Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mitchell Witch Hunt, Offseasons Suck And So Does My Computer, Haren to D-backs

As you can see, clearly I should blog more often so I don't have to cram all these subjects into one post, but I expect I'll be forgiven if I say it's only one more week to go in semester and I'm more than ready to go home and have it be Christmas already. Also, my computer has been possessed by demons at a particularly inopportune time, and now the r key is completely broken -- I have to copy/paste it in -- and if I so much as touch the empty socket where it used to be, it goes crazy, inserting very long lines of the letter while I vainly attempt to stem the flow and edit it out. Fortunately, my computer has relented to let me at least use it, which it wasn't doing last night and making me very nervous about finishing/editing term papers, etc. Therefore, I might as well blog because I currently have nothing better to do.

Of course, as I'm sure everyone's aware, the Mitchell Witch Hunt came out yesterday and named 60-80 players that the feds have busted for illicit steroid use -- or at least the ones who used the same supplier (an ex-Mets clubhouse attendant named Kirk Radomski, who apparently was the nucleus for steroid supply during the juiced eras of the '90s) and were stupid enough to write checks from their personal accounts, which of course got traced back to them by the valiant efforts of sir Mitchell. One current Rockie did get fingered -- reliever Matt Herges, who apparently used PEDs in 2005, went 5-1/2.96 last year, and who we just re-signed for the 2008 campaign. It'll be interesting to see what sort of punishments get handed down... Selig, the ball-less wonder, has said that he'll punish players according to what sort of rules against PEDs were in place at the time of their infraction, which makes sense -- no use punishing them now for something that wasn't illegal then.

But all this shows was how badly Selig and his cronies dragged their feet on getting an effective testing policy implemented in the game and how long he turned a blind eye as the 'roid-fueled monsters blasted 70+ home runs in the juicy summer of 1998 and interest in the game was peaking -- all for profit. He let Jeffrey Loria kill the Expos and now he's letting him kill the Marlins... no, I am no fan of the man at all, but at the same time, this isn't all on his shoulders. Those (dis)honors also go to Radomski (thinking that this toad was happily complicit in the shaming of my favorite sport ever, just to make money, makes me want to kill something) and of course all the players who decided that their natural talent wasn't enough and had to get an unfair advantage over those who played fair. There has to be a few -- while rampant 'roiding was the name of the game in the late '90s, I refuse to adopt the position of the pessimists who insist it was everybody. Also, I've read a good deal of the 409 pages of the Mitchell report, and while it turns up a few hard-to-refute juicers (Roger Clemens is going to have to do some extremely fast talking to reserve his previously cast-in-iron spot in Cooperstown, so naturally his technique is deny, deny, deny) it also seems to rely too extensively on hearsay. The entry on Jack Cust, I kid you not, has to do with the fact that he had a locker next to Larry Bigbie (a self-admitted juicer) and they once had a conversation about steroids...

However, the report does kick the last feet out from under the Barry Bonds apologists who point to the fact that the so-called home run king has never failed a drug test -- he had extensive advance warning for them, and besides, Bigbie was on HGH during 2004 and MLB's medieval pee-in-a-cup policy naturally failed to turn anything up. Bonds and Clemens, to no one's very great surprise, are given the biggest black eyes, but the report also turns up a bunch of thoroughly mediocre players (Adam Piatt, anyone?) which proves that steroids, while enhancing your natural gifts, can't turn you from zero to hero overnight. Sad that Bonds and Clemens were some of the most gifted players of their era and then, seeing it as somehow "not enough," had to turn to shady pharmaceutical shenanigans just for a few more shiny stats. It will also definitely be interesting to see what happens in 2012, which, assuming neither of them plays again, is the first year that they'll be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Ask Mark McGwire how that's working for him...

I'm personally relieved that none of the Blake Street Bombers past or present got named, but that doesn't mean they're clean. I hate this culture of suspicion in which everybody is guilty until proven innocent, and you can't go around pre-emptively attaching the juicer tag to absolutely everyone; you'll just drive yourself nuts and hurt the innocent players who have kept their noses clean in a difficult era. The Mitchell Report, however, is just the beginning, and everyone has promised that more names will surface as investigations continue. After all, that despicable weasel Radomski can't have been the only supplier.

I want to emphasize that this does not change my feelings for baseball one bit, and I think those that swear off the sport forever are just indulging in Chicken-Little-style histrionics. Did MLB handle the drug problem badly? Yes. Is Bud Selig an industrial-grade tool? Yes. Are the players and suppliers complete jerks for doing this? Hard to say. Suppliers, yes, there's no excuse. Get a real job instead of dealing drugs. As for the players, it's more complicated. It's never all right to cheat, and while some of them do it to flash their "skillz," some of them certainly were faced with the tough choice of either staying clean and fading away in the minor leagues or getting on the "stuff" and realizing their lifelong dream of making it to the Show. Or they were injured and genuinely wanted to rehabilitate faster and come back to help their team. It's their own fault that they exercised poor judgment in how to go about this, but to paint every steroid user with the "Total cheater, should be banned from baseball for life" label is an ugly and unfair oversimplification. They're certainly there, of course, and it's easy to sort out the self-righteous douchenozzles from the rest of the bunch. Peer pressure, wanting to keep your job, thinking that you needed to take them to keep up with the rest of the league, the difference between financial uncertainty and being set for life -- there are a lot of factors in play. But this too shall pass. The great old game is still the great old game. Watch it anyway. There are good apples and bad apples in the barrel, and when spring comes around again, there are blue skies, palm trees, workouts, and the ever-minted new hope of another season, this will hopefully cease to matter.

Which reminds me.... boy, is this damn offseason long. My newest pursuit is football, and I've been watching a lot of it, in an attempt to while away the long winter months. I know you're astonished, but this post will briefly dabble in football instead, and if I get really bored, I'll turn it into a Broncos blog for the last few weeks before spring. Watching the Broncos is eerily like watching the early-season Rockies, actually. They have the young, talented core, a head coach who may or may not be a total idiot, and a frustrating inability to get it going all at once. I know I missed the boat on the Broncos being good by about ten years, but what the hell. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Stokely, et all (with the exception of Todd Sauerbrun... do not kick to Devin Hester, you asshat) form a talented nucleus with occasional glimpses of greatness interspersed with moments of total brain-fartery.

