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October 16, 2007
Being Best at the End Beats the Alternative
The numbers keep piling up, day after day, getting more absurd with each passing win…11-0…14-1…21-1…and then something that isn't a number at all, but a sentence out of a dream, or a well-crafted novel, or just the unpredictability of our favorite game.
The Colorado Rockies are going to the World Series.
There's not much precedent for this kind of run in the modern era. The 2005 White Sox went 5-0 in the last days of the regular season to hold off the Indians, then tore through the postseason by going 10-1 in 11 games, but those numbers pale in comparison. They also played some brutal baseball just before that stretch, and the Sox were never not in control of their own destiny. The Rockies had to win three straight elimination games just to reach October, and as recently as September 14 were an afterthought in both the NL West and Wild Card races.
The Rockies are the first team in the three-round era to sweep both the Division Series and the LCS. They are the first team to ever be 7-0 in an MLB postseason. They've trailed for four innings in the entire postseason. They…you know, this just gets ridiculous after a while. The Rockies may not be the best team in baseball, but like the Cardinals in 2006 or the Marlins in 2003 or the Yankees in 2000, they're playing the best right now, and that's what matters right now.
Win #21 came about so quickly we had little chance to be ready for it. The Diamondbacks were nursing a rare lead, up 1-0 on the strength of an even more rare two-out RBI single, this one by Conor Jackson. Micah Owings was pitching well-no surprise there-and the hint of a Game Five was in the air. The Rockies put a couple of runners on in the fourth on Owings walks, but with two outs and two on, there was no sense of imminent danger.
Ten minutes later, the series was essentially over.
Seth Smith, whose triple had helped the Rockies take a lead in the one-game playoff against the Padres two weeks ago, pinch-hit for Franklyn Morales. It was an aggressive move by Hurdle, trying to leverage the situation into a lead. Owings quickly got ahead of Smith 0-2-worth noting because Owings had just had the wind knocked out of him diving for a dribbler, but didn't seem to be affected by it against Smith-and then threw a good breaking ball down and in that Smith took. On the 1-2 pitch, a fastball up and in, Smith swung and fisted a ball down the left field line, a ball that was hit neither hard nor well, but perfectly nonetheless. The ball landed fair by a foot, scoring two runs and giving the Rockies the lead.
The single by Smith didn't kill the Diamondbacks. What followed did. Willy Taveras grounded a 3-2 pitch right to Jackson at first base. Jackson may have been overly conscious of Taveras' speed, and he appeared to rush his catch; the ball bounced off the heel of his glove and to his right, allowing Taveras to reach safely. It was a critical error; if Jackson makes that play, the entire game feels different.
Kaz Matsui lined an 0-1 pitch to center for a single, scoring Smith to make it 3-1. There may have been an argument for lifting Owings at this point, although I can't come down too hard on Bob Melvin for leaving his pitcher in. Owings simply hadn't been hit all that hard.
Then he was. On a 1-1 pitch to Matt Holliday, Owings hung a breaking ball, and Holliday destroyed it, blasting a three-run homer to center that nearly brought down Coors Field. From two outs, two on, and a guy with 12 career plate appearances, all in the last five weeks, at the plate, to a 6-1 lead, just like that.
You would think a five-run deficit in Coors Field would be surmountable, but the Diamondbacks had scored just five runs in the entire series to that point. It felt like it was over, and while a Chris Snyder home run in the eighth made it closer, there was never any sense that these two teams would be playing again on Wednesday night.
The Rockies outpitched, outhit, and outfielded the Diamondbacks, the same way they outhit, outpitched, and outfielded the Phillies. You can point to a decision here, a ball landing on the chalk there, an umpire's call that might have made a small difference, but those are all on the margins. The Rockies were the best team in the National League playoffs, and they'll get their chance to be the World Champions next week.
Who will they play? Last night, the Indians did something no team had done yet this postseason: take the lead in the series after trailing it. Jake Westbrook succeeded where Fausto Carmona hadn't, getting the Red Sox to swing the bats and pound the ball into the ground. He induced three groundball double plays in his 6 2/3 innings, and backed by a Kenny Lofton homer and a couple of tack-on runs in the fifth, pitched well enough to hand the ball to the bullpen with a lead. That's all Eric Wedge wants from his starters.
That's what he'll be looking for tonight as well, as Paul Byrd looks to do exactly what he did against the Yankees: throw strikes. With Rafael Betancourt throwing just 13 pitches last night and Rafael Perez going unused, you can expect Wedge to be aggressive in the middle innings if the situation warrants it. An off-day Wednesday gives both Wedge and Terry Francona license to burn through their pens tonight. I expect we'll see at least nine pitchers used in a long night of baseball.