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Remembering Rocktober: NLDS Game 1: Rockes 4, Phillies 2

"I don't think the lineup struggled so much because of nerves. Yeah, when you first get in there, you're nervous. But I think that kind of subsided. We just ran into a team that was hot. The Rockies were on a tear last year."

Ryan Howard, before facing the Brewers in this year's NLDS

The Rockies were supposed to be exposed in always sunny Philadelphia. The lucky run which had inexplicably brought the team to the playoffs was supposed to run out. After all, these same Phillies had piled up the runs against these same Rockies less than a month earlier when the teams split a crucial four game series in Philadelphia in September. As it turned out, if either team had managed to flip just one of those losses, the other would have been left home. Instead, however we we wound up having the rematch, and the Phillies were counting on three factors to allow them to come out ahead this time:

  1. The Rockies would have to face their ace Cole Hamels, whereas they had luckily avoided him in September.
  2. Phillies hitters owned Jeff Francis in the regular season, scoring 14 runs and racking up 20 hits in just over 8 IP over his two starts and the Rockies were starting a pair of untested rookies in the next two games.
  3. The East Coast consensus held that the 2007 Mets were a better team than the Rockies, and therefore, since the Phillies were able overcome their divisional rivals, the NLDS should have been an easier accomplishment.

So with that backdrop, a tone had to be set that destiny wasn't quite finished with the Rockies. The one to set that tone would be Francis. For the first three pitches, it looked like the Rockies might be in for a replay of the misery of Jeff's previous starts against the Phillies. Three fastballs were taken by Jimmy Rollins, two low, one high for a quick 3-0 count. Rollins had been Philly's spark all season, letting him on base more often than not of late also meant letting him score. Francis came back with another fastball that Rollins took down the middle for strike one. Rollins' best chance for a hit was on that fifth pitch, the fifth straight FB to start the game, but he it off for strike two. For pitch six, Francis unlocked the changeup, a beauty down and away that had Rollins way out in front. Thus began a sequence of nine straight strikes for Francis, the three to Rollins, three quickly to Shane Victorino, and three more to Chase Utley, both of whom got themselves into 0-2 holes before getting fooled by offspeed pitches at their feet. Message sent. This wasn't the same Francis, these weren't the same Rockies that the Phillies had seen a few weeks earlier.

In the top of the second Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins got our scoring started by tripling and doubling off of Hamels, on our way to a three run inning and the game and the series from that point forward seemed well in the Rockies control. When Francis gave up back to back homers to Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell later allowing the Phils to come back within one, he quietly put out the fire and our bullpen, with a little insurance from Matt Holliday, took us the rest of the way home.

I watched this game in a local pizza pub because I don't get cable. I was the only Rockies fan there. Actually, on a Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati, I was the only baseball fan there period, and the bartender wasn't even aware there was a game going on. I didn't let that stop me from screaming anyway, and a couple of UC coeds getting ready to hit the town probably thought I had started happy hour a few hours early with my euphoria. I weathered their judgmental glances, and only screamed louder. Screw them. This was my Rockies team, in the playoffs, this was me loving every minute of the ride they were taking me on. That only I knew about it in my little sphere in the Midwest didn't diminish that at all.