Still, they're naturally my team, I enjoy watching them, and, being spoiled by the game-a-day schedule of baseball, impatiently await Sundays every week so I at least have a sport to follow. They're usually quite fun. (Thursday's game notwithstanding.... 31-13 loss to the Texans puts the nail in the coffin for all intents and purposes, but I think it was unfair to talk about the playoffs with this unit anyway. They clearly need another year to mature and mesh, and then we'll see. Cutler ranks fourth in the NFL in terms of yards per attempt (7.92) just behind such luminaries as Brady (8.60) Romo (8.58) and Favre (7.96), coming in ahead of Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning (7.90) He's got a cannon of an arm, quick feet, a good head for the game, but is still 24 and as such tends to make rookie mistakes. Also, can he please break a tackle when trying to scramble out of the pocket.... (four sacks last night) Still, he's completing over 64% of his passes, his QB rating is 90.8, and he has 18 TD passes to 12 picks -- while #6 may not yet be #7, he's working on it. Brandon Marshall is also showcasing great potential, and while Cutler/Marshall may not yet be Brady/Moss, it's definitely going to be something to watch. Now that The Carcass Which Was Jake Plummer has vacated Mile High (I don't care if they call it Invesco, nobody in Colorado does) and if Shanny ever got a clue and Sauerbrun stopped doing stupid things like running off his mouth, kicking to Devin Hester, and getting arrested, we could be seeing the start of something again.

Okay! Back to baseball. That was my first foray into football blogging ever, and now back to my familiar ground. Today, the D-backs made the biggest move of the NL West by landing Dan Haren from the A's. Haren, 27 years old, under an extremely reasonable contract for the next three years, and the 2007 AL All-Star starter, is now going to team with Brandon Webb to form an extremely scary 1-2 punch at the top of the 'Zona rotation. His price was six prospects -- Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, Aaron Cunningham, and Chris Carter (to which you probably said, "Who?" to every name) and at first blush, it looks as if Billy Beane was going for quantity over quality. Every prospect has potential, clearly, and that's two A-level (Gonzalez/Anderson) and four B-level (everyone else). Still, this will be either the Mark Mulder trade (total thievery) or the Tim Hudson trade (total debacle) for the A's, and I am somewhat baffled as to why Beane made this trade for these parts. What with the big-market teams furiously competing to get Santana and viewing Haren as a safety net, Beane the famous extortionist should have been able to play on that and get at least one ML-ready player (Justin Upton, Chris Young, Stephen Drew, etc) from the stacked Snakes system. Not entirely sure what he sees here to entice him to give up the most valuable commodity in the game -- a young, cheap, durable ace -- for a package of possibility.

I am also admittedly not pleased that we didn't make a comparable offer -- our farm system is also comparatively rich in talent -- and get Haren out of the AL West and onto the right NL West team. Haren/Webb, with Doug Davis, Randy Johnson (if he's healthy) and double-edged threat Micah Owing (he pitches and hits; won the Silver Slugger for a pitcher) is not a fun thought to entertain as we scope out the competition in the West next year. What have the Rockies done? Signed Kip Wells (7-17.5.20/total suck in '07) Mark Redman, and missed out on Tad Iguchi (no Barmes as second base starter. Just say no. Just say no.... Why can't we ever get a proven star-quality pitcher instead of a possibly-decent, possibly-catastrophic retread....? It's not going to get any easier in the West next year and it makes no sense to stock up with gasoline cans if every other team is going to bring the matches.

This has already been a long post and my psychotic r key is starting to go insane again, randomly inserting endless and random r's, which I'm getting tired of curtailing. More later....

Monday, November 19, 2007

Further Evidence I Suck at Predictions

but in my defense, nobody really saw this magical year coming for Colorado. In fact, as late as September 16, it looked like the same old story and they'd be lucky to finish a few games above .500 (in my preseason predictions, I gave them an 81-81 split and that was about all I was hoping for before the late-season surge kicked into gear). Now it's time to review my individual player predictions, some of which I was close on and some of which I completely missed the boat on (Tulo and Jeff Baker coming to mind). Also note that I only compare predictions with those players who started and finished the year on the team, to spare us the pain of reliving the John Mabry/Steve Finley/Tom Martin experiments.


Jeff Francis, LHP
Projected: 15-10, 4.05 ERA, 201 IP, 135 K, 32 starts
Actual: 17-9, 4.22 ERA, 215.1 IP, 165 K, 34 starts
Result: My Nostradamus skills weren't too bad here. Jeff eked out two extra wins and got bailed out by the offense on the occasion of a few poor starts to keep the loss total south of double-digits, and discovered a strikeout knack to bump him about 30 K's north of the figure I estimated, but in general, this is a close prediction. Kudos to me. Hit.

Aaron Cook, RHP
Projected: 15-12, 4.12 ERA, 215 IP, 95 K, 32 starts
Actual: 8-7, 4.12 ERA, 166 IP, 61 K, 25 starts
Result: Cookie was sidelined by injury again, cutting back on his numbers quite a bit further than I estimated. He definitely didn't come close to the record total I envisioned (but I did hit the ERA nail on the head, go me). He also came 40 innings shy of 200, so I definitely got it wrong on the IP total and gave him too many K's. Miss.

Rodrigo Lopez, RHP
Projected: 8-14, 5.31 ERA, 170 IP, 101 K, 24 starts
Actual: 5-4, 4.42 ERA, 79.1 IP, 43 K, 14 starts
Result: Er, clearly, I miscalculated on this one. Lopez wasn't the 9-18 horror I'd been steeling myself for from the 2006 Orioles, and in the early going he even looked good, but then he made the ill-advised choice of trying to pitch through elbow problems and got blown up. Shut down in August and became a free-agent, may not pitch until August of next year. Miss.

Josh Fogg, RHP
Projected: 10-15, 5.24 ERA, 165 IP, 85 K, 30 starts
Actual: 10-9, 4.94 ERA, 165.2 IP, 94 K, 29 starts
Result: Fogg discovered a way to be good, or at least not bad, in select spots this year, earning the moniker "Dragon Slayer" for his tendency to beat other teams' aces. Still, a world-beater he isn't. I gave him too many losses and an ERA slightly higher than what he ended up with, but nailed win total and IP and came within 9 on the Ks and 1 on the starts. Hit.

Jason Hirsh, RHP
Projected: 7-4, 4.05 ERA, 93 IP, 56 K, 10 starts
Actual: 5-7, 4.81 ERA, 112.1 IP, 75 K, 19 starts
Result: I didn't foresee Hirsh earning a starting spot when I made my predictions (of course, a few weeks later, he got the #4 job). He had moments of brilliance, especially early in the season against the Padres and a six-inning shutout of the Mets in July, but at other times got completely bombed (especially by the Cards) and missed most of the second half of the season due to an assortment of freak injuries. Still projected to be a key contributor next year. Miss.

Taylor Buchholz, RHP
Projected: 3-4, 4.65 ERA, 75 IP, 32 K, 4 starts
Actual: 6-5, 4.23 ERA, 93.2 IP, 61 K, 8 starts
Result: Another one of the pitchers the Rox acquired in the Jennings deal, Bucky was supposed to be a starter, but didn't impress in that role and found a solid and reliable role as the pen's long man. I missed on the win/loss total (although got it right that there was one more than the other) came within the ballpark on the ERA, but muffed IP/K/starts. Miss.

