian black and red. Teams do this all the time these days, particularly teams without a lot of history. When the Padres moved into PetCo Park they went from navy and orange to sand and seafoam blue. Here is the thing though. Watch a Padres game on TV, and they'll be lots of people in the stands wearing the old hats and the old jerseys. Watch the Diamondbacks, and everyone's in red, if they're wearing any Arizona gear at all. Was the organization just that successful in getting 100% of its fanbase on board with the new design? Did they have a big bonfire where everybody brought their Luis Gonzalez and Curt Schilling jerseys from the World Series season and tossed them into the flames in exchange for Carlos Quentin bobbleheads? I don't think so. I think for all intents and purposes Arizona is only vaguely conscious that this is the same franchise. They've completely rolled over their fanbase, such as it is. Either that or even their most devoted fans hated those ugly sleeveless monstrosities.
Of course, the new Arizona uniforms aren't any better. They're using a very slightly different red, somewhere between the Angels' and Astros' alternate jerseys, but not quite different enough -- it just always looks like the tint on your TV is messed up when you're watching them. And the off-black alternates look about as attractive (and comfortable) as parking-lot blacktop. All this, and the "DB" patch on their sleeves, as we've observed before, looks kinda dirty.
Am I in any position to make fun of the Diamondbacks' jerseys, as a Rockies fan? Well, in the land of the expansion teams, the team that at least has a fairly respectable-looking home jersey is king. I'll take the Rockies' purple pins over the Marlins' garish silvery logo, all Arizona's shirts old or new, and (it practically goes without saying) every design the Devil Rays have ever tried. For reasons of superstition the Rockies are locked into wearing their black alternates until their fortunes turn, but even those wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the silver piping on the sleeves, and at the very least they've stopped wearing purple undershirts beneath.
Are we going to see some legitimate analysis of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks now? The national baseball media, bless their hearts, managed to make both of the division series about the teams that lost and not the teams that will be playing to represent the National League in the World Series. Is it any wonder Arizona-Colorado is already being predicted to smash every record for lowest-rated postseason series in the history of the universe? Well, of course not, by relentlessly skewing their coverage towards the Phillies and Cubs TBS gave people who weren't already fans of one or the other of those teams little reason to watch. This is a bummer, because there aren't two more likable teams to be found in baseball -- reasonable payrolls, fresh-faced young players who love the sport and their teammates, highlight-reel defensive plays guaranteed every game. The Rockies don't run as much as they did before Kaz Matsui and Willy Taveras both pulled up with hamstring injuries (and they're better off for it), but you'd be hard-pressed to find two more smallball-loving managers than Clint Hurdle and Bob Melvin. Colorado once again lapped the field in the NL in sacrifice bunts and Arizona finished second in stolen-base percentage. Every big-city sports columnist in this country is contractually obligated to write at least one piece a season lamenting the lack of strategy in today's game, and yet now that they have two guys who obsessively clip and quote those columns managing in the NLCS and all they can think of to say is why anyone would possibly want to watch these two "unappealing" teams.
I'm sorry, that sound you hear is me bashing my head repeatedly against my desk. I should really know better by now about a lot of things. If I eat an entire large order of cheese sticks from Blackjack Pizza in one sitting, I'm going to get really sick. I still do it, though. I should also know that the only thing that comes of reading the "sportswriting" of certified menace to society Bill Plaschke is a sharp buzzing pain in the temples and a sudden desire to spread misery in the world. Well, it's too late now, I already have a Bill migraine and you're all going to have to have one now too. After getting Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta fired for not playing enough smallball, Plaschke is now campaigning to have Bill Stoneman of the Angels dismissed for playing too much. (If the Diamondbacks win the World Series, it will be interesting to see how Bill fits that into his demented baseball cosmology -- maybe he'll claim the Angels didn't play too much smallball enough.)
