With the return of the black sleeveless jerseys over the weekend coinciding with a trip to Chase Field, the 2007 National League Championship Series can't help but spring to the forefront of the minds of many Rockies fans.
The Rockies had swept the Phillies in the Division Series and had won 17 of their last 18 games entering the NLCS, wearing their black sleeveless jerseys for the most part, with the only loss having come to the Diamondbacks and Brandon Webb.
Arizona was coming off a Division Series sweep of its own, over the Cubs, and a NL West title. The fact that they had Webb, the only man to beat the Rockies in the last 18 games, on the mound for Game 1 would also bolster the Diamondbacks' confidence.
There was some controversy in the Rockies camp entering the series as Willy Taveras, who had started in center field for most of the season, was returning from an injury. There was furious debate among fans, and probably Rockies personnel, as to whether to re-insert Taveras into the lineup or stick with Ryan Spilborghs, who had been starting during the torrid hot streak down the stretch, in center.
It was Taveras who got the call for Game 1 as Rockies ace Jeff Francis took the mound. Francis had won 17 games in 2007, tying a Rockies record at the time, and posted a 4.22 regular season ERA. He had also emerged victorious in Game 1 in Philadelphia.
However good Francis was in 2007, Webb was still a different animal. In the midst of three consecutive top-two finishes in the Cy Young voting, Webb was 18-10 in 2007 with a 3.01 ERA and 194 strikeouts.
It was Arizona that struck first in the bottom of the first, with Stephen Drew reaching on a one-out single and scoring on a double by Eric Byrnes.
In the top of the third, it was Taveras that would be the catalyst for the Rockies taking the lead. With the game tied at one and with one out, he singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single from Kaz Matsui. The Rockies expanded the lead later in the inning when Brad Hawpe came through with a two-out, bases loaded single, scoring Matsui and Matt Holliday to give the Rockies a 4-1 lead.
Francis handled things from there, allowing just the one run in 6 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits, walking a man, and striking out four. Four relievers combined to pitch 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and the Rockies tacked on a run in the seventh to seal the 5-1 win.
Going into Game 2, the Diamondbacks tried to play some mind games with the Rockies, choosing to wear their own black jerseys, normally reserved for road games, forcing the Rockies out of the black jerseys they had worn in seven straight wins to that point and into their road grays.
Getting the ball for the Rockies in Game 2 was 23-year-old rookie Ubaldo Jimenez, who had been called up on July 19 after Rodrigo Lopez went down for the season with an injury. He posted a 4.28 ERA in 15 regular season starts, and had managed to allow just one run in 6 1/3 innings in a win over Philadelphia in the NLDS. Arizona countered with veteran southpaw Doug Davis, who had been solid if unspectacular in the regular season, posting a 4.25 ERA in 192 2/3 innings.
It was the Rockies that struck first in Game 2, as Todd Helton reached on an error leading off the second, advanced to third on a single from Hawpe and scored on Yorvit Torrealba's two-out hit to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead. Arizona tied the game in the third when the pitcher Davis, who had doubled, scored on a single by Chris Young. Taveras scored on Helton's sacrifice fly in the fifth to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.
It was still 2-1 when Manny Corpas entered the game in the ninth to close it out. The 24-year-old had been nails since taking over the closer's role from Brian Fuentes in July, earning 19 saves and posting a 1.42 ERA in his final 37 appearances of the 2007 season. He had also saved all three games of the Phillies series and pitched a scoreless inning in Game 1 against Arizona..
However, with one out in the ninth, he hit Young with a pitch and gave up a single to Drew before Matsui made an error on Byrnes' ground ball, allowing Young to score the tying run and send the game to extra inning.
After a scoreless 10th, Arizona closer Jose Valverde one-upped Corpas with an epic meltdown. After allowing an infield single to pinch hitter Spilborghs, El Papa Grande walked Hawpe, Jamey Carroll and Taveras to force in the winning run, giving the Rockies a 3-2 win and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Coors Field.
