Rodrigo Lopez, about whom one of these days I am going to have to admit I was wrong, outlasted Roger Clemens today, completing a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees. The last time New York visited Coors Field in 2002, they scored 41 runs in three games. In this just-completed series, the mighty Yankees scored... five.
Colorado is now 8-0-1 in their last nine series, after beginning the season 2-10-3. Since the beginning of a seven-game winning streak May 22, they are 20-7 overall. That ought to send them shooting up the various "power rankings" that proliferate on the national sports sites. More importantly, the team's local profile has certainly been higher in the last three days than it has been at any time since I moved to Colorado, and very probably since the Mike Hampton signing. People in bars and restaurants and street corners are talking about Rockies baseball. The local sports radio guys have talked about nothing but since Jeff Francis's gem Wednesday. It's pretty neat.
It is difficult to overcome the apathy bred by nearly two decades of mismanagement, however. Most of the discussions I have been privy to regarding the significance of this series have either struck a nostalgic tone ("Wow, Coors Field used to be full like this all the time, those sure were the days") or a skeptical one ("How long now until Matt Holliday is a free agent?"). Unfortunately for the Rockies, to whom nothing ever comes easily, this series... was too easy. A lot of area baseball fans who have been tuning out the Rockies since 2001 probably came home with their premium-priced Yankees series ticket stub wondering why they were paying top dollar to see the likes of Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves. New York's real problem is the same as it has been for the last several disappointing seasons. Joe Torre doesn't have any faith in his middle relievers, so he continually overextends his venerable starters. I can't say for sure whether this crisis of faith is psychologically affecting the Bombers' lineup, but you can certainly see why an offense that feels like nothing less than a five-run lead will serve might begin to press.
The other problem the Yankees have is one of personnel evaluation. I can't tell you for sure that Brian Cashman is doing a bad job, but I do know that when the Yankees used to go out and add players from outside the organization, they would blossom on baseball's biggest stage. Here I am thinking about guys like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. They were good players when the Yankees went and got them, but they became Pinstriped Legends at the Stadium. Since the 2000 World Series win, this magic touch has abandoned the franchise. It's become uncanny the way they grab a hold of free agents and marquee trade names immediately after their period of peak value has ended. Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi... this is becoming epidemic. Meanwhile the Red Sox have made some veteran acquisitions that at the time had to be considered equally risky, like Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez, and it's paid off for them. You can't expect that the Yankees will go away for a while, because the Yankees never go away for a while (except from 1982 to 1994, but that was all Dave Winfield's fault) but it certainly wouldn't hurt anybody other than perhaps a few hypertensive Bronx diehards if they missed the playoffs for a couple of seasons.
That would benefit... Boston, pretty much, since the Devil Rays have been jogging in quicksand since inception, Toronto's "do as I say, don't do as I do" GM is clearly in over his head, and the Orioles are such a disaster area that Joe Girardi today told them precisely where they could stick their manager's job. Who didn't see that coming? The Orioles are a leaguewide joke and everybody knows the punchline. Please die, Peter Angelos. Please die horribly. You are grinding one of the most proud traditions in the sport, with great fans and a gorgeous ballpark, into a useless disgusting bloody mess much like the lungs of the unfortunates upon whom you callously built your fortune. Sociopaths in the greater Baltimore area take note; I can't speak for the justice system but I for one would totally give you a free pass on this one.
As for the Rockies. They're not awful, and clearly more progress has been made than it first appeared in those brutal early weeks of the season where everyone that remained who cared including myself was screaming for the immediate dismissal of Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd. That's good, but they aren't going to win the division. They're not going to make the playoffs, either. I like to dream as much as the next baseball fan, but there are playoff pitching staffs and then there's what the Rockies have and I know what the difference is. It's terrific the performances Hurdle and O'Dowd have been able to coax out of their dumpster-dive finds like Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez. But if the goal was to be not-awful for cheap, Colorado has already been crushed in that category by the Marlins, who are about equally not awful and are easily twice as cheap. I'm trying to resist the urge, because I think I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but I can't help it. If the Rockies had Jason Jennings still, they could contend in the NL West. It would be a long shot, and they would be one injury away from falling apart the whole season, but they could do it. On the other hand Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz, and Jason Hirsh have all been wholly ordinary this year. None of them are contributing particularly to the Rockies' success; Buchholz has only been in the majors because he's out of options, Hirsh's rotation spot could have been filled just as well by... anybody, and the Rockies might be even better off than they are now if they'd been playing Ryan Spilborghs in center all year instead of Banjo-Stick Willy. But if they had Jennings they could go into any series with the Giants, Padres, or Dodgers feeling like they had the horses to match up in every game. That would be cool.
Well, I suppose I had more to say than I thought I did. Please disregard the title above. Here was the broad conclusion that I meant to arrive upon somewhat more promptly than matters in fact allowed: If this sweep over the Yankees is the highlight of the entire 2007 season, than the Rockies have once again failed in delivering an exciting and competitive product to the eminently deserving sports fans of Denver. The radio guys keep echoing the meme about "playing meaningful games in September," and while they spend altogether too much time debating whether Willy Taveras is the greatest leadoff hitter in Colorado history (no) for their opinions to be taken without a sizable chunk of rock salt, here I believe them to have a point. It was nice to have 50,000 people at Coors for each of the three games against New York. It would be super nice to have 50,000 people at Coors for the series that begins 9/7 against the Padres.