Just once, I'd like to see a concession column from a local team's beat writer that doesn't do the pat-on-the-back "the better team won" thing but totally goes all Dennis Green on the winners. I haven't seen a single article about the Rockies are a bunch of AAA losers who are too dumb to know they're not supposed to be winning all of these ballgames. I guess, once again, that would necessitate learning some of their players' names, which our traditional print media has done such a lovely job of avoiding up to this point. I can understand Ubaldo Jimenez sneaking up on people -- he'd barely pitched in the majors until this season and it wasn't really until the stretch run that he started consistently performing in the manner that wins ballgames rather than merely keeps you within hailing distance in them. But with #26, the worst actor amidst stiff competition in the Rockies' TV commercials, the lefthander who'll wonder ya from British Columbia -- in other words, the Francis Channel -- I don't know what the deal is there. Jeff Francis is the real deal. You know how Jamie Moyer was able to handcuff the Rockies the other night with a fastball weaker than your 15-year-old cousin's? You know how he did that? Francis at age 26 has the smarts of a 40-year-old veteran, and his pure stuff's not that bad either. He's legit. He's not going anywhere, and unlike some of the more recent arrivals from Dan O'Dowd's first-class farm system, he doesn't have a violent delivery that's going to make him an injury risk year-in and year-out.
This is good news, because the difference maker in the series with Arizona is going to be whether the Rockies can beat Brandon Webb or not. Webb is a bad, bad man and when he's throwing his sinker for strikes there is simply no way to game plan against him -- you can not swing and strike out, or you can swing and dribble the ball to Stephen Drew. Drew, by the way, would surely be receiving crazy attention for his composure and skill as a rookie shortstop were he not now preparing to face off against Troy Tulowitzki, who's made us throw out all mentions of his rookie status and just start comparing him to every other shortstop in the modern game, if not in history. It was only this season that Matt Holliday jerseys started outnumbering Larry Walker shirts as the #2 most popular at Coors after Todd Helton's. Next year I predict Tulowitzki will blow Walker, Holliday, and possibly even Helton out of the water. Rockies fans have been rocking and rolling since the final regular-season series against... the Diamondbacks but they find an entire other gear for when Tulowitzki is up during a rally, or after one of his dazzling fielding plays. Tulowitzki would have made a hell of a QB; he can seemingly release the ball accurately from any arm angle and the ballistics processor in his brain that instantaneously calculates perfect situational trajectories ranging from on-a-rope level to fungo-bat bloops is exceptional.
Do I think the Rockies are a better club than Arizona? Yes, I definitely do. There's no comparison between the lineups, the Rockies defense is historically good (I'm not talking about the fielding percentage record here, I'm talking about the fact that they've managed to climb into the top half in defensive efficiency, which given the vast gaps in the Coors Field outfield is something some statheads have long thought a logistical impossibility) and Arizona's merely above average, the Colorado bullpen is deeper and left handed-er, and after Webb the Rockies will have the advantage in starting pitching for every other matchup. However Arizona simply will not go quietly -- indeed, it is their chief strength -- and since the Rockies became The Team That Never Loses (TM Jayson Stark) they haven't really encountered any teams that feel they have an equal claim to destiny. Arizona's negative run differential is something that has been much discussed, and when we discuss "the better team in 2007" I am not sure which is the more valid argument -- that Arizona, despite their underlying statistics suggesting that they shouldn't have, played winning baseball all year anyway, or that the Rockies by going on the longest winning streak of the season when their playoff fate depended on it rendered their lousiness in April and late June irrelevant.
Here is the thing I am sure of -- both of these teams are getting better with each additional game they play. They're not going anywhere in the NL West in the near future, although Arizona might have to go through a shakedown season or two until they're able to turn over their creaky starting pitchers. While no one has written that article claiming the Rockies are frauds playing over their heads, no one has quite come up with a coherent explanation of why they're for real. The overall tone seems to be that no one understands quite what is happening, and for the most part I have to include myself in that. And I've watched this team all year.
However: Ubaldo Jimenez pitched in a handful of major-league games last September and that was it for his experience. Franklin Morales didn't even get a cup of coffee before he got thrown without ceremony into the middle of Colorado's rotation this year. Brad Hawpe didn't get to hit against lefties at all his first two seasons, and after struggling against them all year the light flipped on for Brad in September. Kaz Matsui used to be a Japanese shortstop and only now in the supportive, low-wattage Colorado atmosphere has he become a real-deal American second baseman. It takes time to make the transition to the majors. It just does. Baseball Prospectus loves to poke holes in bad GM's game plans by throwing out strings of minor league lines at you, but I have always been the most doubtful of that aspect of the sabermetric revolution. I think there's an essential difference between the majors and everywhere else, and I don't think every minor leaguer with good numbers is capable of making the leap. I'm also certain that a painful adjustment period is a guarantee for any talent short of Albert Pujols or Jon Papelbon level, which is to say almost everyone. Maybe the best example of this is the team that the Rockies are preparing to play this week. Arizona has so many blue-chip hitting prospects they don't know what to do with all of them, but they finished 13th in the league in OPS. Next year, they won't.