Brian Fuentes, RHP
Projected: 4-2, 3.15 ERA, 31 SV/37 SVO
Actual: 3-5, 3.08 ERA, 20 SV/27 SVO
Result: Oh, Fuentes, I may never forgive you. You've etched yourself into the same unfortunate category as Jose Jimenez, Shawn Chacon, and Jose Mesa, first with your choke job in June and then almost single-handedly destroying the Rockies' prospects for a comeback in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Off on the win/loss, quite close on ERA, and predicted six blown saves; he blew seven, and each of them were agony. Hit.

Jeremy Affeldt, LHP
Projected: 1-1, 6.04 ERA, 1 SV/3 SVO
Actual: 4-3, 3.51 ERA, 0 SV/4 SVO
Result: So I underestimated Affeldt; for most of the season he was a decent seventh/eighth inning guy out of the pen before hitting a major wall in September. Still, he wasn't as shitaceous as I was grimly expecting him to be (come on, he's an ex-Royal like Mark "All Star" Redman). Miss.

Manny Corpas, RHP
Projected: 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 2 SV/3 SVO
Actual: 4-2, 2.08 ERA, 19 SV/22 SVO
Result: Clearly, I did not foresee Corpas becoming Studly McStudlerson at closer after Fuentes turned into Choky McChokerson, but so it happened. Manny became a legit flamethrower and a true ninth-inning guy with the mental toughness needed to make everyone feel really confident when he got the ball to close it out. I'll happily take a Miss on this one.

LaTroy Hawkins, RHP
Projected: 1-1, 4.77 ERA, 2 SV/ 5 SVO
Actual: 2-5, 3.42 ERA, 0 SV/5 SVO
Result: He's LaTroy Hawkins, what can you say? He comes to pieces if you attempt to use him as a closer or in any inning later than the eighth, but as a seventh-inning guy, he's generally useful. We can bring him back, maybe, if he takes a pay cut and is used in his proper role. Miss.

Note that I don't have any numbers to toss around for late-season studs Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, Ryan Speier, etc. They opened the season in Triple-A and weren't marked for promotion, and when Speier was first up, he sucked, so he was quickly sent back. Elmer Dessens, Mark Redman, Ramon Ortiz, et all, aside from being names that I hope I never have to hear in conjunction with the words Colorado Rockies again, were late-season additions. Tom Martin was FINALLY given his walking papers after being as bad as everyone, including me, predicted ( 2-3, 5.64 ERA were my choices, 0-0, 4.91 was the actual). But Jimenez and Morales figure to play a big role next year, and Speier will be back if they don't retain Affeldt/Hawkins et all, and may be back on his own merits as well. 2008 will definitely be an interesting season... as long as Dan O'Dowd does not shoot himself in the foot first by re-signing Shawn Chacon and/or signing Brett Tomko (seriously, I heard he was thinking about that). In what universe and under the influence of what drug is that improvement, Dealin' Dan?

Okay. Now for the hitters.

Todd Helton, 1B
Projected: .318 AVG, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .430 OBP, .490 SLG, .920 OPS
Actual: .321 AVG, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .434 OBP, .494 SLG, .928 OPS
Result: Man, did I nail this one. I called the resurge in average, maintained the crazy OBP, gave ol' Todd a few too many homers, but other than that, I came within a few decimals on everything. Hit.

Jamey Carroll, 2B
Projected: .301 AVG, 2 HR, 27 RBI, .363 OBP, .390 SLG, .753 OPS
Actual: .225 AVG, 2 HR, 22 RBI, .317 OBP, .300 SLG, .617 OPS
Result: Okay, so in case I was thinking I was getting good at this from the success of Todd, here's Carroll to bring me back to earth. He hit at a miserly rate, had a terrible OBP/SLG, but oddly enough, I did get the power numbers right. Fell back to earth after a flukey 2006. Do not let him be the starting 2B next year with the likely departure of Kaz (to the Chicago Muthafriggin Cubs, who I hate with a passion unmatched... except for the Yankees). Miss.

Kaz Matsui, 2B
Projected: .262 AVG, 3 HR, 30 RBI, .327 OBP, .436 SLG, .763 OPS
Actual: .288 AVG, 4 HR, 37 RBI, .342 OBP, .405 SLG, .778 OPS
Result: I'll say I came closer to a hit than a miss on this. I underestimated the strong season Kaz would put together on the rebound in terms of batting average, but HR total, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS were all fairly close to what I called, his higher OBP and lower SLG equaling out to quite close on the OPS. Hit.

Clint Barmes, "SS"
Projected: .237 AVG, 7 HR, 27 RBI, .270 OBP, .330 SLG, .600 OPS
Actual: .216 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .237 OBP, .297 SLG, .534 OPS
Result: Dear God, Clint Barmes. He makes me shudder. When I gave him these generous totals, I was assuming he might, due to Hurdle's maddening love for him, take away playing time from Tulo. Instead, he was even more nauseating than my underwhelming numbers, which says a lot about that Miss. Do not, in the name of all that is holy, make the Rockies brass think that he will be an even barely acceptable fill-in for Kaz next year.

Troy Tulowitzki, Zeus
Projected: .282 AVG, 8 HR, 45 RBI, .330 OBP, .340 SLG, .670 OPS
Actual: .291 AVG, 24 HR, 99 RBI, .359 OBP, .479 SLG, .838 OPS
Result: Erm... hem... HOO BOY. I was wow-really-sorry-Tulo-let-me-bear-your-children-in-apology off on this one... I have learned my lesson. Purple Baby Jesus is the truth. And no Team Jesus jokes. Thank you. Clint Barmes-esque Miss.

Garrett Atkins, 3B
Projected: .331 AVG, 33 HR, 130 RBI, .400 OBP, .567 SLG, .967 OPS
Actual: .301 AVG, 25 HR, 111 RBI, .367 SLG, .486 SLG, .853 OPS
Result: I overvalued Atkins, but he would have come quite a bit closer to my totals if he hadn't spent the first two months of the season in a horrid slump -- he got untracked after that and hit something like .340+ after the All-Star Break. Although not the MVP-caliber I thought, still a solid season. Miss, but only due to May.

Brad Hawpe, RF
Projected: .301 AVG, 27 HR, 95 RBI, .399 OBP, .530 SLG, .929 OPS
Actual: .291 AVG, 29 HR, 116 RBI, .387 OBP, .539 SLG, .926 OPS
Result: I actually came fairly close on dear ol' Brad. I clearly should have called that average for Atkins, and Hawpe didn't ever make it north of .300, but I was within 2 on the homers and extremely close on OBP/SLG/OPS, only undervaluing him on RBI. Hit.

