In light of the darker tidings of late from the Rockies, I thought that I'd share my Rocktober story. This is only part one...as I remember a lot from that magical month. More will hopefully follow.
First of all, this is me. I'm a junior at Colorado State, and have lived in Colorado most of my life. I went to the third ever Rockies home game at Mile High Stadium as an impressionable five year old in 1993 and have been absolutely hooked on the Rockies ever since. The Rockies are my favorite team irrespective of sport (heresy in Broncos Country, I know). Some of my favorite memories have either occurred at the ballpark or watching a game. Hell, I read up to an hour a day of baseball content during the season and manage multiple fantasy teams on top of that. I'm a true baseball nerd. However, the constant losing by the Rockies was beginning to wear on even me.
Even as someone living in Colorado, I had felt in the past couple of years like an outsider by rooting for the Rockies and wearing Rockies gear to school, etc. Hell, when I joined the Facebook group Colorado Rockies Fans (of which I am now an admin--join now if you haven't already) in June 2006, it had about 300 members, tops. This was about 27th out of 30 teams.
I was openly laughed at by some of my classmates for wearing Rockies gear several days of the week, every week--therefore, their success was all the more sweet.
Like most of you guys, I was excited about the Rockies' chances throughout the 2007 season, but I was realistic. After all, they were the Rockies, right? In any case, I knew they had a small chance of making the playoffs, but in reality there was no way they would do it, especially after dropping two games to the Fish at home.
In any case, it seemed like a great time to go to a game, so me and my dad went to the nightcap of the doubleheader against the Dodgers on Monday the 18th after I finished classes. We sat about ten rows back from the field down the left field line, in a half empty stadium that included many Dodgers fans. It was the best game that I have ever had the pleasure of attending. I caught a foul ball for the first time ever (off Joe Koshansky's bat), and was electrified by Helton's walk-off homer. From my seat, I had the perfect view of Helton's giddy turn around third base and his helmet flip as he headed toward the mob scene at home plate.
Though I didn't attend another game that year, I tried my damndest not to miss a single moment of what I just knew was a special time. From my dorm room (at CSU) I watched the Rockies win. And win. And win some more...each win seemingly more predestined than the one preceding it. Brad Hawpe hitting a solo shot off Joe Thatcher, a lefty killer, in the 14th inning? Milton Bradley being taken out by a combination of an abrasive umpire and his own manager? Mike Cameron lost when his hand was stepped on by his teammate? The Dodgers self-destructing? Seth Smith--seriously, who saw that one coming? Josh Fogg becoming the Dragon Slayer? Everything Clint Hurdle doing turning into gold? Why not? All signs pointed towards it being the Rockies year.
Then, with a strikeout by Kaz Matsui, they lost to the D-Backs--in my mind, eliminating the Rockies from the playoff picture. I mean, the Padres had to lose both games against a Milwaukee club that had nothing to play for and we had to take two from Arizona...all while the Mets continued their bizarre tailspin into oblivion. Resigned to this fate, I tuned into Fox just in time for the bottom of the ninth inning of the game between the Brewers and Padres...and watched Trevor Hoffman one strike away from ending it all, against the most unlikely of batters, Tony Gwynn Jr. I erupted as little Gwynn delivered the game-tying triple. From that point, I knew the Brewers were winning the next two games. One didn't come that close to the playoffs and fail as the Padres had--I didn't think they could regroup for the next day...especially with Peavy being held in reserve for the potential tiebreaker game. And I was right--Padre pitching let them down on the season's final Sunday, leaving it all up to Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies to place themselves in the position to make the playoffs.
From my house, I watched Ubaldo weave an absolute gem--despite little run support--hanging on every pitch, every batted ball. I held my breath as Corpas got into trouble in the ninth, but recorded the final out on a play that could have easily been an error. Helton raised his arms in triumph (a pose captured nicely by his bobblehead, BTW--yes, I have the whole collection) and game 163 was hastily thrown together.
Just as hastily, I tried in vain to grab tickets for the game, but settled for a viewing party with some of my high school friends, who live in Boulder. This was about the only reason that I would ever go to Boulder. Of course, I had a test in my class that day and got out at 5:00. I hustled home and booked it to Boulder...missing the first inning and a half of the game, which started at 5:37 for some stupid TBS reason. I had an intramural softball game that night at 10:15, and figured that I would be back to Fort Collins in plenty of time for that considering the game's early start. Needless to say, our team forfeited that game.
In any case, I arrived just in time for Torrealba's homerun to make it 3-0 Rox. The mood was jubilant in my friend's apartment. Little did I know that the fireworks were just beginning.
