October 24, 2007
The NL Champions
When the Boston Red Sox started arriving at Fenway Park, a group of fans stood outside the players' parking lot and cheered each time someone else pulled in. This, mind you, was on Tuesday morning before a light workout with Game One of the World Series against the Colorado Rockies, set for Wednesday night, still 34 hours away.
That is the life of a Red Sox player in Boston after the team won its second pennant in four years by beating the Cleveland Indians Sunday night. From David Ortiz down to Doug Mirabelli, they are treated like conquering heroes and fawned over like rock stars in this city. But when the Rockies filed into Fenway later in the day to work out in advance of the franchise's first-ever World Series game, they went unnoticed. Even the 100 or so media members who shoehorned into the tiny visitor's clubhouse before the workout had a hard time identifying many of the Rockies players out of uniform.
The Rockies have won 21 of 22 games since September 16th, and will go down as one of the great stories in baseball history if they can cap their torrid finish by beating the Red Sox. However, it seems nobody who lives at an elevation below 5,000 feet realizes the Rockies are even in this World Series. "There were some autograph-seekers when we got to the hotel here, but we definitely didn't get the rock-star treatment," Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday said with a grin. "People don't know us, but that's OK. I don't really care if people recognize me and I don't think anyone else in this clubhouse cares, either. We just want to keep winning. That's what we care about."
The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report likes the Rockies to upend the Red Sox. However, the Red Sox are heavy 2-1 favorites at most sports books in Las Vegas. Yet, the Rockies genuinely don't seem to be bothered that only their wives, their immediate family, and the Playoff Odds Report give them a fighting chance to win. The Rockies understand their place in this World Series and, quite refreshingly, aren't going into an us-against-the-world mode because of it.
"Who would you make the favorite?" first baseman and resident Face of the Franchise Todd Helton asked. "The Red Sox should be the favorite. They have a great team and they beat a heckuva team in the Indians to get here. You have to be realistic. We have a good team but the Red Sox have more talent. That doesn't mean we're not going to try to win or that we won't win. The fact is, though, we should be the underdog."
Not only are the Rockies underdogs, they may be one of the lowest-profile teams to ever play in a World Series. While the Rockies have blitzed through the postseason by going 7-0, their games in both the NLDS and NLCS were televised on cable by TBS, a newcomer to postseason baseball, and most started late at night on the East Coast. "We're the new kids on the block, and the Red Sox have a lot of history on their side," Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe said. "They have some of the biggest names in baseball on their team. Most of the country doesn't know our guys beyond Todd (Helton) and maybe Matt (Holliday). That's OK, though, because we look at it as a great opportunity for us to show everyone what we can do."
The Rockies are a team without star power, as the statistics show. Only two of their hitters ranked in the top 25 in VORP in the NL during the regular season, as Holliday finished fourth at 75.0 and Helton was 14th at 51.9. Left-hander Jeff Francis, who will toe the mound in Game One against ALCS MVP Josh Beckett, was 16th in the NL with a 5.4 SNLVAR, the only Rockies starter to crack the top 40. Closer Manny Corpas was the lone reliever in the top 30 in WXRL, with the rookie's 4.158 mark ranking sixth. "I think people are going to be surprised, though, when they see some of our guys," Rockies pitcher Josh Fogg said. "We have a lot of guys who know how to play the game but just don't have much of a national profile yet."
The Rockies, of course, are making themselves harder to ignore. They enter the World Series on an incredible roll as one of only five major league teams since 1937 to post 21 victories in the span of 22 games. They won 14 of their last 15 regular season games, including rallying past San Diego in the bottom of the 12th inning in the playoff for the Wild Card berth. They have followed that with the unbeaten October to run their overall winning streak to 10 games. Only three other teams have entered the World Series on longer streaks: the 1960 New York Yankees won 15 in a row, while Baltimore won 14 consecutive games in both 1970 and 1971. Out of those three, only the 1970 Orioles wound up winning the World Series, beating Cincinnati in five games. Pittsburgh knocked off both the '60 Yankees and the '71 Orioles in series that went the full seven games.
Other than the fact that the Red Sox won 96 games in the regular season while the Rockies won 90, another reason that a few think Colorado can win the World Series is because they will have had eight days off between finishing their NLCS sweep of the Diamondbacks and Game One against Boston. No team has ever had that long of a layoff before the World Series, and the Rockies are naturally curious how it will affect them. "I don't think any of us will really know if there's rust or not until we take our first at-bats," Helton said. "There is no way of knowing for sure because there is no history to base it on. We'll find out."
"It's not going to matter one bit," Sox starter Beckett said of the long layoff. "When you get to October and the postseason, everyone is locked in. You don't make it this far unless you're on top of your game. I'd be highly surprised if the Rockies didn't come out and have good at-bats against me. You don't win as many games in a row as they have if you're not playing well."
There was a time, though, when the Rockies weren't playing well. They started the season 18-27 and were 6 ½ games out of a playoff berth with 15 days left in the regular season, which is when they started their remarkable 21-1 blitz. "It really has been an amazing run, and I don't think anyone could have predicted it," Fogg said. "We knew with two weeks left in the season that we pretty much had to win all of our games if we were going to the playoffs. When you look at it like that, though, it's really not very realistic. So, we really had to take it one game at a time and just concentrate on that night's game. I know that's a cliché and people kind of roll their eyes when you say you've got to take it one game at a time, but it's worked for us, and it's gotten us all the way to the World Series. Now that we're here, anything can happen. We're living proof of that over the last month."