(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 Rockies' useless P.A. guy, who didn't even remember to announce Trevor Hoffman coming into the game. He sure ought to have given Hoffman a shot for some polite future-Hall-of-Famer respect applause -- between his choke in Milwaukee and this game tonight, the Rockies should vote Mr. Hell's Bells a playoff share.
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 Rockies' list of pitchers goes all the way down into the margin and then over into a second row and the Padres' doesn't. Let's make no mistake: Clint Hurdle was outmanaged in this game. He was outwitted, outfoxed, out-thought, and pretty much all the other kinds of outing you can do. He pinch-ran Jamey Carroll for Garrett Atkins way too early and missed Atkins for numerous RBI opportunities. He let Josh Fogg stay in for another run after Adrian Gonzalez's four-run home run, then let Fogg hit in the bottom of the fourth when he ended up having to take him out after one batter in the fifth anyway. Then he burned up a whole string of relievers fully capable of pitching multiple innings -- Buchholz, Affeldt, Speier all could have bridged the gap from Fogg to the late-inning guys quite nicely beginning in the dispiriting third rather than the fifth. It's amazing that Hurdle made all the wrong moves (save pinch-hitting Seth Smith over several more experienced available candidates in the sixth; Smith tripled) and the Rockies survived despite him. But a lot of things about this game were amazing.
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 San Diego having used two pitchers to cover nine innings and the Rockies seven.
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 Rockies tightened up like you wouldn't believe beginning with the Holliday gaffe in the eighth. Everyone from Brad Hawpe to Kaz Matsui was swinging for the fences for the bottom of the eighth, the ninth, and on into extra innings. Hoffman looked tired (on the radio, they wondered if getting him up and sitting him back down so many times might have worn him out) and the Rockies suddenly were playing once again as if they were relaxed, playing with house money, letting the game come to them and so forth. For a team still down two runs in what could have been the last game of the season, the crowd at Coors Field was loose and festive after Matsui's double to lead off the bottom of the thirteenth. Having seen Heath Bell and Joe Thatcher do it, we knew what to expect from a dominant reliever: first-pitch strikes, everything on the edge, and if you manage to get your bat on the slider, good luck if it doesn't just splinter while the ball rolls harmlessly back to the mound. Hoffman looked like the opposite of that: Everything middle-in or else nowhere near the strike zone, no deception whatsoever. No one was fooled, least of Holliday, who must have been standing in the on-deck circle relieved to death after Troy Tulowitzki's laser double that his outfield brain fart wasn't going to be the final word on his season.
So how about those Rockies fans? They might be either brand new or very long dormant, but they knew how to behave when they did come. There wasn't any ambiguity about which team the crowd was there to see. I was a little disappointed by the number of people who showed up late -- Coors didn't really fill in until the fourth or so -- but I was ecstatic about the number that stayed until the end. Hardly anyone went home early, and those who did took serious abuse from their neighbors in the section.
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 Colorado must have a lot of pent-up aggression to work out. In any event Gonzalez's granny landed slightly in front of Team Altitude and despite the vigorous ministrations of a warmed-up crowd of shouters the fellow who caught it could not be convinced to throw it back. Don't know what I would have done, but I've always felt like that was kind of a Wrigley Field thing. But hey, Rockies fans: Remember, there could be kids sitting in your section who are going to a game for the first time. Be loud, be supportive, but be civil, and obscenities and vileness towards women are right out.
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 Rockies had the same number of wins they had last season: 76. They didn't have much work to do to make an improvement, but how much of an improvement they would make no one would have imagined: they won 14 of those games, and they finished with an incredible 90 wins, a number that shimmers with playoff legitimacy.
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 Rockies to play a game of special significance, one that required the largely ceremonial and honestly kind of silly bonus pair of umps. Once I saw those guys out there (and where were they on the blown Atkins homer call, fat lot of good they did) I felt like even if the Rockies lost I would be disappointed but satisfied in the season as a whole.