You don't usually see "the light" flip on for an entire clubhouse all at once, and seldom in September with two weeks left, and extra seldom does it result in a 14-1 run leading to an out-of-nowhere playoff appearance. But maybe that's what happened for the Rockies, maybe they're exactly as good as their record for the season suggests, and they're going to mess up the Diamondbacks and give the AL champs all they can handle.
Or maybe they aren't. This has been a magical fall, but one casualty of the Rockies' run is my confidence in my skills as a prognosticator. I wrote the Rockies off... hmm... approximately 14 times this season. I will not write them off a fifteenth time, but nor will I offer any strongly worded guarantees about what will happen next. I'm as in the dark as I was in the top of the second inning Saturday night.
Rockies 2, Phillies 1
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
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.
Rockies-Phillies Game 3
For those of you going to the game: Section 107, purple Helton jersey, lopsided red beard, tendency to gesticulate wildly. I don't drink beer, but I wouldn't say no to a Diet Coke from a loyal reader. For those of you watching at home: This looks to me like a classic "don't let them back in" game. Charlie Manuel has been managed to shreds by Clint Hurdle in this series, which is terrifying for Phillies fans but also for Rockies fans for one reason: Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick should be fine to go on short rest, since Manuel pulled both of them way too early in Games 1 and 2. The matchup today of Ubaldo Jimenez, whose fastball movement makes him tougher on lefties than the average rookie righthander, and Jamie Moyer, who doesn't have a fastball, favors the Rockies. Don't... let... them... back... in. That's all there is to it.
Suggested chat topic: Being outmanaged by Clint Hurdle in a playoff series is like losing to _____ in a _____ contest. Winner gets one slightly used pushbroom that works fine for sweeping but doesn't have the right look for waving around during a baseball game.
NLDS Home Game 1
I wrote an editorial for Deadspin in the preseason about how the strongest argument for being a Rockies fan was that clearly there was no extrinsic value to becoming so whatsoever; diehard Rockies fans are the purest baseball fans there are because they give and give and give and realistically expect nothing.
But I was wrong. There was totally a benefit to supporting the Rockies loyally for the last four years and change: I now have a totally rad seat for every game Colorado will play at Coors during the postseason. The biggest ticket in Denver sports since the last time the Avs were in the Cup Finals, and I got one. Me! Before this year, whenever I wanted to go to a Rockies game I would take my acoustic guitar out to Pearl Street in Boulder and busk until I had enough money to pay for gas and an upper-deck seat. I've moved into a slightly higher income tax bracket this season and thus had a partial season ticket, but only one seat. I will be going by myself to each of the Rockies' postseason games, but I won't be going alone; I'll be carrying with me the hopes and well-wishes of a mounting bandwagon of Toaster readers. As more and more fans lose their horse in the World Series race, the higher the percentage of those viewers it is that turn their allegiances to Colorado. They're just super lovable. I'm not dumb enough to try fooling you guys by saying that I told you so (whatever, I've been the Rockies' single biggest naysayer for as long as I've lived in Boulder), but at least I know the players' names already. I was able to dazzle and surprise the guys sitting around me at the tiebreaker game Monday by successfully predicting which arm it would be for all 9 of the Rockies' pitching changes.
I keep going back and forth on stopping at the hardware store on the way to the game tomorrow and picking up a really nice old-fashioned straw broom. Would that be tempting the fates? Whatever, at this point the Rockies seem fateproof. If they win this series -- and I am not saying that they will, heaven forbid -- either matchup they could face in the NLCS would put all the pressure on the opposing team. Colorado is loose, they're lean, and they've got Ubaldo Jimenez and his tailing fastball that moves away from lefthanded hitters going against 400-year-old Jamie Moyer tomorrow.
Further proof that if there is perhaps no order there remains still justice in the universe: the Division Series on TBS gave baseball Dane Cook, Frank Caliendo, and the meaningless mood bracelet leadoff meter thingy, and baseball now might be giving TBS Rockies-Diamondbacks. Might be. It's too bad about the stupid flair, because on the whole TBS has been an improvement on ESPN, with a way higher percentage of intelligent, worthwhile analysts. Steve Stone should be calling a nationally televised game every day, he's so much better than most color guys -- the play-by-play guy will say something dumb, like about Willits stealing second in the current Angels-Red Sox game, and Stone won't yell or name-call, he'll just rationally explain why it's dumb. Steve, you still didn't deserve that Cy Young, but you can call my playoff games any time.
