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October 28, 2007
The Shortest Month
Thirty days hath September
Rocktober has 23.
The wild ride of the Colorado Rockies, who won 21 of 22 games to go from also-rans in their own division to the World Series, came to an effective end last night at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Faced once again with the prospect of throwing a pitcher with insufficient stuff to the pack of hungry wolves in the Sox lineup, the Rockies fell behind 6-0 in the third inning. Josh Fogg surrendered 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings, creating a deficit from which they could not recover. From my game notes, middle of the first inning:
Fogg survives first, but hard to win with this many deep counts. Not sure how he gets through four, much less five, pitching like this.
He didn't make it through three. The Red Sox, by my count, had just three swinging strikes against Fogg in 67 pitches, and when he needed a strikeout in the third, what he got was contact, hard contact by five Red Sox hitters that chased him from the game. The term "NL stuff" was never more in evidence than in last night's third inning, when Fogg was trying to work in the mid-80s with average breaking stuff against one of the best lineups in the AL, even spotting the Rockies one of their better hitters. Also from last night's notes:
Matsuzaka looks pretty bad at the plate.
That was after Matsuzaka's strikeout to end the second inning. In the third, however, batting with the bases loaded and two outs, he popped a single through the 5-6 hole to score two runs. It would be a stretch to say that the Red Sox didn't miss having a DH, but Matsuzaka's single, reminiscent of Mike Moore's double in the 1989 World Series, sure made it easier to take.
Down two games and six-love early, the Rockies could have folded their tent. To their credit-and the credit of the crowd, which remained into the game despite the deficit, the cold, and the seemingly interminable breaks-they were pumped for a comeback, and they got one. The Rockies got 4 1/3 shutout innings from three relievers, and for the first time all Series, their lineup got to the Red Sox bullpen, knocking around Javier Lopez, Mike Timlin, and Hideki Okajima for six hits, including a three-run homer by Matt Holliday in the seventh that closed the gap to 6-5. When Todd Helton singled, it was the 1996 World Series, with Jim Leyritz in the spotlight, that came to mind. Okajima, however, found his good stuff and escaped the seventh without further damage.
The eighth inning-and in fact, much of the game-saw the kinds of balls fall in for the Red Sox that had been falling in for the Rockies all month. Coco Crisp squibbed a single that barely got to the outfield. Jacoby Ellsbury-who might go from Double-A to a World Series MVP award in three months-blooped a ball down the right-field line that was a dead ringer for Seth Smith's hit in Game Four of the NLCS. It landed just outside the reach of Brad Hawpe, the Sox had a run, and for real this time, the game was over.
The two hits in that inning, as well as a near-homer by Ryan Spilborghs and a liner by Jeff Baker that Julio Lugo just barely snared, each aborting the sixth-inning comeback attempt, were a bit of a karmic reversal for the Rockies, who had always seemed to catch those breaks before Wednesday. Think back to Smith's double, or a Yorvit Torrealba single that hits the right-field line, or a ball just over the head of Brady Clark in the one-game playoff. The Rockies had played good baseball and had caught their share of breaks. In this World Series, neither is happening.
So now it's just a matter of time. Will it be tonight, when Jon Lester takes the hill, with the Sox looking for a second sweep in four years? Will it wait until tomorrow, with Josh Beckett, postseason hero, on the mound? No one, and I mean no one, now expects to go back to Boston, and we could see a mad scramble to cancel hotel rooms and change flights in about 12 hours.
Here's the thing to remember, though; no matter how it ends, or when it ends, this Rockies run has been the story of the year in baseball. Even if it doesn't end with a dogpile on the mound, the way this team played for a month, coming from nowhere to within four games of a championship, is something we'll remember and recount for a very long time. Step back from the how and why for a moment, and just reflect on this: 14-1, 7-0. They're getting beat by a better team, and there's no shame in that.
I was impressed enough by the Rockies' fans last night to be sympathetic to the idea that they deserve to see a World Series win, even just a game. I did say that I expected them to get one in this series, most likely by picking up a lot of hits on balls in play. Jon Lester is a pretty good matchup for them, and having Aaron Cook on the mound approximates Jake Westbrook, who was reasonably effective in the ALCS against the Red Sox. We won't see any miracles in this World Series, and I doubt we'll see Fenway Park again, but I do think we'll get one more game Monday night.