Jeff Baker, RF
Projected: .312 AVG, 14 HR, 46 RBI, .385 OBP, .477 SLG, .862 OPS
Actual: .222 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, .296 OBP, .347 SLG, .643 OPS
Result: Holy flying Batman underpants. I guess the fact that Baker hit .368 after his 2006 call-up blinded me to the fact that he is not, in fact, Dante Bichette reincarnated. Seeing as I was expecting him to play much more than he did, and to be a whole lot better than he is, it makes sense as to why I Missed fairly badly here.

Ryan Spilborghs, RF/CF
Projected: .270 AVG, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .330 OBP, .415 SLG, .745 OPS
Actual: .299 AVG, 11 HR, 51 RBI, .363 OBP, .485 SLG, .848 OPS
Result: Yet another case in which I'm perfectly happy to be wrong. Spilborghs arrived and provided an immediate spark, although he faded badly down the stretch when he had to play every day. Still, he's a very valued part to have-- good fourth outfielders are underrated, and I'll again be fine with taking a Miss here.

Cory Sullivan, CF
Projected: .272 AVG, 3 HR, 31 RBI, .317 OBP, .375 SLG, .692 OPS
Actual: .286 AVG, 2 HR, 14 RBI, .336 OBP, .386 SLG, .722 OPS
Result: Sullivan did slightly better than I gave him credit for in all categories, and provided singles-hitting skills off the bench if very minimal power. I really missed in RBI/OBP, but otherwise the projection is close enough that I'm going to call this a Hit, dammit.

Willy Taveras, CF
Projected: .260 AVG, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .314 OBP, .323 SLG, .637 OPS
Actual: .320 AVG, 2 HR, 24 RBI, .367 OBP, .382 SLG, .749 OPS
Result: I undervalued Willy T, but it didn't look like I had at first; he had an awful start to the season and couldn't get on base to save his life. Then came a 5-for-6 April 25 game against the Mets (which I happen to have attended) and he was off and running, literally, as his biggest impact came on the basepaths (33 stolen bases). Still, he needs to find a way to a) get on aside from beating out bunts, and b) stay healthy. His speed does us no good if he keeps getting something wrong with his legs. Miss.

Matt Holliday, LF
Projected: .339 AVG, 38 HR, 125 RBI, .390 OBP, .600 SLG, .990 OPS
Actual: .340 AVG, 36 HR, 137 RBI, .405 OBP, .607 SLG, 1.012 OPS
Result: Called it. Holliday's transformation from middling minor-league maybe-shoulda-played-quarterback prospect to legit MVP candidate (who won't get it, judging by the way the Rockies have been robbed blind this offseason) is complete. He was almost completely in line with what I called for him in February, and dear God, can Scott Boras just go away so we can re-sign him? (Yes, I also enjoy beating my head on brick walls). Hit.

Yorvit Torrealba, C
Projected: .250 AVG, 6 HR, 44 RBI, .299 OBP, .405 SLG, .704 OPS
Actual: .255 AVG, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .323 OBP, .376 SLG, .699 OPS
Result: Yeah, my prediction looks pretty similar to the actual production, and until the deal fell through at the eleventh hour, the Mets were actually prepared to pay 3 years/14.4 million for this. Also, he let 61 of 76 runners steal... good lord. Redeeming factor: Great with the pitchers, especially all the Latino youngsters. Still, time to move on. Hit.

Chris Iannetta, C
Projected: .270 AVG, 8 HR, 50 RBI, .375 OBP, .387 SLG, .762 OPS
Actual: .218 AVG, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .330 OBP, .350 SLG, .680 OPS
Result: Yeah, I missed it, but Iannetta was given only a minimum of playing time and seemed unready in the early going. However, he matured during the season and after a brief demotion in August, hit .348 the rest of the way down the stretch, proving that he is capable of learning at and playing at this level. Still only 24 and looked to as the Rockies' catcher of the future. Which means they'll sign some crappy veteran Kendall/Barrett/et al to take his place again. Poor Ian. Pretty face. Miss.

Overall: I came quite close on some, missed badly on others, and, like everyone else, didn't foresee the 21-of-22 surge or the fact that they actually won the NL Pennant before getting creamed by the Red Sox. Still, it was quite a thrilling and magical season that I'm extremely glad to have been a part of, and I eagerly await 2008. *

* Now if Chacon/Tomko/et all get signed, or Carroll/Barmes/Quintanilla is dubbed the starting second baseman, I reserve the right to change my opinion...

** Oh what the hell. If I wanted to jump off, I could have done so before now...

*** Although as everyone knows, being a Rockies fan is hard.

**** Shut up, Charlie/Dick Monfort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tulo vs. Rollins/Braun -- WHAZZA?

Anyone who has followed baseball on more than a superficial level for the past few years can name you a list of the sport's perpetual doormats – the Cubs, the Royals, the Cubs, the Devil Rays, the Cubs, the Rockies – or not. Hold the phone, at least on the last two. While the comically inept North Siders are still waiting to cash a world championship check for the first time since 1908, the Royals are held in the thrall of David Glass, and the Devil Rays are hoping that a long-term rebuilding plan with young stars Scott Kazmir, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Evan Longoria propels them from zero to hero in a brutal AL East, the Rockies are finally reaping the rewards of their own retooling plan.

The Rockies, brought to baseball's exclusive fraternity in 1993, won a wild card in 1995 on the strength of the Blake Street Bombers – Castilla, Walker, Bichette – and their helium-inflated statistics, taking advantage of a home park that played like a pinball field to offset suspect pitching and raise fans' hopes for a glorious future for the toddler franchise. Unfortunately, the promise never materialized, and watching their brothers in expansion, the Marlins, capture a championship two years later stuck in their craw. It must have required the Heimlich when the Fish did it again in 2003, earning a World Series MVP performance from some kid named Josh Beckett and upsetting the heavily favored Yankees in six games, Aaron Boone's previous ALCS heroics notwithstanding.

While the Marlins were building a winning product and then promptly dismantling it, the Rockies were struggling to build anything at all. They clambered over the ledge of respectability exactly once after 1995, carving out an 82-80 ledge in 2000 back when Coors Field was still Coors Canaveral and pitchers dreaded entering the thin air for the inevitable 10-9 slugfest. The problem was that the Rockies lacked any good arms of their own, a deficiency they attempted to remedy after 2000 by two of the most justifiably mocked free-agent deals in history, ludicrous 7-year/$120 million and 5-year/$51 million pacts to Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, respectively (two names that cause Rockies fans to exhibit a Pavlovian twitch, close seconds being Lance Painter, Shawn Chacon-as-closer, and Jose Mesa).

