By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2007
DENVER, Oct. 14 -- When Yorvit Torrealba came to the plate in the sixth inning Sunday night -- two on, two out, tie game -- his buddy stared in at him from the mound. Livan Hernandez pitches for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Torrealba catches for the Colorado Rockies, but they go back more than a bit. "One of my best friends in the game," Hernandez said.
Friends like that know each other's tendencies. Five years ago, they were teammates on the San Francisco Giants, fighting together to get to the World Series. On Sunday night, they were adversaries, again fighting for the same goal, with only one afforded the privilege. With a full count, Hernandez sent a fastball inside.
"It was the one pitch," Hernandez said, "I didn't want to throw."
It is the one pitch he now can't get back. Torrealba turned it into a three-run homer that gave the Rockies yet another victory, this one 4-1 over Hernandez and the Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. In the moment, the friends' emotions were starkly opposite -- the exuberant Torrealba sailing around the bases, his fist thrust in the air, Hernandez skulking off the mound, a relentless drizzle pouring down on him.
"It was kind of crazy," Torrealba said.
The big picture, as it pertains to this postseason, is that the Rockies are on the cusp of advancing to the World Series for the first time in their 15-year history. They lead the series three games to none, and could advance as soon as Monday night, when they host Game 4, looking for what would be their seventh straight win in the postseason.
"We just keep on going," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said.
Indeed, this entire Colorado run is difficult to comprehend. The Rockies have won 20 of their last 21 games dating from Sept. 15, a point at which they were an afterthought in the postseason picture. The buzz, back then, was about San Diego and Philadelphia, the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, all teams who now sit at home. The Rockies simply play on.
The Diamondbacks, who edged the Rockies in the NL West race, are left to hope they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the only team to come back from such a deficit in any postseason series.
"It's not over," Hernandez said.
But as he said it, standing in front of his locker in jeans and a black T-shirt, he was unconvincing. The Diamondbacks, who won a division title despite having the lowest batting average in the NL, have managed just four runs in this series. On Sunday night, they succumbed to Josh Fogg -- the very embodiment of a .500 pitcher, 60-60 lifetime and making his first postseason start -- by getting Mark Reynolds's solo homer and nothing else. They went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, and are now 2 for 17 in the series in such situations.
"It doesn't feel like our guys are going up there and pressing," Arizona Manager Bob Melvin said. "We've gone through stretches this year where we have not swung the bat very well. The amount of runs we've put up in three games aren't going to win you many games."
For a time, though, Hernandez -- he of the postseason pedigree, a 7-2 record and 3.75 ERA -- pitched well enough to give the Diamondbacks a chance. He was his typical self, slopping curveballs up to the plate that were too slow to even register on the radar gun in right field. Both he and Fogg worked out of trouble in the early innings, Fogg with three double-play balls, Hernandez with an uncharacteristic strikeout of the Rockies' Matt Holliday, an MVP candidate, to end the third.
So into the sixth, the only scratches were Holliday's solo homer in the first and Reynolds's answer in the fourth. And even when Hernandez began the sixth by walking Todd Helton, even when he allowed Brad Hawpe a one-out single, there was little fear for Arizona. He put Tulowitzki away with a strikeout, and up came Torrealba.
The two had exchanged pleasantries during each of Hernandez's at-bats. They were teammates on the Giants back in 2001-02, and they talk frequently. Torrealba, though, dismissed the idea that his experience catching Hernandez helped him Sunday night.
"I mean, he used to throw a little bit harder," Torrealba said.
Hernandez went into the at-bat with one idea: no inside fastballs. Torrealba took two strikes to fall behind 1-2, but then laid off Hernandez's pitch -- a high fastball, one Torrealba likely wouldn't have driven. When it got to 3-2, Hernandez came with a curveball, and Torrealba fouled it off.
"It's a situation where I throw everything," Hernandez said.
The two men then began a dance. "He stepped out and Livan stepped off," Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes said. "They're playing the cat-and-mouse game."
Then Hernandez threw the pitch he shouldn't have thrown.
"All year long, he hasn't thrown me any fastball inside," Torrealba said.
But here it came, at a juicy 82 mph, and Torrealba didn't miss it. When it sailed out to left, all that remained was for the Rockies' stalwart bullpen -- Jeremy Affeldt to Fuentes to closer Manny Corpas -- to clean up, and the Coors crowd of 50,137 could celebrate. Torrealba was added to a list of Rockies heroes this postseason, one that includes the familiar (Holliday, Helton) and the obscure (Jeff Baker, Jamey Carroll).
In the quiet of the Diamondbacks' clubhouse, Hernandez, a hero of postseasons past, conceded he had granted that role to his friend. With that, he managed a smile.
"The way he plays the baseball is the way you're supposed to play the baseball in the playoffs," Hernandez said. "He's a very excited guy. He's a clutch guy."