First things first: Wow, what an incredible season. From the word go way the hell back on April 6 (losing to the Dbacks in their home opener by a score of 9-8) to coming to the technical end today (losing to the Dodgers in their home closer by a score of 5-3) it's been a rollercoaster of epic proportions. Bookended between those two losses to NL West division opponents was down down down, up up up, down down, and up down up again. (One thing that didn't change was more losses to the Dodgers, but we'll magnanimously overlook that fact). If 2007 was our filing of intentions to be taken seriously as a contender forthwith, then 2008 was the embarrassing Polaroids that we should hide under the bed (ask Rox Girl about that) and 2009 represents the ship finally sailing. Or so we hope. The team matured, after the much-publicized and shockingly effective in-season managerial resetting, from a gawky collection of talented but underachieving individuals into a purple-and-black dynamo that's rumbling into the playoffs as the possessor of its second wild card berth in three seasons, with a chance to lay to rest the lingering sour taste from Rocktober Part Une.
Join me after the jump as we glory in the good moments, rejoice that the bad moments are over with, hide the evidence, fuel the RV, and prepare to wreak doom upon the unsuspecting peons of Philadelphia (who, no doubt, are planning the same for us. Look out beloooooowww!)
On April 11, coincidentally the first time the Rox played Philadelphia (second if you count that the first game of the series was the 10th) I was holed up in a B&B in western Scotland, paying far far too much for wireless internet in the boonies, and cheerily ignoring a five-hour time difference and staying up until 2 AM just to glimpse the first pitch on Gameday. My psychosis needs no further attesting (as you never know when it might crop up in blackmail) and what happened in the game was more important, as it contained some themes we might recognize. The Rockies hit three homers, including one by Tulo, but were unable to bail out Jorge de la Rosa, who coincidentally couldn't bail himself out either by allowing five two-out runs. (This, combined with his seven-run outing at Citizens Bandbox later in the season, explains why I am slightly leery of having him face the Phils, but hey, a mulligan's a mulligan. Injury gods, we require George back for our scheduled world domination. Thxbai). This sort of game was emblematic of April, as the Rockies lurched from looking competent to looking downright offensive. They struggled to establish any kind of consistency, as the dearly departed Clint Hurdle used a different lineup every game and was prone to pulling a starter too early or a reliever too late. Gloom and doom was endemic around here at the Row, as we'd all been led to expect a showing more akin to the second half of 2007 rather than the general cowflop that constituted 2008. After spending spring training talking up fundamentals, it looked instead as if the Rockies had put "mental" in, sure, but forgotten the "fun." (Not to mention "skill." Don't ask me where that fits, I know it's somewhere).
May wasn't much better. The Rockies lost consecutive series to the Giants, Marlins, Astros, and Pirates (ouch) before briefly putting on their big-boy panties to split a four-game set with the Braves (crucial, pending later-season developments) and winning two of three against the Tigers in Detroit. But as they had heretofore excelled in doing, they followed a spark of light with a resounding thud. They were swept at home by the thorn-in-the-foot Dodgers, getting outscored 31-13 in the three games. Hurdle, who by that point was starting to see the shadow of the axe, benched Tulo for grounding into a first-pitch double play in the first game. It was an embarrassing showing all around; the team went 6-31 with RISP, blew the third game by allowing a five-run seventh inning, and dropped, with a very loud clunk, to 18-28. Their low-water mark before the 2007 about-face was nine games south of .500. This was just a little bit worse. Gloom? That's an understatement. The general sentiment around here made Hamlet look like an optimist.
That sweep by the Dodgers, however, was the seed of something good. Something very good. Something that they never, ever, would consider as good: their ex-manager, Jim Tracy. Hurdle was relieved of his post on May 29, and that night, Jason Marquis threw eight shutout innings against the Padres, Yorvit Torrealba recorded an RBI, and the Rockies capitalized on Padres errors for two unearned, winning 3-0. The era of the "Interim Manager" was officially underway. It was expected to be a tourniquet on the wound, hope he could coax the outfit back to a slightly more shipshape look, and entice some enterprising baseball guru to take a flyer on a fixer-upper in the offseason. Talented but underachieving players, just two years removed from a World Series run that was looking flukier all the time, and Tracy had managed himself out of gigs in LA and Pittsburgh. It might well be his last shot at proving himself a legit big-league skipper. He needed just a little redemption. We needed just a few wins. That was all we were hoping for.
Boy, were we in for a surprise.
