The 2007 season seems like a long time ago. It was a long time ago, actually. The next Opening Day will be the ninth since that dramatic season. Still, my guess is that there is hardly a Rockies fan from that heady time that doesn’t think about that season every now and again. We still write about it. Watching Todd Helton scoop up Troy Tulowitzki's throw in front of a dirt eating Eric Byrnes is one of the very best memories from my Rockies’ fandom. While the story has been told before, it’s worth revisiting. The Rockies were dangerously close to missing the playoffs that season, and it was all due to that darned cold streak in September.
But let’s not review the season starting in September—that would be silly! Let’s start in April. The Rockies came out of the gate strong. That’s an understatement. The Rockies’ 13-1 start was a historically good start. They were just the eighth team since the Second World War to start the season 13-1. Of the previous seven, there were three division champions and one World Series winner, the 1984 Tigers.
We have to admit, of course, that it was only a historically good run to start the year because of timing. While the Rockies were the only team in 2007 to win 13 games in a 14-game stretch, we only have to go back a single year to find more. In 2006, eight different teams went 13-1 in a 14-game stretch. The Tigers did it twice.
Anyhoo, the Rockies 13-1 stretch to open the season in 2007 was unusual insofar as timing goes. The hot streak itself, not so much.
Additionally, but the Rockies simply pounded their opponents in that stretch. Indeed, that was the story for most of the season (except for that damned, cold, September, which we’ll get to). Wins are impressive, but it’s how a team wins that really makes a good ball club stick out. A great measure of this is run differential. The Rockies outscored their opponents by a full 50 runs in that stretch. It’s this type of performance that makes believers out of skeptics. It made believers out of skeptics, if you recall. The Rockies had a similar run differential after 40 games in 2014, and it caused Jonah Keri to rank the Rockies among the best in baseball in mid-May.
Obviously—obviously—the Rockies weren’t going to keep up a .929 winning percentage for the remainder of the season. Before parsing the rest of the year into bits and pieces, it’s sufficient to note that the Rockies went 76-72 the rest of the way with a plus 51 run differential. That .514 winning percentage was not spectacular, but it was above .500. And, let’s not forget, the other wins counted, too.
I’m digressing. The cold streak was actually a long ways off. Over the 68 games following the 13-1 start, the Rockies went 38-30 with a truly impressive plus 76 run differential. After 82 games, they were 20 games above .500 at 51-31.
The team then suffered a rough patch in the middle of the season. They lost eight consecutive games, which dropped the record to a still very good 51-39. They’d even climb to be 20 games over .500 again soon enough though.
I hate to use the word—just hate it—but the eight game losing streak was kind of flukey. I know, I know, a loss is a loss, but it’s still important to remember that three of those eight losses were by one run, and they were defeated in another in extra innings. Additionally, this streak was only the second time during the entire season that the Rockies had suffered a losing streak of three or more games. Because I’ve been carrying on about run differential, I’ll get tautological and note that the Rockies had a minus 26 run differential during the losing streak. Even after the losing streak, however, the Rockies had a seasonal run differential of plus 105. And this was after 90 games. This team, observers concluded, is for real.
What does a for real team do after an eight game losing streak? Oh, I don’t know, just reel off a 13-4 stretch with a dang plus 42 run differential. Rockies fans were telling themselves, and anyone within earshot: "See, I told you they were going to come back from the losing streak." Indeed, the season was 107 games old after that, the Rockies were 64-43, and they had outscored their opponents by a laughable 147 runs—147!
Here is where this story gets dicey, especially one that focuses on arbitrary endpoints and relies on sequences. The Rockies were in a fantastic spot after 107 games, but that left 45 games to go. They were in first place, but the division was tight. In particular, the Diamondbacks and Padres were both playing above .500 ball, and they were just a few games back of the Rockies. Alas, the season does not end in early August, but it almost ended at the end of September for the Rockies. It was, let's remind ourselves, the only month of the 2007 season in which the Rockies had a losing record.
We know how it went. The Rockies, who had been all but dominant for the bulk of the season, limped to the finish line with an 18-27 record. We can’t even point to run differential as a big positive anymore. Opponents outscored the Rockies by 57 runs during this stretch. It was ugly. We might call the Rockies' excellent start a "cushion," but that doesn’t give the team enough credit. After all, they are the ones who created that cushion by winning so many damn games.
Still, it was almost all for naught. Heading into the final weekend of the series, it was a three-team battle for the National League West. The Padres and Diamondbacks played well while the Rockies were mired in an extended cold streak verging on collapse.
This was the deal: the Rockies were set to play a three game series against the Diamondbacks to finish off the year. By that point, the Diamondbacks had dethroned the Rockies atop the NL West standings. They were ahead by two games. The Padres were tied with the Rockies for the Wild Card spot, and they were playing on the road against the Giants. If the Rockies were able to sweep the Diamondbacks, they would have been crowned with their first division title.
The Rockies won the first game handily, 11-4. Even better, the Padres lost. The Rockies were now just one game behind in the division and one game ahead in the Wild Card race. Two games to go. Game two against the Diamondbacks was a nail biter. The Rockies took an early lead, 2-0 after two innings, but Arizona came back to tie it in the fifth. The game extended into extra innings, and the Diamondbacks scored a run in the top half of the frame. Things looked grim. But with two outs and a runner on third, Tulo, capping off an incredible rookie season, doubled to right field to tie the game. He scored on an error in the very next at bat, giving the Rockies the game.
The Padres weren’t as cooperative in their penultimate game of the season. They defeated the Giants. With one game to go, the Rockies were tied with the Diamondbacks for the NL West lead and were one game ahead of the Padres for the Wild Card.
The Rockies were in control. All they had to do was win one measly game to take the division. Sure, they were in the midst of the worst stretch of baseball they had played all season—but just one game to win the division. They almost had it. In a slugfest of a game, the Rockies were ahead 6-5 after six innings, but a three-run Diamondback eighth inning sealed the game and the division for Arizona. Even worse, the Padres beat the Giants, tying the Rockies for the Wild Card spot, and necessitating a game 163.
It was a depressing end to the regular season because the Rockies were so close, and because they had played so well for most of the season. Obviously, those final 45 games still counted. And it’s true that the Rockies were very close to blowing a playoff spot—any playoff spot—after being in control for most of the year. If they weren’t fortunate enough to squeeze out a play-in game against the Padres, we wouldn’t be talking about late season choking staved off at the last minute. We’d remember it as a late season debacle.
Of course, it didn’t end that way. The Rockies were fortunate enough to get that game 163. You know how it unfolded after that. Something clicked in the play-in game, although it sure looked like the troubles of August and September were showing up on that first day of October. The Rockies beat the Padres in a dramatic, extra-innings, game 163. In the playoffs, the Rockies rediscovered whatever it was that made them the best team in the NL for four months and romped past the Phillies and Diamondbacks to win the National League pennant.
Things didn’t work out so well against Boston in the World Series. Just like the Rockies solidified their best in the NL bona fides with the league’s best run differential, so did the Red Sox in the AL. Not only that, but they were even unluckier than the Rockies, as they went 22-28 in one-run games. Conversely, the Rockies went 19-19 in one-run games, which is the definition of nonlucky, if that were a word.
But boy, it sure is stressful thinking about that season. If the Rockies ended up missing the playoffs, I’d be really tempted to call that miss a fluke, or whatever the opposite of a "miracle" is. If I did that, though, I’d be missing quite a bit of what actually happened during the season.