This post is part of FanPost Friday and responds to the question, “What was the best baseball game you ever attended in person?” We invite you to add your contribution as a FanPost, which will be part of a recap on the front page this coming Friday.
I remember June 30, 1996 as a gorgeous, if a bit warm, day at Coors Field. It was the type of day where ushers walked up and down the stairs misting grateful fans with water. According to Baseball Reference, it was sunny and 81 degrees, but I remember it feeling warmer than that. My dad and I joined 48,101 other folks to see the Rockies take on the Dodgers.
It was a good Rockies team. Just one year removed from a Wild Card berth, the Rockies were in contention mid-season and entered the game with a 39-39 record. They were 1.5 games behind both the Dodgers and Padres, who both had 42-39 records and were tied for first place in the National League West. It was an important game for the Rockies to stay in the thick of things. The finale of a four-game set, the Rockies had won two out of the first three in typical pre-humidor Coors Field fashion. They won the first two games by scores of 13-1 and 13-4, but they lost the third game 13-10. This Sunday game, however, was the Coorsiest of the four.
We settled in and probably joked that all the empty seats will be occupied by Dodger fans by the third inning, but no earlier. Mark Thompson got the start for the Rockies, and Hideo Nomo was on the mound for the Dodgers. Both pitchers fared well in the first couple of inning. Thompson allowed a couple of base runners in the first, but nobody scored. Likewise, Nomo walked a batter but got out of the inning unscathed. Thompson walked two more in the top of the second, which was a sign that maybe he wasn’t going to have the best day; but still, nobody scored. In the bottom of the second, Vinny Castilla broke the 0-0 tie with a solo home run to left field. It gave the Rockies a 1-0 lead. But this was Coors Field in 1996. That was nothing.
One of the surest things about baseball in the 1990s was that a Dodgers player was likely to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Indeed, a Dodger took the award each year from 1992 to 1996. This game featured all five of those players, and all five of them conspired to topple an already shaky Thompson and knock him out of the game in the third inning.
It started when Hall of Famer Mike Piazza (1993 NL Rookie of the Year) tied the game with a home run to left field. It continued when the next batter Eric Karros (1992 NL Rookie of the Year) gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead with another home run. It further continued when the very next guy up, Raúl Mondesí (1994 NL Rookie of the Year), made it back-to-back-to-back home runs. Thompson mercifully allowed just a double next, but that runner scored when Todd Hollandsworth (1996 NL Rookie of the Year) singled. Hollandsworth scored when Hideo Nomo (1995 NL Rookie of the Year) doubled him in. Thompson departed with the Rockies now down 5-1. But this was Coors Field in 1996.
The bottom half of the third saw the Rockies score three runs to make it a 5-4 game, but that’s actually the least interesting part. Eric Young led off the inning with an infield single, and after Walt Weiss struck out, Young proceeded to steal second base; and then decided to steal third base. After Nomo walked Ellis Burks, Young freakin’ stole home. That makes three steals in one inning, which is not technically the most one can have, but it’s the practical limit. The other two runs came off of a Dante Bichette home run. It was the fifth homer in the game already.
By this time, we were comfortable in our seats and surrounded by Rockies fans (and possibly some Dodger fans, but I don’t remember that). Part of what made this game so memorable for me was just how friendly everybody was, and just how talkative I was. I chatted with fans to my left and right, and I felt like I got to know the folks around me. We celebrated and lamented together. Through the ups and downs of the first few innings, it was as if we knew, collectively, it was not just a normal game, even by the wild standards of Coors Field in the 90s.
The top of the fourth was run-of-the-mill compared to the third inning. Karros hit his second home run of the day off of reliever Roger Bailey, increasing the Dodgers’ lead to 6-4. In the bottom of the fourth, however, the Rockies came back and regained the lead. And they even did so while keeping the ball in the park. Weiss doubled in two—including Young, who walked and stole is fourth base on the day—and Burks and Bichette each knocked a runner in. The fourth inning ended with the Rockies ahead 8-6.
But this was Coors Field in 1996. The lead didn’t last long. In the top of the fifth inning, Piazza drove two runs in with a single, which forced Bailey from the game and brought in Darren Holmes. Holmes walked Karros, which loaded the bases, and Mondesí tripled all runners home. The Dodgers were ahead 10-8 before the game was even official. In the bottom of the fifth, the Rockies got one run back. With the bases loaded and one out, Young grounded into a fielder’s choice to score a run and make it 10-9. The out came at second base, which gave Young the room to swipe his fifth bag of the day.
The Dodgers and Rockies traded runs in the sixth inning. In the top half, Hollandsworth hit a homer off of Steve Reed, and in the bottom half Burks hit one off of reliever Chan-ho Park. It was 11-10 in favor of the Dodgers after six innings.
The top of the seventh saw the game’s only 1-2-3 inning, and in the bottom of the seventh the Rockies took the lead again. A couple of RBI singles gave the Rockies a 12-11 advantage. But this was Coors Field in 1996. The Dodgers tied the game in the top of the eighth, but whatever: pinch hitter John Vander Wal knocked a two run home run in the bottom half of the frame to give the Rockies a 14-12 lead heading into the ninth inning. (Young singled and stole his sixth base of the game after this, which tied a record but was also the least notable of his six steals; he was left stranded.)
Closer Bruce Ruffin entered the game to finish things up, but he blew the lead instead. This is how it started: single, wild pitch (runner advances to second), single (runner scores, 14-13 Rockies), stolen base advancing to third on an error, groundout, strikeout. Ruffin didn’t start out so hot, but he was able advance the Rockies to the precipice of victory with two outs and a runner on third. Instead, Mondesí knocked his second home run of the day, as well as the wind out of everyone present, and gave the Dodgers a 15-14 lead. The dinger swung the Dodgers’ win expectancy by 63 percent.
At this point, we’d come to terms with the fact that this was a wild game that the Dodgers were ultimately going to win. At least it was fun.
Coors Field. 1996.
Dodgers’ closer Todd Worrell came in to try and finish the Rockies off, and he was close to doing so. Bichette singled, but it was surrounded by two pop outs. The Rockies were down to their last out with a runner on first base. Castilla then singled to put runners on the corners. The problem, however, was that the Rockies had their seven and eight hitters up, and their big pinch hitter, Vander Wal, was already used. But no matter. Jeff Reed pinch hit for catcher Jayhawk Owens singled in Bichette to tie the game. Then, Quinton McCracken—Quinton McCracken!—doubled to right field to score Castilla, who slid home, and give the Rockies a 16-15 victory. I high-fived all of my new best friends, who I never saw again.
The game lasted 4 glorious hours and 20 spectacular minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game the Rockies had played to that point, and it remained the longest game until they went 270 minutes agains the Diamondbacks on June 24, 2016—almost 20 years to the day of this game against the Dodgers. The game also saw 10 home runs, 11 stolen bases (6 by Young), eight lead changes, and this bonkers Win Expectancy chart:
This game has stuck with me because it was simultaneously of the time, but more so. It was the MC Hammer pants of baseball games. It was a game that could only happen in Coors Field in the 1990s, and we know that because any game that comes close to resembling simply evokes Coors Field in the 1990s.
And yet, it was distinct by even those standards. High scoring affairs with a lot of home runs and lead changes were common in pre-humidor Coors Field, but not quite like this. Not every game saw a record set; not every game saw a steal of home; not every game had a Hall of Famer and his coterie of Rookies of the Year terrorizing the Rockies; and no other game was as memorable as this one.