Wow, I am so excited to go to the game tomorrow that I can hardly sleep, but still I am glad that the Rockies got the late game in the Saturday NL playoff doubleheader. My seat in the rightfield boxes at Coors is (I maintain) the best view for the money in the pro game, but for a 5:00 start, the setting sun is directly in your eyes for the whole of a three-hour game. The Rockies don't normally don't start their home games at five and it comes as a relief that they won't have to tomorrow. Although I bet the sunlight coming over the mountains would reflect poignantly off of the shiny bristles of my new broom.
Some (Careful) Thoughts on the Other Series
Normally during this time of the year I'm able to sort of let loose a little bit and write about whatever I'm thinking, since the Rockies are long since safely placed in cold storage for the winter. But this season I have to be careful. I hardly have to tell you folks that the baseball gods are capricious, and whatever changed their disposition towards the Rockies, we must treat their game and all their teams with due respect lest they change it back.
Did I say all the teams? Not the Cubs. They're a special case. Obviously.
CLE-NYY Another year of this, really? Three-quarters of the hack sports columnists in the country pick the Yankees to win the World Series, reasoning that their lineup Can't Be Stopped and also Mariano Rivera (there used to be sometimes a verb and a predicate attached to that second reason, but now it's always just "and also Mariano Rivera"), then they actually play a game and everyone sobers up. Oh, right. Pitching. You have to do that. Crap.
I feel bad for hardly watching any Indians games all season. Whenever Detroit would go on a cold streak I would keep an eye on them because my vindictive hatred of Jim Leyland knows no bounds, but like a lot of others I was missing the point in the AL Central this year. Wasn't the White Sox and Tigers collapsing, wasn't the Twins once again mismanaging their roster all the way to oblivion, it was how legit the Indians were. Nice starters, nice offense, who needs a bullpen when you score 12? If it ends up being Indians-Red Sox in the ALCS that'll be a fine series. No way I am writing the Yankees off, though. The Yankees are freaking Voldemort.
CHC-ARZ It's good to have family. When I finally got my dad on the phone during Game 2 of this series (suggested memorable nickname: "the series where it's the middle of the night even on the West Coast and still somehow just entering the sixth inning") he was the first person to whom I'd spoken in two days who agreed with me that Lou Piniella made the exact right move in taking out Carlos Zambrano when he did in Game 1. What can you say? He made a calculated risk and it backfired. Marmol had been golden for them all season; indeed, if you ask most smart Cubs fans they'll tell you he's the guy who got it all turned around for Chicago. Sometimes you make the best possible percentage move and it still goes against you. I'd rather have Piniella and his solid reasoning than Clint Hurdle and his blind luck, but I guess it's too late to switch now. And Piniella's language wouldn't go over in the Rockies' 700 Clubhouse for sure.
Is there a single player in MLB or any other pro U.S. sport with a more vast disconnect between his raw stats and his actual value than Alfonso Soriano?
The Diamondbacks have a young, dynamic GM in Josh Byrnes, but I'm not absolutely sure if Byrnes has complete control over personnel in the way Dan O'Dowd does in Colorado. There are a lot of murkily defined older baseball guys hanging around in Arizona's front office, and let me tell you why this would worry me, were I a D-Backs fan. I think this team has a ton in common with the 2002 Angels. That team completely maximized its talent and won a World Series using a similar situational hitting attack, then it spent the next few years diddling around congratulating itself and handing division titles to the A's. The Diamondbacks are good. Yes. Better than we thought they were. But they could be a lot better, and getting a romantic attachment to the roster as it stands could be the only thing keeping Arizona from being the one team standing in the way of the Rockies and that elusive NL West title in the next couple of years.
BOS-ANA I don't really have a lot of useful observations on this one. I do think that the Angels are terribly overrated this year (the AL West was way down this season) and I'm ashamed by how many analysts went ahead and used John Lackey's name as part of their argument for why Anaheim might win the series. It would only have taken them two seconds to do the research, or to plagiarize someone competent's work, and find out that Red Sox simply eat Lackey alive. Not too difficult to figure out why -- hitters with superior patience can wait Lackey out, and Fenway with its inverted power alleys is all danger spots where Lackey normally wants to induce guys to hit long flies.
