A Team of Destiny
Tuesday, October 16, 2007; 3:30 AM
DENVER, Oct. 15 -- It is a charmed life lived by these Colorado Rockies, one in which bloopers are base hits, one in which each day brings champagne and strawberries. Anyone with doubts should have checked in on the National League Championship Series, an event the Rockies turned into a forum for their good fortune -- and their even better play.
The sum total of those events was evident in the throbbing mass Monday night in the middle of Coors Field. There, the Rockies celebrated a first for Colorado, a thorough four-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, punctuated by a 6-4 victory in Game 4. With that, the Rockies -- a 15-year-old franchise that had never won a postseason series -- advanced to the World Series as National League champions on a run that is equal parts magic and absurdity.
"We're not done yet," rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said on the field shortly afterward before a standing sellout crowd of 50,213. "This run's been amazing. I can't explain how it's happened."
It's worth a shot, though. The keys to Monday's victory were a flair of a double by rookie pinch hitter Seth Smith, an error by Arizona first baseman Conor Jackson and a three-run home run from left fielder Matt Holliday. Those events all came in the fourth inning, the only frame in which the Rockies scored, the best example of why all of Colorado feels destiny might be involved.
Start with the fact that the Rockies have now won all seven of their postseason games, sweeps of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Diamondbacks. But go back further, too. Exactly a month ago Monday, they lost a game to the Florida Marlins. They were officially an afterthought in the playoff chase, in fourth place in the NL West. The next day, they thumped the Marlins, 13-0. In the ensuing month, they have lost just once in a string of 21 wins in 22 games.
"Unprecedented," conceded Arizona Manager Bob Melvin. "An unbelievable run, one of historic proportions. What can you do but tip your cap to them?"
So the expectation at sold-out Coors was, of course, to win again Monday. The Rockies, after all, never lose, and their postseason run -- whether the rest of the country has noticed or not -- is becoming the stuff of legend. None of the juggernauts of recent generations -- not the Oakland Athletics of the late 1980s or the New York Yankees of the late 1990s -- have run off seven straight wins to start the postseason. Only the Cincinnati Reds of 1976 -- the "Big Red Machine" of Pete Rose and Joe Morgan - have accomplished such a feat. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last NL team to win at least 21 of 22 games was the 1936 New York Giants.
"You can't explain it," veteran first baseman Todd Helton said. "You just can't believe what we just pulled off."
To continue the streak, they sent to the mound a 21-year-old lefty from Venezuela who wasn't in the majors when August began. Franklin Morales made his 10th big league start Monday, and he was coming off a shaky three-inning performance in the division series win over Philadelphia. Yet with the way this month has played out, why would Denver doubt him?
Even when Morales allowed the first run of the game -- Jackson's two-out single in the third scored Micah Owings -- Coors was calm. All that awaited was for Manager Clint Hurdle to pull the right lever, as he has done all postseason.
So, at precisely the right moment, Hurdle pulled it. Trailing 1-0 with two on and one out in the fourth, Yorvit Torrealba -- the Game 3 hero by virtue of his tie-breaking three-run homer -- hit a squibber to the right of the mound.
Owings dove to make the stop, knocking the wind from his body. The runners advanced, but Torrealba was retired. Owings needed one more out.
But with Morales due up, Hurdle made his move. He sent up Smith -- who had appeared in all of seven regular-season games -- with two on and two out.
Any doubt that these Rockies are blessed was erased right there. Smith blooped Owings's 1-2 pitch over third base into short left field. Five feet in any direction and the ball is likely caught. But in the Rockies' world, that's a two-run, go-ahead double.
"He's our lucky charm," said third baseman Garrett Atkins.
Suddenly trailing 2-1, Owings got Willy Taveras to ground one to first. The inning should have been over, but it wasn't. Jackson bobbled the ball, Taveras was safe, the inning lived on, and the Diamondbacks seemed snake bit.
"We didn't really have a lot of things fall our way this series," Owings said. "I've never seen anything like it."
What followed was predictable. Kazuo Matsui ripped an RBI single to make it 3-1, and Owings followed with a 1-0 slider in the middle of the plate to Holliday.
"You just can't do that to the best hitter in the National League," right fielder Brad Hawpe said. "And fortunately for us, we've got the best hitter in the National League on our team."
So with chants of "MVP! MVP!" filling the park, Holliday rounded the bases, his homer long since disappeared in center, putting the Rockies up 6-1. Two drips of rain -- Smith's double and Jackson's error -- had preceded the thunder, and the rest of the night seemed like a formality.
That is, until the eighth, when set-up man Brian Fuentes allowed a two-out, three-run homer to Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, a shot that made it 6-4. But with two outs in the ninth, closer Manny Corpas faced Arizona left fielder Eric Byrnes, who represented the tying run.
Byrnes -- who pointed out prior to Game 3 that the Diamondbacks and Rockies had basically been even for the first two games -- was booed lustily each at-bat. His final act of the 2007 season was to hit a ball in the hole at shortstop, one fielded by Tulowitzki, one relayed to Helton, one that set off a massive celebration.
Byrnes was left face down in the dirt. The Rockies celebrated around him. Perhaps they didn't dominate as much as delegate a different aspect of winning to each man on the roster, but as Holliday said, "We'll take it."
With that, he clutched his trophy for winning series MVP and smiled the smile of a man who no longer believes losing is possible.