Unsurprisingly, the deals failed; nobody could pitch in Coors, or at least not well. After the 2002 season, the Rockies attempted a new solution, storing their baseballs in a climate-controlled humidor to stop them from shrinking, drying out, and consequently traveling 400 feet over the outfield fences (the deepest of any park in baseball for this very reason) if connected with a bat. This solution worked at least in theory, but it didn't matter if nobody on the team could throw them past said bats. Signing free agents to big deals in the era of overspending had left the Rockies' farm system shallow on talent and offering no quick fixes for a team destined to bottom-feeding in a weak NL West (dubbed the Worst after the Padres nabbed a playoff spot in 2005 with an 82-80 mark).

2005 was a year significant for other reasons, although the organization didn't yet realize it. With their seventh overall first-round pick in the June amateur draft, they took Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who had fortunately dropped low enough on the table for them to pick him up; the Seattle Mariners were seriously considering him and passed at the last minute, taking catcher Jeff Clement instead. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Tulowitzki was a big shortstop in the vein of Cal Ripken. He'd later prove that this was an apt comparison in more ways than one.

Tabbed as a decent-to-good MLB player sometime in the future, Tulowitzki took every expectation and ran with it. He spent the shortest amount of time in the minor leagues of any Rockies player, ever, never played an inning at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and first arrived in Denver in August 2006 for a late-season showing, hoping to unseat incumbent Clint Barmes for the starting shortstop job. Tulowitzki hit .240 with one home run and six RBIs in 96 at-bats over August and the remainder of September; not completely terrible, but highly touted prospects had certainly done better, leading manager Clint Hurdle to announce that it was a "competition" for Tulowitzki and Barmes coming into Spring Training 2007.

Barmes himself had once been heralded as the shortstop of the future after starting 2005 (again, a significant year) batting .400, but after the unfortunate and much-mocked "deer meat" incident where he broke his collarbone returning from a hunting trip, he was a ghost of his old self and barely cleared the Mendoza line on his return to the big leagues. But as soon as camp convened in Tucson the next year, it became clear that he was the one headed to Colorado Springs, not Tulowitzki. The 22-year-old impressed with his poise, maturity, intuition, and raw skill, and broke camp as the starting shortstop.

Unfortunately, both rookie and team started out in their accustomed rut; Tulowitzki hit sub-.200 for the first few weeks of the season and the Rockies languished to 18-27 out of the gate. Then Tulowitzki, a rookie never afraid to play the role of a veteran, let his teammates know that the losing which they'd been so used to was no longer acceptable.

The result? The best record in the NL, and second-best in baseball to the Yankees, from May 22 (70-49). The best team batting average in baseball (.280) at the end of the season, now with the humidor cutting down on the cartoonish video-game numbers. The best ERA (3.65) after the All-Star Break. And a phenomenal rookie shortstop centering the middle of the infield which became integral to the best-fielding team of all time – the Rockies' cumulative .989 fielding percentage edged out the short-held record (by the 2006 Boston Red Sox) by a few decimals. Surely Tulowitzki would be rewarded with the NL Gold Glove (despite a long-held bias against giving it to rookies) or the NL Rookie of the Year against top competition Ryan Braun.

The result? He got neither.

The Gold Gloves failed to recognize Tulowitzki's stellar glovework up the middle, instead awarding it to Jimmy Rollins. While Rollins became something of a media darling for his self-assured pronouncement that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East (and then making good on it – while aided largely by the Mets' spectacular collapse reminiscent of Philadelphia's own team in 1964) he was an inferior defender to Tulowitzki, who pioneered the spinning, across-body throws ala his hero, Derek Jeter, that routinely landed him on SportsCenter.

Not convinced? Let's take a look at the numbers. Rollins started every one of the Phillies' 162 games at shortstop. He had 717 total chances, handling 706 of them cleanly while recording 227 putouts and 479 assists and turning 110 double plays with second baseman Chase Utley. This was good for a .985 fielding percentage (third in the NL behind Tulowitzki and San Francisco's Omar Vizquel) and a 13.23 range factor (measuring the balls outside of his numerical range that he reached instead of the third baseman or the second baseman). He had a zone rating of .824; all in all, a solid defender and a key component of the Phillies' defense (which made 89 miscues for a .986 overall FP). But Gold Glove? Not if you believe the award should go to the best defender at every position.

Tulowitzki started 155 games at shortstop, missing one or two during his early-season woes and when manager Hurdle decided to give old stalwart Barmes a shot. Despite this, he had 834 total chances, 117 more than Rollins, handling 823 of them cleanly – in other words, he made the same amount of errors in almost 13% more opportunities. Tulowitzki recorded 262 putouts, 35 more than Rollins, and had a whopping 630 assists, beating Rollins by 151. He was part of 139 double plays with second-sacker Kaz Matsui, edging Rollins/Utley by 29, and in all these categories, he was tops in the NL. His .987 fielding percentage in the hole again led all of baseball at his position.

And if this wasn't enough, his range factor beat out Rollins again; Tulowitzki reached close to 16% (16.16) of the balls that weren't in shortstop territory. His zone rating was .866, bettering Rollins by 0.042. And oh yeah, there was that fact of the best-fielding team ever (the Rockies made 68 errors for a .989 FP. In an equally egregious oversight, Todd Helton, who made 2 errors all year for an almost-stellar .999 mark, was somehow passed up for the Gold Glove in favor of Chicago's Derrek Lee, who made 7).

And yet, no Gold Glove for the mantelpiece for the rookie sensation. In a text message to the Denver Post, Tulowitzki shrugged it off, jokingly asking if he'd won the Silver Glove and pointing out that the Rockies captured the NL pennant while the Phillies watched on TBS after being upturned in three during the division series. But he still had a shot to claim postseason hardware in the NL Rookie of the Year category, considered a two-horse race between himself and Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun (early favorite Hunter Pence dropped out of sight after a midseason wrist injury).

Tulowitzki lost.

True, it was in one of the closest ROY votes in history (winner Braun edged Tulowitzki by two votes). It's hard to ignore the 23-year-old Braun's epic offensive season; called up on May 25, he hit .324 in 451 at-bats, with a .370 on-base percentage, a .634 slugging percentage, 34 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 26 doubles. He scored 91 runs, walked 29 times and struck out 110 times.

In contrast, Tulowitzki hit .291 in 609 at-bats, with a .359 OBP and a .479 SLG. While setting the NL rookie shortstop record for homers, he hit 24 of them, with 99 RBIs and 33 doubles, scoring 104 runs. He walked 57 times and struck out 130 times; while he had a tendency to chase, as evidenced by the high K rate, his eye was clearly better than Braun's. If judged purely on offensive merits, this was Braun's award; Tulowitzki was good but Braun was better, a pure hitter who seemed only primed to improve.