After Gonzales' grand slam in the third had thoroughly deflated the room's mood and had given the Padres a 5-3 lead, Helton's first pitch jack in the bottom half lifted it again. It was 5-4 Padres, but the Rockies were getting to Peavy--that much was clear. It was at this point that I began to nervously consume the snacks my friend had provided for the party (and I was still gnawing nervously on pretzels in the bottom of the 13th).
After an equalizing Holliday RBI single in the fifth, Seth Smith becomes Seth Smith the badass in the sixth, launching a deep fly ball as a pinch hitter that was badly misplayed into a triple by Brady Clark, Mike Cameron's replacement (one of the freakily injured Padres outfielders). Of course, Cameron would have snagged the ball, and he might have also thrown out Smith trying to tag up on Matsui's sac fly. As it was, Clark's throw was badly off line and Smith's run had the Rockies in the lead again.
It was at exactly the point where my friend starting looking at buying playoff tickets online when Atkins' "double" happened in the bottom of the seventh. While it was obvious to pretty much everyone that the Rockies had gotten jobbed of a valuable insurance run, instant replay was 10 months away from implementation. At this point, my friend started yelling at the old lady sitting by where the ball had landed, telling her that she should have caught the ball...or at least done something of use. I'm not bitter though...if that homerun stands, then we don't have the Slide. In any case, once Hawpe is IBBed, Peavy is out, and Spilly and Torrealba fail to put the ball in play.
In any case, Holliday pulls a Brady Clark and misplays a Brian Giles fly ball into a double in the eighth and we're tied at 6. At this point, I get a sinking feeling that, despite the remarkable confluence of events that had led to this very moment, the Rockies were going to lose this game. This sinking feeling only strengthened as the Rockies produced exactly nothing on offense for the next five innings, making the Padres' relievers look like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson at the same time. Meanwhile, the Rockies relievers looked as if they were barely surviving. Several people left the party because they couldn't even bear to watch the futility being displayed by the Rockies. They could feel it too.
Then Hurdle brought in Jorge Julio, much to the dismay of everyone at the party, and from the noise, at Coors Field too. As my friend likes constantly to point out, Torrealba is terrible at calling games when a pitcher doesn't have pinpoint control. While Julio can be a great weapon when he was on, he hadn't been on for quite some time--and couldn't locate any of his pitches properly. As a result, Torrealba called ineffective fastball after ineffective fastball. After a walk to Giles, the dagger went right through my heart with the homer by Scott Hairston. Poor Jorge was showered with abuse as it seemed the Rockies' season had just gone down the tubes. He gave up the single to Headley, and with that, the rout seemed to be on. But in came Ramon Ortiz (Ramon Ortiz!), the very definition of a scrap heap pitcher. And wonder of all wonders, there was no further damage by the Padres. This was of no consolation to me, of course. The Rockies had blown their only chance--after all, they had looked pathetic batting in the last few innings, and they had to score at least two times just to keep their season alive, against Trevor Hoffman.
Of course, the Rockies had had their moments against Hoffman, particularly in the 2005 opener with Barmes' walkoff, but I thought they were dead in this situation. I was only watching due to morbid fascination with the end of such a roller coaster of a season.
I'd like to think that with my reverse-psychology negative thoughts that I brought the Rockies into the postseason. I just knew that Matsui would strike out...and then he legged out a double. And then Tulo hit a drive down the right field line...just foul. I once again felt the air go out of the very tense room. Then Tulo straightened out his drive and brought in Matsui, with should-be MVP Holliday coming up. Matt sure sucked most of the drama out of the situation with a first pitch triple, tying the game.
The apartment was going crazy--I embraced several complete strangers, and was embraced back. Helton was IBBed, and then defensive replacement Jamey Carroll lined a shot to right. At first, I thought it was a hit...but Giles had been playing in. I held my breath--it was really pretty shallow, would Gallego send Holliday? That was all the time I had to think, before I saw Giles uncork his throw, Holliday barreling toward home (no base coach was going to stop Matt in this moment), and Barrett blocking the plate. The Slide...and the safe signal by Tim McClelland. Bedlam. Pandemonium. I was hoarse for three days afterwards. I could hardly sleep that night.
Did Holliday touch home plate? Does it matter? That was the best game I've ever watched in my life (any sport, including Boise State-Oklahoma), and the fact that my team won was an incredible added bonus. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I will never forget Rocktober (and especially that night) for as long as I live.
More to come, hopefully.