On the day off between Games 2 and 3, Byrnes raised some controversy when he said that, despite winning a pair of games in Arizona, the Rockies had not outplayed the Diamondbacks in the series, earning him the nicknames Booooooooo-yrnes in Colorado (probably) for life.
Back at home for Game 3, the Rockies had the Dragon Slayer, Josh Fogg on the mound. Fogg had posted a 4.94 ERA in the regular season, but had earned a reputation for taking down opposing aces, including Jake Peavy in the Wild Card tiebreaker game two weeks earlier. Arizona sent veteran Livan Hernandez to the mound at Coors for Game 3.
It was Holliday that got the Rockies on the board in the first with a solo home run, his third of the playoffs, giving his team a 1-0 lead. Fogg held the Diamondbacks in check until the fourth, when Mark Reynolds hot a solo shot of his own to tie the game at a run apiece. Reynolds' homer was the only run Fogg gave up in six innings of work as he scattered seven hits, walked a man and struck out three.
The Rockies finally broke through against Hernandez in the sixth as Helton walked, Hawpe singled and Torrealba lined a Hernandez fastball over the left field fence for a three-run home run, giving the Rockies a 4-1 lead.
Jeremy Affeldt, Fuentes and Corpas each pitched a scoreless inning to close out the 4-1 win and put the Rockies just one win away from the pennant.
As they looked for the sweep in Game 4, the Rockies turned to the same guy on the mound they'll be turning to in tonight's game against the Diamondbacks, Franklin Morales. At just 21 years old in 2007, Morales made eight starts with the Rockies after he, like Jimenez, was called up to the big leagues after a Rockies starter, this time Jason Hirsh, suffered a season-ending injury. Morales did pitch well in his regular season outings, with a 3.43 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.
Arizona had a rookie of their own on the mound in 24-year-old Micah Owings, who was perhaps more known for his bat than his arm. He posted a 4.30 ERA in 152 2/3 innings in the regular season, and had a dozen extra-base hits, including four home runs, in 60 regular season at bats.
It was the third inning before someone got on the board in Game 4, and it was Arizona who struck first thanks to a rally started by Owings, who led off the third with a single and came around to score on a base hit from Conor Jackson. It was the only run Morales allowed in his four innings of work. He allowed five hits and a walk to go with a pair of strikeouts.
Down 1-0, the Rockies struck back with a vengeance in the bottom of the fourth. Hawpe and Tulowitzki each drew one-out walks and both scored on a double from pinch hitter Seth Smith. An error by Jackson on Taveras' grounder with two outs allowed the inning to continue and the Rockies took advantage as Matsui followed the error with a single that scored Smith and Holliday came through with his second home run in as many games to give Colorado a 6-1 lead through four innings.
Arizona had one more threat in them in the eighth as Drew and Jackson both singled against Fuentes and Chris Snyder hit a three-run home run to cut the lead to 6-4. Justin Upton then tripled to chase Fuentes from the game, but Corpas struck out slugger Tony Clark, who represented the tying run.
The Rockies went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, setting the stage for Corpas to close out the game and the series in the ninth. Pinch hitter Jeff Salazar led off the inning with a ground out to Helton, but Young threw a wrench into things with a one out-double. Drew then popped to Matsui for the second out. Byrnes, still Public Enemy No. 1 with the Coors Field crowd, came to the plate as Arizona's last chance. On Corpas' first pitch, he hit a slow roller to Tulowitzki, who nailed Byrnes on a close play at first, leaving the Diamondbacks' outfielder face down in the dirt after his headfirst slide as the Rockies celebrated the first National League pennant in franchise history.
With his home runs in Games 3 and 4, as well as an 1.145 OPS, Holliday was named the NLCS MVP, though that honor really could have gone to the Rockies pitching staff as a whole, who allowed just eight runs to Arizona in four games at the hitters' havens of Chase Field and Coors Field.
After conquering the Senior Circuit, the Rockies made like John McGraw's Giants in 1904 and refused to play the American League champions in any sort of "World's Series." Or something like that. Okay fine, there was a World Series in 2007, but it's not something we need to discuss here, or ever. Suffice to say it was against Boston and did not go well for the boys in purple.