I used to really hate the Angels because I lived in the Bay Area when they were rivals with the A's and defeated the Giants in the World Series. However, now I'm kind of rooting for them. I'm so bored of Red Sox-Yankees, even typing the phrase makes me want to stop reading my own work. Of all the AL teams, I'd like to see the Indians win the pennant. No matter which AL team advances, they will be huge favorites no matter which NL team they meet, and remember, Cleveland is working on a pretty substantial championship drought. Not Cubs substantial, but nothing to sneeze at; since we only need one lovable martyr team and that role seemingly for at least one more year is most capably filled, let's have all the other teams win championships as regularly as can be managed so that fans everywhere except Wrigley Field can share in the fun.
In All the Excitement, Perspective
You know what I think the biggest story of this series is so far? It's not Clint Hurdle's sudden Midas touch for weird, counterintuitive subtitutions working out for the best. It's not the violent and painful ineptitude of all Phillies pitchers everywhere. It's not Matt Holliday's sexy, sexy chin scar.
It's that the two teams entered the playoffs on similar hot streaks and have reacted to them in opposite fashions. The Phillies, with a history of failures and collapses and a fanbase so abused that it lashes out like an caged animal, felt pressure. Lots of pressure. The magic of their comeback against the Mets came with a lot of weight and responsibility attached to it because long before any of the current Phils put on a uniform their forebears made choking hard a cheesesteak-linked trait. The Rockies? They have no history. What do they have to worry about? Their biggest problem right now is getting teams to stop intentionally walking Todd Helton so their waited-for-it-long-and-boy-is-it-now-sweet homegrown veteran can get a game-winner one of these days.
Originally noted by Toaster MVP Bob Timmerman but worth repeating here: The Rockies have voted a full playoff share, potentially as much as $300,000, to the widow and family of late minor-league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh.
Rockies-Phillies Game 2 Chat
Every Headline I Tried Felt Like a Jinx
Man, everything sets up too well. After the season just completed, it doesn't feel like the playoffs should be this... relaxing. What do you want to see happen in the first game of a playoff series on the road? Well, you hope your ace beats their ace (check), your bullpen holds down the other team's hitting stars (yep) and your hitting star does something decisive (Matt Holliday's solo homer made Manny Corpas's job a lot easier). Other than to say that, sorry, Chase Utley, but the Rockies have another lefty starter going tomorrow, I don't want to break down the series any more than that. I feel like the only thing I can do is damage.
So let's see what writers elsewhere have to say, why don't we? Sure, there is a disappointing number of writers out there -- professional baseball writers -- who don't know the names of any of the players on the Rockies and have picked the Phillies to win their series for no reason other than that to pick Colorado would force them to actually DO THEIR JOBS and learn those players' names. But there are some smart guys to whom none of what the Rockies have done in September and October comes as a surprise.
Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune: "I think the last team to qualify for the playoffs is the strongest in the NL." Well, thanks. Now we're going to catch Chicago luck, and that's not what you want following your team around in October.
ESPN's Jayson Stark: "The Team That Never Loses." Kind of unwieldy for a T-shirt slogan, but it has its appeal.
(Our own) Cliff Corcoran, SI.com: "The Rockies are proof that... often what is thought of as good pitching is actually good defense. Outside of strikeouts, walks, home runs, and errors, it's often impossible to tell where to separate the two. The Rockies this season have done an excellent job of suppressing the last three outcomes on that list, and where they might lack in strikeouts, they compensate with great defense. Mix in a powerful offense, and it all adds up to a team with a 1-0 lead in the NLDS." Powerful? Really? I might choose a more judicious, measured word like "functional" or "acceptable."
Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus: "The Phillies will win it five when Hamels beats the Rockies a second time." It's always good to be going against the stathead grain because as we all know, that sh-- don't work in the playoffs. And there's a good example in the BP piece of why teams should never fire their entire pro scouting staffs and just subscribe to BP's premium service: "One of their most important supporting players, Brad Hawpe, is really a platoon player without value against lefties," Kahrl writes. Anybody who has been watching the games down the stretch knows that one of the single biggest things that got the ball rolling on the Rockies' win streak and playoff run was Hawpe's sudden mastery of southpaws. (Full disclosure: Hawpe was 0-for-4 today.)
This one is either a breath of fresh air or chilling to the bone, depending on for how long you've been following Colorado baseball: according to the Denver Post, the Rockies will raise their payroll by a "significant" degree in 2008. All that's mentioned in the text of the article is the cost of extending current roster talent like Matt Holliday, Brian Fuentes, and Garrett Atkins, but it's never too early to start worrying about ownership making a dramatic misassessment of the franchise's overall position and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in ruinous free agent signings. Well, it did happen that one time. Read between the lines here and you'll get a raging clue that Kaz Matsui, Jeremy Affeldt, and Josh Fogg will not be Rockies next season.
