I almost skipped out on the Rockies game last night. I had a ticket, but when game time rolled around I was a couple of hours into that new game all the kids are talking about and I wasn't so sure that Elmer Dessens and Tony Armas were going to be any more exciting. But I felt bad about eating another ticket last weekend when the Cubs were in town (better reason then, though, my rock group's CD release) and I had slightly more gas left in the tank than I remembered having, so I went.
For the first few innings I felt like yelling down to Brad Hawpe, who generally stands directly in front of my right field box seat when a right-handed hitter is at the plate for the opposition, and asking if anyone on the Rockies was at all interested in the pennant race in which their team was still at least nominally participating. Colorado initially looked as sluggish against Armas as they were against Matt Morris in the disheartening loss in the homestand's first game. But then Ian Stewart came up with the bases juiced in the third. It first occurred to me that it was an excellent opportunity for Stewart to hit his first major league homer. It then occurred to me that with Coors Field near-empty and my seat right in the right-field power alley, such a homer might have a very good chance of ending up in my hands. Stewart swings lefty, and I've been known to catch home runs at Coors from time to time. Indeed Ian did hit his show debut four-run homer, but only a couple of feet from the left-field foul pole. Power to all fields!
That was all it would have taken, as Dessens did his thing for four-plus and then Taylor Buchholz pitched all the way through the eighth, looking about as good as he ever has in a Rockies uniform. Funny thing for Buchholz, but sometimes title dictates behavior. When he was a "possible starter," he pitched like it, but now that Clint Hurdle, you, me, and Buchholz know he's the long relief guy, he seems to have settled in and is throwing worthy of the role, if not better. I don't think that in this instance it's entirely an issue of semantic confidence. When he was a starting prospect in the Houston organization Buchholz's bread and butter was a big-breaking overhand curve. Now that he's Colorado's long guy, he seems to have adjusted to using the curve mostly as a show-me pitch and getting his heavy lifting done the same way as all persistently successful Rockies pitchers do, especially those who are expected to pitch more than one inning per appearance. Fastballs away. It's not complicated but it gets the job done. Without his hook Buchholz is no great shakes as a strikeout pitcher, but the Rockies have a whole lull-them-into-complacency thing going on with the fashion in which their rotation and bullpen are presently constructed. It's all pitching to contact in the early innings, and then the guys who throw smoke come on late. Could be something to it, but pitchers who prove effective over the long haul throwing a ton of innings and striking out very few are super rare. I would feel better if Aaron Cook were healthy still. And Jason Jennings, too. And also that he was still on the Rockies.
Kaz Matsui took the day off, so I didn't get the full effect with Jamey Carroll doing his best to capture that old '06 magic in the eight spot, but I couldn't help but reflect while filling in my lineup card. With Willy Taveras out of the leadoff slot, the Rockies' offense takes on a whole different character. Rather than looking up and down and trying to find specific functions for batters, it just looks... good. Spilborghs, Holliday, Hawpe in the outfield, those guys can all hit. Tulowitzki, Matsui, Helton, good hitting guys. Take your pick at third, Atkins or Stewart (or hell, Jeff Baker) -- those guys are hitters. Good hitters. Yorvit Torrealba is pretty much the only guy to whom you'd have to give the benefit of the doubt. I don't know what your OPS has to be to make you a plus catcher these days, but Torrealba's probably a little below the line. You have to watch him every day to really appreciate him as a hitter, though. I'm an averred agnostic when it comes to the whole old-school scout/new-school stat geek debate as to the existence of "clutch" performance. The mostly unmentioned implication that major league hitters don't try as hard as they can all the time seems weird to me. Why wouldn't they, other than established boo-hiss goldbricker types like J.D. Drew and Adrian Beltre? No way Yorvit Torrealba normally goes to the plate with a big wad of gum in his mouth and a Kelly Clarkson song in his head and then if and only if it's the late innings and the Rockies are behind does he spit out the gum and start forcing his brain to play "Enter Sandman." So, no, Yorvit's not clutch. He does however possess spectacular timing, which I assure you is different.
And now a random humidor thought. Or possibly not so random, given all the homers I saw the Rockies send to every imaginable corner of Coors last night. One of the many theories we used to hear as to why the Rockies couldn't win on the road was that the Arcade Mode conditions of games at Coors encouraged Colorado hitters to become ruinously pull-happy. Now the Rockies field a lineup full of all-field guys, notably Matt Holliday and Todd Helton, but with many of the younger pros obviously trying to go the other way in their image. And the home-road splits are a little less daunting than they used to be. Of course, I have another theory that it's not so much that Coors is coming back to the pack, it's just that most of the other ballparks are doing anything they can to increase offense. It always comes back around to the same familiar theme: No matter what the deal with the park is, the Rockies won't win big until they get some better pitchers.