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."
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.