I absolutely love the condescension in this New York Times headline: "Rockies, In New World, Enjoy Familiar Result."
Oh, and here's a good one: Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford blames the loss on Cole Hamels' long sleeves.
Rockies-Phillies Game 1 Chat
Burying the Lead
Here's why you shouldn't write game recaps immediately after returning from jubilant playoff-clinching celebrations: you forget to mention, like, the biggest play that happened in the whole game.
On the subject of the Matt Holliday play at the plate: My opinion isn't worth much. I was sitting in the right-field boxes, so while I had an excellent angle to see Brian Giles release his throw (a bit of a lollipop, but it got there), I had no perspective at all on Holliday and Michael Barrett meeting at home. The first thing my dad said when I called him walking to my car, before "hello" even, was "He didn't touch the plate!" Having seen the replay from all... two of the angles those crack TBS camera teams captured, I can't tell either way. It doesn't look like he got in there, but maybe he tapped the dish with a fingertip or something. The umpire sure seemed certain, but there are a lot of theories raging out there on the blogosphere; some blame home-field psychology, some blame conspiracy. But if the umps were really afraid or instructed to let the Rockies lose at Coors Field, why did they squeeze their pitchers on the strike zone calls and take a homer away from Garrett Atkins? It's silly.
Plays like this are, I think obviously, exactly why it's great that baseball doesn't have instant replay. As a lot of people who called me jealously this morning reminded, (regular season) baseball might be the last American team game that hasn't completely sold its soul as a live experience to the TV gods. The game was grind-your-teeth tense for 13 innings and then it ended suddenly with an explosive play at home plate. That's how it ought to be. It would have been a disservice to how perfectly fate shaped the Rockies' season to end it with a 15-minute delay.
Rockies 9, Padres 8 (13 Innings)
(I wrote this last night but my network was down; more coherent analysis later.)
It's 3:00 A.M., I'm dizzy/tired from standing and screaming for five hours, and still I feel like I'll regret it later if I don't write about the game tonight. Right now, even with with exhaustion and elation juggling in my consciousness for primacy, I can still sort of decipher the hieroglyphics on my scorecard. I knew from about the sixth inning that this game was going to be one for the history books, and I became ever more determined to get every lineup change and double switch down correctly. I didn't get much help from the
But this scorecard -- ah, the hell with it. I'm just going to scan the scorecard in, because no words can do it justice:
The first thing you will notice is that the
Big moment #1: Todd Helton hits a solo homer, only his seventeenth shot of the season, in the bottom of the third to stabilize the club and re-engage the crowd after the Padres' blitzkrieg of a five-run top half. Hurdle appeared to buy too much into the Rockies' quickly concocted "Fogg the Dragonslayer" myth, assuming erroneously that a) his starter could right himself after having five of seven guys completely crank the ball and the one of the two others walk and b) Bud Black would panic and pull Peavy in the 5th or 6th. This led to the embarrassing disparity, entering extra time, of
Big moment #2: Right after Matt Holliday Willy Taveras'd a hard-earned Brian Fuentes popout into a game-tying Brian Giles double, Troy Tulowitzki made a tough play to retire Scott Hairston at first and keep the game tied. Whew.
Big moment #3: After recklessly using every other relief pitcher he had, Hurdle goes to Jorge Julio, who doesn't retire a single batter, puts the Rockies two runs behind in extra innings to a team with one of the greatest closers of all time... and wins the game for Colorado. Really. The
So how about those
At least in my section. Rowdier crowd than is usual for Coors, which I suppose is to be expected. Anrgy drunk baseball dude types in
I think I need to sleep now. But, um... Wow. No one believed in them, especially not me. And they have just as good a chance to advance to the World Series as anybody in the National League. What an extraordinary season. 15 games ago the
I didn't know if I could make it through this game, but sometime around the third I noticed: They had right-field and left-field foul line umpires. That is all I ever really asked for -- for the
But I'm glad they won.
Game 163 Open Thread
I'm going to the game tonight live and in person, so before I leave I'm posting so that interested parties may carry on some stimulating discussion during tonight's Rockies-Padres deathmatch. Supporters of any and all MLB clubs are welcome, but no being mean.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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