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October 21, 2007

Every Given Sunday

The Ridiculous Run

by John Perrotto

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Jeff Francis searched for the proper word to describe the Colorado Rockies' incredible streak that has carried them to their first-ever World Series appearance. Colorado has won 21 of its last 22 games. "Unbelievable? Unfathomable?" the Rockies left-hander asked. "Ridiculous is a word I've been throwing out there a lot lately. Yeah, ridiculous might sum it up."

On September 16th, the Rockies were 6 ˝ games out in the National League West race and 7 ˝ games behind in the NL wild-card chase before routing Florida 13-0. That win started a streak in which the Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular-season games--dropping only a 4-2 decision to Arizona on September 28th--that enabled them to force a one-game playoff for the wild card with San Diego.

The Rockies allowed the Padres to score two runs in the top of the 13th to take an 8-6 lead, then rallied with three in the bottom half of the inning off of all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman to make the playoffs for only the second time in their 15-year history and first time since 1995. The Rockies then swept Philadelphia in three games in the National League Division Series and took four in a row to sweep Arizona in the National League Championship Series. "Even when it looked like we were out of it, we never thought that way," Francis said. "We always believed we could still get to the playoffs. I don't know if anyone could have fathomed 21 wins in 22 games but we weren't going to give up until they told us we were eliminated."

There are concrete reasons why the Rockies have won 21 of 22, such as outscoring opponents 135-67 in that span. However, Francis believes intangibles have as much to do with the Rockies landing in the World Series, where they will face either the Boston Red Sox or Cleveland Indians, who meet tonight in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in Boston.

Of the 25 players on the Rockies' NLCS roster, 15 were originally signed by Colorado. Rockies manager Clint Hurdle has extolled the closeness of his team all season, and Francis agrees it has been a factor. "When you have a lot of guys who are as close as we are, you really don't want to let anyone down," Francis said. "I mean, you're always playing hard and trying to win but this team is really special. We've got a good group of guys. We rag on each other all the time and we have a lot of fun. I think that has been a factor for us. We're a pretty loose group and maybe that's helped us not feel the kind of pressure we should have been feeling for the last month."

While the Rockies may not be feeling pressure, the question is whether they will be feeling rusty by the time the World Series opens Wednesday night in either Boston or Cleveland. The Rockies will have had eight days off between Game 4 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the World Series. The previous longest layoff was six days by Detroit last year, and the Tigers were upset by St. Louis in the World Series. However, of the 10 teams who had five-day layoffs, seven won the World Series.

The Rockies gave thought to having a minicamp at their spring training facility in Tucson, Ariz., but instead have stayed in Denver to work out and will fly to either Boston or Cleveland on Monday. They played simulated games Friday and Saturday at Coors Field in order to try to stay sharp. Francis does not see the layoff as a negative, though. "Simulated game aren't the same from an adrenaline standpoint," admitted Francis, who pitched four innings Friday. "Still, it at least gets the blood flowing. It's a negative only if you allow it to be. We're actually looking at this as a positive. It's an awfully long season. We started spring training way back in the middle of February, so it's nice to get a little bit of a break. I think everyone can use it. I don't care how much adrenaline has been flowing during the playoffs, everyone is tired by this point in the season.

"Getting time off also allows us to handle a lot of the distractions that come along with being in the World Series, like finding time to get tickets for people, dealing with the media and stuff like that. I think it can work to our advantage because, hopefully, either the Red Sox or Indians will be tired out from a tough LCS."

---

Joe Torre turned himself into a Hall of Famer during his 12 seasons in the Bronx, but the New York Yankees are wasting no time in looking for a successor. The Yankees already have interviews lined up with three in-house candidates: hitting coach Don Mattingly, first base coach Tony Pena, and broadcaster Joe Girardi.

Mattingly is the only one of the three without managerial experience, but is considered the morning-line favorite to land the job. The former standout Yankees first baseman is a favorite of owner George Steinbrenner and was groomed by Torre to be his successor, shifting from hitting coach to bench coach prior to the 2006 season when Willie Randolph left to manage the New York Mets.

However, Pena and Girardi both have Manager of the Year awards on their résumés. Pena won his with Kansas City in 2004 and Girardi won his last year with Florida before being fired after a dispute with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. When he turned down Baltimore's offer to replace the fired Sam Perlozzo as manager in June, it was seen by some as a sign that Girardi was waiting on the Yankees' job.

Torre rejected the Yankees' offer of a one-year contract worth $5 million that included the possibility of making $3 million more in incentive bonuses, $1 million each for winning the American League Division Series, American League Championship Series, and World Series. Torre's contract for 2009 would have also become guaranteed if the Yankees made the World Series in '08.

Torre led the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five seasons from 1996-2000. However, the Yankees haven't won one since and haven't been to the World Series since losing to Florida in 2003. They have been eliminated in the ALDS three straight years, which prompted the Yankees to offer Torre a lower guaranteed salary after he made $7.5 million this year, more than double the next highest-paid manager, the Chicago Cubs' Lou Piniella at $3.5 million. "We just think it's important to motivate people," Yankees President Randy Levine told the Newark Star-Ledger in explaining the incentive-laden offer. "We thought that was a win-win for everybody."