The problem was that this is an award who should recognize the most complete player, and that's where the complications begin to develop. To use the word defense for what Braun did at third base was charitable. Tulowitzki's stellar glovework has been covered; Braun, in contrast, made 26 errors in 112 games at third base (in 248 chances) for a historically bad .895 fielding percentage. To show how poor this is, consider this: Gary Sheffield fielded just under .900 with the Marlins in limited duty as a third baseman in 1993, but the last regular position player to field under .900 was 1978 Red Sox third baseman Butch Hobson at .899. And before him, you have to look back to 1916 and third baseman (there seems to be a trend) Charlie Pick of the Philadelphia Athletics, also .899. And Braun was lower than all of them. He was the worst defensive every day third baseman in a long, long time.

Consider these numbers: a 6.34 range factor and a .697 zone rating for Braun, who was routinely taken out for a defensive replacement in close games with the Brewers ahead, no matter the offense lost with his bat. And then there's this: the plus/minus rating system to judge the difference between defenders. Braun had a -41 rating, the worst for any player in baseball, which meant that he made 41 fewer plays than the average third baseman. Tulowitzki's was +35, the highest at his position again – he made 35 more plays than the average shortstop. That equals out to 80 plays and almost 50 runs a year. Braun is a player made for the AL and the fielding-shielded designated hitter.

And then again, there's this. The Brewers folded up the tent in the second half of the season, allowing the miserable Cubs to take the Central (and be rolled three-and-out by the Diamondbacks in the opening playoff round). All the Rockies did was make history with an unprecedented 21-of-22 run, at one point winning 11 in a row before having their win streak snapped by Brandon Webb on September 28 to put them in the position of having to win their last two games (and have the San Diego Padres lose their last two – and most coincidentally, against the Brewers) just to force a one-game playoff.

That night, Tulowitzki hit a grand slam and the Rockies rolled to an 11-1 win over the Diamondbacks and edged out a 4-3 victory the next day. The Brewers beat the Padres that night and then again, setting up a showdown between Colorado and San Diego on October 1 at Coors Field.

The Rockies fought valiantly for 12 innings with the score tied at 6, having a home run taken away from Garrett Atkins and incorrectly ruled a double, and then they put in Jorge Julio, who promptly served up a two-run homer to Scott Hairston. The Rockies seemed destined for a disappointing exit. Then came the bottom of the 13th inning, facing a do-or-die situation against all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Kazuo Matsui led off with a double. Tulowitzki shot another one in between Scott Hairston and Mike Cameron (who, playing with a broken hand, likely couldn't have corralled it anyway) to bring the Rockies to within 8-7. Very shortly, he scored the tying run on Matt Holliday's triple, and a few minutes and a disputed slide later, the Rockies were the NL Wild Card winners at 90-73, one year after finishing a dismal 10 games south of .500 at 76-86. Don't get the Rockies wrong, they appreciate the Brewers' contribution – but Tulowitzki brought fire, skill, intangibles, a never-say-die attitude, and raw presence to the team, and yet couldn't be rewarded with anything for it? It's a shame.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goodnight, Season

Congratulations to the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. That sentence stings to type, but it's true. At the end of the day they were the better team -- they pitched better and hit better, and that's the formula that wins you championships. Our Cinderella story wasn't enough to get us over the hump over a team that's us in 2 or 3 years -- a finished product with the right mix of experience and youth. Perhaps the layoff did affect us after all, as I do not think we played the way we are capable of playing, but it's true that the Red Sox were just better.

This Series hurt and wasn't much fun to watch. I can't say I enjoyed it. But nothing can take away from what we did this year, not even slavering Sox fans and mediots claiming this proves their point about the superiority of the AL. It's still been an almost even trade-off between NL and AL for championships. AL, NL, AL, NL, AL, AL, NL, AL.

How odd it is to love a baseball team. How strange and tender I feel now... just tired, sad, and relieved, slightly hollowed out, in undeniable pain, in relief to have it end, despair of the offseason and hope for next year. Strangely enough, I love the Rockies more than ever, my devotion to them becomes fierce, my love completely untested and part of me forever. Defeat does not break me. The gloating might bother me (as I may have mentioned, the most annoying person on my campus is a Red Sox fan and I do not think that is by accident). Brian Fuentes may have single-handedly killed the last two games for us and it's time for him to be shown the door (once a season-killer, always a season-killer). I've heard tantalizing rumors about us pursuing Ian Snell. And nothing came of it, but that eighth-inning home run by Atkins still made me want to bear his children.

I find myself wondering what it is, over and over, what makes us tick as baseball fans. Pain and pleasure alike have been a big part of October, as is always. We lost the war, but we won this battle; we are the NL champs and nothing can take that away from us. What we did was unprecedented and I look forward to building on it next year. The day after the World Series is like the day after Christmas. Such a letdown... time to bring on the hot stove and see if we can improve upon the pieces we have in place. Our kids have postseason experience and hopefully won't be deer in the headlights. And we didn't choke. While admittedly not playing our best by a long shot, we just ran into a team that was hot at the right time and did the right things.

Let nobody disparage this Colorado Rockies team for how it ended. They were a part of the last game of 2007. They've climbed the peak for the first time, and I don't expect them to be content with mediocrity, now that they've had a taste of rarified air. They will be back. If nothing else, Tulo won't take this.

I love them brutally, so much that it does things like this to me. Next year can't come soon enough. I want to be back there, I hope that what they've done this year will entice others to come as well. The year is over now, I feel very sad and upset about its close, and of course I wish it could have ended differently, but if anything else, this has intensified the deep love that I will and always bear for my Colorado boys.

See you next year, Red Sox. Goodnight, season. Come soon, spring training. The offseason is dark and cold.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I submit my resignation

from Purple Row, this blog, and associated other mediums, at least for the next few days. I just cannot do this anymore. After struggling with depression over the summer, I managed to boot it when I went back to school, but it's coming back now with a vengeance (before the Series started, I might add) and I just have zero emotional energy to spare for the arguing, attacking, wrangling, weaving rollercoaster that this is putting me through.

It's sucked all the life out of something (Rockies baseball) that I love more than just about anything, and I have other things that need to be dealt with instead. Staying in bed until 3pm because I have no desire to get up, always feeling tired, depression, loneliness, homesickness, et all are the tip of the iceberg and that's all I really care to say because I'm tired of fighting about that as well. Tired of hearing that something I'm passionate about is somehow inferior, wrong, twisted, broken, not up to par, etc. Nothing against you all, but it's time for me to step back. I may watch the games, I don't know that I'll post. Happy trails.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I disdain saying more, except: It has to get better from here. 0-1. Pah. Nothing. We'll go back to Coors 1-1 and it'll be okay.

That said, tonight felt like being sodomized with a broken bat and a fistful of tacks.

I make no apologies for that mental image.

Night all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Well, Now We Know

And frankly, once the Indians lost Game 5, I wasn't too surprised. They had a chance to close it out at home with their ace on the mound, and choked, then went to Fenway and lost again with their other ace on the mound, and neither of them impressed at all. You just kind of knew the Sox were going to win tonight, no matter how much you hoped otherwise, and well, they did. The Boston Yankees, I should say. Arrogant fans, arrogant jerkwad players, buying up everything they need, no longer the lovable underdog, they're just the Evil Empire redux. May they be pwninated in four.