The Rockies won the series against San Diego. However, they then went to Houston and showed the ugly plastic-surgery scars, losing the first three. By the fourth game, they were just hoping to escape Texas with a modicum of respectability, which was more or less achieved when they walloped the Astros 10-3. Not what they were looking for. Not really up to par.
Someone, after months of fumbling around in the dark and cobwebbed storage closet, must have located and turned on the "on" switch.
The Rockies went to St. Louis. Innocent enough, right? Lots of people go to St. Louis and get out of there with nothing but a tacky snapshot at the top of the arch, but the Rockies were just on their way up. Out of nowhere, they came together with the force of a Category 5 hurricane. Ian Stewart turned into Godzilla. The team as a whole punished St. Louis in the way that they were used to happening to them. They swept the four-game set by a convincing margin: 11-4, 10-1, 7-2, and 5-2. That was startling and pleasant enough, but it didn't stop there. They went to Milwaukee and did the same thing to the Brewers, winning the kind of close games that had been biting them in the posterior: 3-2, 4-2, and 5-4. And they were really warming up to this hot streak thing: They came home and bulldozed the unsuspecting Mariners for three, stringing together a winning streak -- 11 games -- that put in its application to be seriously considered alongside the 2007 insanity. A day off might have dulled their momentum, as they dropped the opener to the Tampa Bay Rays 12-4, but rather than vanishing back into their rut of incompetence, they dusted themselves off and took the next two. They swept the Pirates. They lost a series to the Dodgers. (Naturally). They went out West and broomed the A's and old friend Matt Holliday.
This "being a good team" thing was well and truly off to the races.
From there, we all know the drill. How the Rockies won big, won small. Won heartstoppingly, won ugly, won beautiful. Just won, baby. How they fended off the determined charge of the Giants all year long (until at last the Giants remembered they didn't have an offense, said, "Shit!" and withdrew). How that fending-off of the Giants included one of the most photogenic finishes of all time, Ryan Spilborghs' 14th-inning grand slam to seal a come-from-behind, 6-4 win. (This was on my 21st birthday, August 24 continuing a three-year-long tradition of astounding walkoff wins on that date. Preen preen preen). How the Rockies swept season series from the Reds, Nationals, and Brewers. How they throttled the Cubs, 11-5, on back-to-back days in August, and shut up the stupidity patrol in blue attempting to hijack Coors Field. How they lost yet more series to the Dodgers, even when they were hot. (Okay, we don't need to dwell on that). How they led the wild card for 31 straight days, defusing a furious last-minute effort by the Braves, before finally putting it away for good on a Franklin Morales curveball just a few days ago, to complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in baseball history. They came inches from snatching out the NL West title, in a race they trailed by 15.5 games on June 3. While they didn't quite manage it, they delayed the Dodgers' clinch until Game 161.
There have been heroes aplenty this year: Troy Tulowitzki, Huston Street, First Half Brad Hawpe, First Half Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Hammel (the only rotation in MLB with five starters possessing 10 or more wins apiece. HOLLA). Rafael Betancourt, for being total ice. Matt Daley and Joe Beimel, even Franklin Morales at times (although not now) for making Taylor Buchholz's absence bearable. Yorvit Torrealba, recovering from every parent's worst nightmare to turn into Cyborgerrealba down the stretch. Seth Smith. Carlos Gonzalez, who went from totally overmatched to totally dominant. Chris Iannetta, whose 11th inning homer against the Brewers was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Jason Giambi, for coming in and making us all look like fools. And every guy on this team, each and every of the 25, and 40, who make this a total team effort, who come in every day and give it their gutsy god damnt all.
This chronicle isn't over. 92-70 is the team's best record ever, but there's more to go. There are ghosts to be avenged. There are perceptions to correct. There are worlds to shock, and as the fall leaves turn crisp and the bunting is unfurled on the stadium walls, the era is now. It's October, when heroes are made and spines thrill, when Seth Smith dumps a pinch-hit double down the line, when Eric Byrnes goes face first and a franchise's icon throws both fists in the air in pure, unabashed delight. When Tulo cracks one, when he makes the spinning play in the hole, when Stewart throws from the seat of his pants, when U-ball throws 100 and makes it look easy, when Street rips off a slider and they're nowhere near it. When Todd Helton works the count to 10 pitches and hits a double, when he scoops another throw out of the dirt, when the lights come up and you're one of the four still standing, THEN:
THIS IS ROCKIES BASEBALL.
THIS IS ROCKTOBER.
THIS IS THE TIME.