The Rockies put a dagger in the Dodger playoff hopes and set their sights on the Wild Card leading Padres
Author's Note: Dear Purple Row, we have come upon the five year anniversary of the most significant moment in our franchise's history; the run to Rocktober. In honor of that stretch of games, and because the 2012 Rockies team has given us very little to get excited about, I have decided to document my experience of those few weeks from 2007, over these few weeks in 2012. Purple Row was in its infant stages during this time, so most of us have stories to tell that have never been told here. As I share my experiences of the Rocktober run, I invite you to share yours in the comments.
The final game between the Dodgers and Rockies at Coors Field in September of 2007 didn't feature any of the last at bat dramatics of the previous two nights. It didn't attract a large crowd, as only 23,147 came out to see a weekday afternoon game played between two clubs likely to miss the postseason - And looking back on it, it's one of the least memorable games of the entire Rocktober run. It wasn't that the game wasn't without it's moments, but when compared to what happened before and after it, this contest just tends to blend into the background.
In some ways, this seems a bit odd to me now, because when I eagerly closed the textbooks and turned all of my attention to this match up at 3:00pm eastern time, it seemed like the most important Rockies game in history. In reality, it wasn't. The games that closed out the 1995 season still reigned king in this department, but the Rocktober run, even in it's early stages, was rapidly taking hold of spot number two on the list. I specifically recall being emotionally invested in this game in so many ways. For starters, I didn't even know the Rockies existed in 1995. Part of this has to do with the fact that I didn't really get into baseball until the 2001 season, but growing up in southeastern New England also played a large role here. In the five years that I had followed the Rockies (2002-2006), I had never seen them finish higher than 4th place. So right off the bat, my interest was threefold.
1) I wanted to see the Rockies finish the season higher than 4th place. They hadn't done it since Larry Walker's MVP season in 1997.
2) As I mentioned in Part 3 of this series, I wanted to see the Rockies finish ahead of the Dodgers for the first time in franchise history. A win here would put them two games ahead of LA with just nine games left on the schedule - Not to mention the fact that it would pretty much sink the Dodger postseason hopes for good.
3) The reason that's most obvious now. I wanted to see the Rockies slim postseason hopes stay alive.
Actually, there was a fourth reason as well. Earlier that summer, an important social group in my life that consisted of both family and friends had a falling out. The scenes played out at a beach house we were renting for a week on the shores of Narragansett, and before it was over, failed relationships, deceit, and poor decision making marred the experience. While I still remain close to each member of this group individually, these would be the final days all of us would ever spend together. At the time, I was devastated, and the Rockies provided much needed comfort. For three hours each day, everything else in my life didn't matter. My mind was free to think about baseball things and ponder baseball questions.
"How many games are the Rockies out of the Wild Card?"
"Will Todd Helton ever get to play in a postseason game?"
"Can Matt Holliday win the MVP?"
"Is this Tulowitzki kid going to win Rookie of the Year?"
"Why is Jeff Francis so under appreciated by the rest of baseball"
This team had captured my heart and I didn't want my time with them to end; but unless they went on one of the most historic late season charges in baseball history, their days were numbered.
Young flame throwing Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound against Derek Lowe that afternoon and it didn't take long for both pitchers to flirt with trouble. The Rockies loaded the bases with just one out in the bottom of the first, but Lowe worked his way out of trouble when he got both Atkins and Hawpe to strike out. Then the Dodgers got a bases loaded opportunity of their own with two down in the second inning, but thankfully for the Rockies, the pitcher's spot was up and Lowe grounded out to Helton to end the threat.
Then the Rockie bats went to work. With two outs and Chris Iannetta on first, a seemingly harmless inning was about to turn into a disaster for the Dodgers. First Kaz Matsui singled to extend things, then Troy Tulowitzki lined a double into the right center field gap that drew first blood and made it 2-0 Rockies. That was followed by a Matt Holliday bomb into the left center field bleachers that gave Colorado a commanding 4-0 lead. It also marked the 10th home run Holliday hit in his last 11 games, and he did it while posting a 1.778 OPS over that stretch. I didn't even know what OPS was in 2007, but I did know that it was hard to envision a scenario at that moment where the Rockies made the playoffs and Holliday didn't win the MVP award. The barrage continued as that was followed by hits from Helton and Atkins. Then to top it all off, Brad Hawpe hit a double to right and put the Rockies on top 6-0. A rocking chair victory seemed on the way.
There was a brief moment in the top of the 7th inning where things became concerning as the Dodgers cut the lead to 7-4 on back to back home runs by Andre Ethier and Andy LaRoche, but Troy Tulowitzki immediately extinguished the fears of Rockie fans as he responded with a two run home run down the left field line that put the Rockies up 9-4. The score would remain that way over the final two innings, and when Jorge Julio struck out Olmedo Saenz to end the game, the Rockies had swept the Dodgers. At the very least, Colorado had destroyed the playoff hopes of its nemesis; but the Rockies also did something else. They gave their fans reason to dream of a playoff birth. After all, when you're on a five game winning streak, anything seems possible.
There was just one problem with this line of thinking. The Wild Card leading San Diego Padres just didn't lose. With a 6-3 victory over the Pirates that same afternoon, the Padres had now won seven games in a row and opponents were averaging just two runs a game in that stretch. Colorado still found themselves 4.5 games behind San Diego with just nine games left on the schedule. The outlook still looked grim with the exception of one important thing. The next three games for the Rockies were against those Padres. Sure they were in Petco Park, and sure Colorado was catching a team while it was hot, but it was pretty clear at this point that the only way Colorado was going to make a serious run at this was with a three game sweep in San Diego. Nothing else could work here. It was absolutely a tall task, but it still seemed better than letting the Padres continue to beat up the last place bozos from San Francisco and Pittsburgh as they had over the previous week.
As soon as I finished looking at the standings and remaining schedules, I called my parents to tell them that I was headed back to the house for the weekend. Bryant University is located just 40 minutes away from my hometown, and since we had the MLB extra innings TV package there and I could watch the games instead of just listen to them, there was no way I was going to be anywhere but there for the San Diego series.
By 4:30pm the next day, I was on the road and ready to fully invest myself in the Rockies. In other words, I was headed home - Both literally and figuratively.