I'm sure everyone and his brother will pick the Sox in four or five. Hell, I hope they pick the Sox in "three" -- we know how well that worked for the Tigers last year. Because they're the big, bad, AL, because ESPN loves that one of their media juggernauts made it, because they have Josh Freakin' Beckett. Well, anybody bother to check the stats? Seems to me we outscored the Sawx 20-5 at Fenway in June, put a world of hurt on Schilling and Beckett, and took two out of three. See, we've been playing well since BEFORE September.

A few reasons the Rockies are going to rock the Sox:

-- Since May 22, we've had baseball's best record at 79-45; we just had to turn on the afterburners for that final hump into September.

-- We were 21-12 against the AL the past two seasons, a .636 winning percentage, and that was before we were razing everything in our path.

-- The Red Sox play in the AL, sure. They also play in the East. I bet we could have won 96 games if we got to face the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, and Orioles (the first one mediocre, the latter two totally inept) 50 or 60 times a year.

-- The Rockies have lost exactly one game since the middle of September. Why are we going to lose four in a week and a half?

-- We have better speed and defense.

-- The Red Sox aren't equipped to play at Coors. Manny in the cavernous left field? Ortiz at first base? Wakefield's knuckler isn't going to break in the thin air, and Dice-K will be thrown off by pitching at altitude. Let's not tell him about the humidor.

The one problem: the hitting. We have a .242 average in the postseason and we're going to need to turn it on against the Beantown Bombers. Hopefully, the pitching can continue the trend of damping the fuse against high-octane offenses, but the hitting is going to need to bring the sticks. But all year, and especially in October, they've found a way to get it done, however and whenever. National League Champion Rockies sounds surreal enough, but it's not the final stop for the Purple Express. I expect they'll drop the first one against Beckett (but then again, who knows?) then turn on the jets, rip off four, and win the damn thing at home in a game that Denver will always remember.

Rockies in five.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Colorado Rockies: 2007 National League Champions

It's downright crazy. I don't know that I believe it. My reaction was rather subdued; I must be dreaming. Matt Holliday getting hit by a pitch and turning into the Incredible Hulk the next at-bat, as he did tonight, crushing a monster three-run blast to make it 6-1 after Seth Smith had a pinch-hit, two-run double and Kaz had an RBI single. Of course, if I thought it was going to be easy from there, I was wrong. The shakes and the hyperventilating from when Bad Brian Fuentes reared his ugly head to allow a three-run homer to Chris Snyder in the eighth -- making it 6-4 -- are barely subsiding. Especially after that, Fuentes allows a triple, Manny Corpas comes in, strikes out Tony Clark, and for the top of the ninth -- groundout, double, popout (on 3-0) and groundout, from local goat Eric Byrnes, to punch the Rockies' ticket to their first World Series ever.

I need to not go broke on NL Champs gear. I love them all. I want to read everything about this magical night. I want four more wins and a parade through Denver. And no, I don't think this is too much. We just may be that team of destiny, and I've waited for this. And nothing will ever stop me from wishing passionately I was in Colorado, screw school and everything else. I yearn to be on 20th and Blake with all the other fans who love this team the way I do.



Let that one settle in for a while. I sure need to.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Come On. You Knew It.

So the Rockies, a few weeks ago, were one strike away from being eliminated in a game they weren't even playing in. Trevor Hoffman against Tony Gwynn, Jr. The son of arguably the most famous Padre ever delivered the tying triple, the Brewers went on to win, and since then, the purple power has bordered on the absolutely insane. And yet again, they proved it tonight. High-scoring offenses? Hitter's parks? Slugfest predictions? Phillies in 5? Screw 'em all. The Rockies won 2-1 tonight, on the back of an RBI triple from Kaz and a pinch-hit, tiebreaking RBI single from Jeff Baker (not to mention an absolutely stellar performance from Ubaldo Jimenez, in the game of his life) to sweep the Phillies and advance to a NLCS matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Say it. Believe it. The Colorado Rockies, with four more wins, will be the National League champions.

Wrap your mind around it. The morons at TBS, aside from openly shilling for the Phils the whole time, certainly couldn't.

Breathe that purple air. Dream in a violet haze. Love your team. Believe in them. I have to say, we're looking an awful lot like destiny right now.

A lot of things can change between now and the four days some idiot decided to allocate in between the NLDS and NLCS. The Wild Wild West is no longer the Worst, it is the Best. D-backs vs. Rox, an NL winner I can get behind in the Series either way. This is crazy. I can't describe what they're doing. It's amazing, and I love it.

And I don't want to hear anything about the Phillies choking this series away. They showed up to play and they got beaten by a better team. Give them credit, it actually does happen. The Rockies were the ones that managed to stay hot following their incredible late-season surge, and to jump through hoops to avoid giving them credit and insisting the Phillies beat themselves is just lame. The Rockies hit, pitched, and played defense, and that is how you win championships.

Rocktober, baby. Keep the faith.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Add Another Chapter to the Cinderella Story

This Colorado Rockies season has already progressed beyond believability for even the cheesiest, schmaltziest sports movie. Come on, they're the (possibly, depending on your proclivities and/or geographic orientation) lovable underdogs coming into the 2007 season, their only playoff appearance a distant 12-year-old memory in which they won exactly one game before being four-and-out to the eventual Series champion Braves. They were generally picked to finish last, and I gave them a five-game improvement to a break-even 81-81 mark. (In my preseason predictions, I also really, really underestimated Tulo. I am so sorry, Troy. Call me, and we'll get an arrangement worked out for me to bear your children. Wait, what? [whistles]).

Anyway, this year, they start off 18-27, making all the naysayers look pretty much dead accurate. Then, from May 22, they have the best record in baseball second only to those damn Yankees. They never lead the Wild Card all year and on the last day of the season they manage to scratch into a tie. They play a tiebreaker at home, go down 8-6 in the bottom of the 13th against the all-time saves leader, then win on a play at the plate that will likely go down in postseason lore as The Slide (as compared to Jeremy Giambi, which was The (Non) Slide). Then they win the wild card and meet a similarly hot team in the Phillies, who went 13-4 down the stretch to blow over the hollow-men Mets. Then they win the first two on the road in front of the notoriously (un)friendly Philly crowd, including getting a grand slam from their second baseman Matsui, who hit four homers all year and whose Major League total stands at a whopping 17. Now they go home to a Coors that will be on fire, sold out, and ready to cheer their boys onto their first-ever NLCS (knock on wood).