Torre didn't think so, and thus walked away from the Yankees. This didn't bother the Steinbrenner family, which is angered by the World Series title drought.

"The objective of the Yankees since the '20s has been to win the championship every year," said Hank Steinbrenner, a Yankees' senior vice president and one of the owner's two sons. "None of us think we can win the championship every year, but that's the goal. Period. Nothing less than a championship is considered, really, acceptable."

---

General manager burnout claimed another victim this past week when the Los Angeles Angels' Bill Stoneman stepped down and became an adviser to owner Arte Moreno. Stoneman is the fourth GM in the last two months to move into another position within his organization. Atlanta's John Schuerholz and Florida's Larry Beinfest became club presidents, while Minnesota's Terry Ryan also became a senior advisor. Three other GMs have been fired since late August: Houston's Tim Pupura, Pittsburgh's Dave Littlefield, and St. Louis' Walt Jocketty.

The Angels decided to eschew bringing in a big name from outside and promote from within the organization. They replaced the 63-year-old Stoneman with 40-year-old Tony Reagins, who had been the player development director of the Angels. "When you take the job of general manager, it is a 24-hour-a-day job, seven days a week," Stoneman told the Orange County Register. "I really took an honest look at it and had to realize that I really don't have the same energy that I brought into the job. So it was really time, to my way of thinking and for the betterment of the Angels, to step aside and let someone who is a lot more energetic--yet who knows the Angels as well as I--to come in and take over and hopefully provide a seamless transition."

While the personable Reagins has spent 16 seasons in the organization--beginning as an intern in the marketing department--the Angels are seemingly taking a risk by hiring someone with no experience handling major-league contracts to run a large-market franchise. Moreno, though, believes it is important to promote from within.

"We wanted to move within the family and not be in a situation where we're bringing in someone from the outside and we're trying to reorganize," Moreno said. "I talked about this when we bought the team four years ago. I felt stability was really important to this organization, and that's one of the reasons we felt this was an important decision to make." Manager Mike Scioscia will now have a larger voice in player personnel decisions as a concession to Reagins' inexperience.

"All along we felt we had a horizontal organization where we all discussed everything," Moreno said. "Mike's been here eight years and we have him signed for three more years (through 2010). We just felt it was really important for us to give Mike more responsibility and also make sure we're delivering Mike what he needs."

---

While it came as a bit of a surprise that the Reds hired Dusty Baker as their manager this past week, it turns out Cincinnati General Manager Wayne Krivsky and owner Bob Castellini first made contact with the former San Francsico and Chicago Cubs manager right after firing Jerry Narron on July 1 and naming advance scout Pete Mackanin as interim manager.

Baker, serving as an analyst for ESPN, wasn't ready to return to managing at that time. However, things changed once the season ended. "They approached me very aggressively and that's how I like to do things," Baker told the Dayton Daily News. "You either like me or you don't. They showed me that they did."

Baker sought out the opinions of people with knowledge of Cincinnati before accepting the Reds' offer, including Hall of Famer Joe Morgan (who starred for the Reds in the 1970s), former Giants GM Al Rosen, and Former Golden State Warriors coach Al Attles. Baker also recalled conversations he had with the late Bill Walsh, who was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals before becoming a Hall of Fame coach with the San Francisco 49ers.

"I remember how much (Walsh) talked about Cincinnati, how much he loved it," Baker said. "I had a lot of people tell me things I already felt, but sometimes you need positive re-enforcement." With Baker and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati's two major sports franchises are now led by African-Americans.

"It says a lot for Cincinnati and a lot for this organization," Baker said. "The organization would not have made such a move had it feared the city or the area would not accept this change at this time. I remember some negative things that happened in Cincinnati in the past and I was here for a couple of them, but hopefully we've learned and can come together with things that have happened.

"Let's hope the time comes when you no longer look at me as an African American manager and just look at me as a man who is going to lead your team, regardless of the face that I have."

---

From the rumor mill: Contrary to some reports, Piniella has no plans to leave the Cubs and return to the Yankees … Tony La Russa has been mentioned as a possibility with the Yankees but all signs indicate he will return to St. Louis for a 13th season as the Cardinals' manager … Philadelphia will likely pursue Boston third baseman Mike Lowell as a free agent to fill a large void at that position, particularly if the Phillies are unable to re-sign center fielder Aaron Rowand as a free agent. While some rumors suggest Rowand wants a six-year, $84-million deal, he is said to be looking at something in the range of four years and $40 million … The Cubs are expected to make a run at Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda for a second consecutive winter. Kuroda considered signing with the Cubs last offseason but decided to remain in Japan because of personal reasons and signed a four-year, $10.4-million contract with the Hiroshima Carp that contains an out clause. Seattle will also make a run at Kuroda … The Chicago White Sox will consider dealing outfield prospects Ryan Sweeney and Brian Anderson, who no longer appear to have a future in the organization.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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