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Remembering Rafael Betancourt

Recalling the career of one of the best relief pitchers in Rockies' history upon his retirement.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 45th Purple Row edition (and 149th overall) of Tuesdays With Mitch, where baseball is about to happen. I promise. I think. It's March. Almost Spring. Baseball. Eventually. Maybe. Definitely. Let's get into it...

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Back in August, Rafael Betancourt was designated for assignment by the Rockies. Betancourt had struggled in 2015 after returning from the Tommy John Surgery that caused him to miss all of the previous season. He was 40 years old. The team stunk. Younger pitchers needed to be given an opportunity. So, the Rox cut him. It had to happen, but from the standpoint of a fan it was a pretty depressing move. Raffy's departure was another one of the last connections to The Good Old Days heading out the door.

On Friday, Betancourt made things official and announced his retirement. He'll be missed. The game of baseball will miss him. The Rockies will miss him. Fans will miss him. I'll miss him.

Betancourt is one of the best relief pitchers the Rockies have ever had and I want to look at the numbers that prove that in a moment, but allow me to first recall a couple of my favorite memories of Raffy.

It's cold out. I'm wearing several layers of purple and black and white clothing. I'm standing on the Coors Field concourse near the left field foul pole with my parents. They are also cold. There's a baseball game going on and the only tickets we could get our hands on were really crappy seats so we're spending the evening standing around the concourse. 50,106 other people are also packed inside Coors. It's October 11th, 2009 and the Rockies are playing the Phillies in Game 3 of the NLDS. The series is tied 1-1.

It's the eighth inning. The Rockies tied the game at five when they scratched out a run in the bottom of the seventh. This eighth inning belongs to Betancourt. After striking out the leadoff man, Betancourt walks Raul Ibanez. Pedro Feliz follows that up with a double to left. Second and third. One out. This doesn't look particularly promising. If Carlos Ruiz puts the ball in play, the Rox probably fall behind in the game, and likely, the series. But Ruiz doesn't put the ball in play. On a 1-2 pitch with the crowd on its feet, Ruiz strikes out swinging. Coors Field is loud. I am so freaking jacked right now you have no idea. Drama. Goosebumps. Intensity. Second and third. Two outs.

Matt Stairs pinch hits for the Phillies and works the count full. The crowd is on its feet. Towels are being waved. Hands are being clapped. Screams are being... screamed. And then Betancourt punches out Stairs swinging and Coors Field erupts. No runs. Still a tie game. He got out of it. I go berserk. I mean, I was banging on the railing in front of me and flexing like Tim Tebow and yelling and jumping and getting light headed and trying to remind myself that the Rox still need a run or two.

That moment was the absolute perfect epitome of intense postseason baseball, a scarce commodity that should be cherished. It was a beautiful moment.

It's just one inning of a game that the Rockies didn't even end up winning in a series the Rockies would go on to lose, but it's my fondest memory of the seven years Betancourt spent with the Rockies. Baseball memories can be peculiar in ways like that.

The other thing that absolutely must be mentioned when discussing Raffy is the painfully slow, comically deliberate manner on he had on the mound. The typical Betancourt delivery went something like this:

  • Receives ball from catcher
  • Stares off into space pondering his place in the universe.
  • Takes deep breath
  • Spits
  • Steps onto rubber
  • Takes deep breath
  • Adjusts crotchal region
  • Tugs on brim of hat
  • Flares arms out to loosen his shoulders or something
  • Tugs on brim of hat
  • Takes deep breath
  • Uses bicep to punch himself in the mouth for some reason (wiping sweat maybe?)
  • Looks in for sign
  • Shakes off sign
  • Accepts sign
  • Adjusts crotchal region
  • Four or five tiny little steps towards coming set without actually coming set. This takes approximately five seconds and somehow this isn't a balk.
  • Comes set
  • Spits
  • Takes deep breath
  • Steps off
  • Repeats steps 2-20
  • Throws pitch exactly where he wants to

Betancourt came to the Rockies in 2009 in a late-July trade from the Indians in exchange for minor-leaguer Connor Graham. He helped the Rockies make the postseason that year, re-signed as a free agent that winter, and continued to be effective through parts of the 2013 season.

Is he the greatest Rockies reliever ever? Probably not, but he should be in the conversation.




















What jumps out at me from that table is that Betancourt was able to accumulate similar value to a couple of those guys with far fewer innings pitched. His Rockies career certainly didn't have the longevity of a Steve Reed (in two stints) or Curtis Leskanic, but I'd take Betancourt over those guys in the late innings of an important game every time.

As a further example of Betancourt's near dominance when he was at his best, check out the numbers from his two best seasons.




























In 2011, Betancourt struck out 73 and walked just eight. That's pretty damn dominant. Then he improved upon that season the next year, even with a few more walks and not quite as many strikeouts.

On the topic of all-time great Rockies relievers, I'd give Fuentes the edge (more innings, more years, closer, all those saves, dominant at times, three-time All Star, etc.), but put Betancourt second on that list.

So congrats to Rafael Betancourt on very good career and a hopefully-happy retirement.

And what do you think? Where does Betancourt rank on the pantheon of all-time Rockies relievers?

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No weekly departments or poll this week, but here's a bunch of stuff from the internets that I enjoyed over the last seven days.

We'll start with this flurry of wild buzzer-beaters in the various basketball worlds:

This one is probably the craziest ending I've ever seen in a basketball game. Legitimately, the craziest ever.

...Then there's this Vanderbilt kid who just chucks the ball like 80 feet into the hoop without even trying. Pretty sweet.

...Not to be outdone by this game-winner in the Euroleague.

...And of course, this freaking guy.

Dick Vitale is the best follow on Twitter, version 1,000:

Only Dickie V finds it reasonable to tweet a picture of himself at the dentist. He's the best.

I have no explanation for this, but I find it incredible.

This little dude had a pretty sick burn on Jeremy Roenick on Saturday night. (The cynic in me says this was set-up, but I try to ignore those hunches.)

This Brett Phillips kid on the Brewers laughs like a damn weirdo. He just, like, freezes halfway through it. I could watch people with weird laughs all day. It's almost more funny to just watch his face with the sound off.

Lance Stephenson fumbling around completely out of control is basketball's purest art form.

Similarly, James Harden and Dwight Howard being on completely different pages and looking like a middle school YMCA team makes for a hearty chuckle.

And finally, I'm not going to lie to you, this clip probably made me laugh harder than any other this week. Mohemed Sanu is a football player and he asked his girlfriend to marry him at a soccer game at Wembley Stadium this weekend.The video is fine and nice but you'll notice some hooligan in the background, oblivious to the touching scene in front of him, stand up and shout some NSFW stuff at the field in the aftermath.

That guy's little one second of rage is now a part of that couple's marriage story forever.

Happy Tuesday, everybody. Thanks for readin'. See ya next week.