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, of course. 2-0 is great, but it's not 3-0. We're still nine innings away from the Pre-Pre-Promised Land (Championship) series, 36 innings away from the Pre-Promised Land (the NL pennant) and a further 36 innings away from the Promised Land (World Series victory). What the team has done in terms of bearing down and focusing on each game at a time, instead of trying to comprehend the fact that they've now won 16 of 17 to close the season and charge into the spot they're currently in, cannot be understated. This is a group of young guys playing with maturity and focus beyond their years, a group that finished .5 games behind the D-backs (if both teams can hang on to their respective 2-all edges, they'll be on target to collide in a Wild Wild West NLCS, probably the sports networks' worst nightmare) for the best record in the NL. A group led by a wily veteran (Helton) up-and-coming mashers who are finally getting the attention they deserve (Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins) and a true rookie superstar (Troy Tulowitzki) they are also a supreme example of class, grace, and dignity off the field.

Here's why: The Rockies voted, unanimously, to allocate a full playoff share to Amanda Coolbaugh, the pregnant widow of AA coach Mike, killed July 22 while coaching first base for the Drillers, their minor-league affiliate. This is made even more touching and heartbreaking by the fact that Coolbaugh only joined the organization a few weeks before he died, and only a few players personally knew him, yet they are stepping up to help out those he left behind. Amanda, aside from expecting her third child any day now, has two pre-school-aged sons; Joseph, 5, and Jacob, 3. You can imagine that an AA coach isn't making very much, and the players receive 60% of the gate take for each playoff game. If they go on to the World Series, this amount could be as much as $362,000. For comparison, Atkins makes $400,000 -- that's almost doubling his salary.

And yet this group of young players, without telling the media, without being prodded by management to repair their image, quietly chose to give it to someone who needed it more than they do. For comparison, the Rockies' payroll is $54.4 million, and 30% of that ($16.6 million) is going to Todd. A fair number of them are making the league minimum, and the second-highest-paid player after Helton is Holliday, who's making $4.4 million (the potential and deserving NL MVP, folks). It is so incredibly rare to hear about players voluntarily turning down more money and giving it to someone who doesn't have as much, in a time of great need, that it's just an amazingly classy gesture by a team of not just players, but friends, fellow community members, and men. These players directly passed on padding their own pockets like so many of their peers, and it shines a spotlight on the quality of the character in that clubhouse.

Contrast this to the main Broncos story, which features Travis Henry getting arrested again for marijuana possession and the revelation he has nine children by nine different women. (Wow, the football version of Elijah Dukes). The Rockies are not only winners, they are the epitome of humbleness, class, and selflessness. I could simply not be more proud of them (but I'm sure that if they kept moving up, it might be possible...) To judge from the comments on ESPN, the Rockies not only pulled off a miraculous late-season run, they are winning the hearts of America by reminding us that not all professional athletes are lowlife thugs. It is a refreshing and truly touching change. I salute them.

One other thing, in case you're having different ideas about where this altruism stems from: You may have heard a lot about the erroneous "Team Jesus" article that got published in USA Today, suggesting the Rockies only draft Christian players and that their clubhouse is some weird version of Bible camp, where Maxims, Playboys, and sexually explicit music are banned and they spend all their time praying and reading Scripture. I feel as if I have to refute this misperception at every turn, so here we go again: That article was a factually incorrect exaggeration based on the beliefs of the front office and a few of the players. And even those players (Cook, Helton, Holliday) aren't happy at all with that story and how they were portrayed.

Fact is, despite the great diversity of backgrounds and ethnic origins, there is no schism among the guys whatsoever; as Cook puts it, "I've never even seen a Bible out in the open in the clubhouse." And far from proselytizing every chance he gets, Holliday, who is religious, likes to keep it quiet and doesn't think it has to do with baseball. The guys in the clubhouse love each other and pull for each other hard. And we look for players with character as well as talent, just so we don't end up with Kyle Farnsworth-like @$$holes on the team (and if even that was so important, how did Jose Mesa end up here for one brief and deeply forgettable season?) Not necessarily religious. There are a few guys who are, as there are on any club, but it's by no means the "Team Jesus" that certain bloggers would have you believe. We're not sanctimonious holier-than-thou missionaries, we're a diverse blend of young guys having fun. Jason Hirsh, who is Jewish, was asked about the supposed Christianity bias in an interview with MLB Trade Rumors a while back, and said he hadn't noticed a thing, and had never played with a nicer and more welcoming group of guys. He was excited to be a Rockie, and this was well before our fairy tale run, so all the more power to him...

Anybody and everybody is welcome in the clubhouse, which is fantastically tight-knit and supportive of all comers. Not all the guys are Christians, and those that are are the best kind, of outreaching, supportive, genuinely nice and humble individuals instead of narrow-minded, vitriol-spewing bigots. Those that are religious are not unduly dragging it into the public eye. You should wikipedia the Rockies and read their response to the article, published in the Denver Post, and if you watched the Rockies Spotlight on Holliday, you'll see him roll his eyes and refer to the USA Today reporter as "that guy." This is not some sort of exclusive "good ol' boys" club.

Hopefully we got that straightened out; I'm tired of having to refute it at every turn. And no matter what started it, the gesture to a grieving widow was a fantastically classy, mature, and professional thing to do, and hopefully the boys can go out in front of a fanatically supportive home crowd and finish the job in three, moving on again with their fairytale season. Coolbaugh's two sons will be throwing out the first pitch -- how more Hollywood can you get?! -- and since Denver has gone deep purple with Rockies fever, it would be great to nail the thing down on the first crack. God, so nervous.

P.S. Colorado niceness has to go out the window. I want people above the 'pen razzing Jamie Moyer during his warmups, and I want Rollins to be as viciously treated as Holliday was in Philly. We're real baseball fans now, not just people going to a game to spend an evening, and it needs to be recognized. Besides, if we lose Game 3, Mark Redman is starting a potential Game 4, and the last thing we want is to send the series back to Philly tied and Cole Hamels on the hill for the clincher. Beating him once was great, but let's not count on having to do it again.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Purple Fever Believer

Jesus Fucking Tapdancing Christ on a Toaster.

It's 3 am and thank God I have no class tomorrow, because I doubt I can sleep. The adrenaline is kind of wearing off. Kind of. After waking up on the heels of 4 hours of sleep for morning class, feeling too apprehensive to eat anything except from a croissant in the morning and some chicken fingers and an apple in the evening. I went to class in the morning. I didn't eat lunch because I felt too sick with nerves. I almost passed out with exhaustion in my afternoon class, and my focus wandered badly as we finished up the last leg of 2 hours of psychology. Knowing I was going to need all the fortitude I could muster for the night's forthcoming tilt, I went home and slept for three hours or so, from 3:45 until 6:45. I woke up at dusk, feeling so nervous I could barely breathe, and added the Rockies jersey and hat to my shirt, necklace, and jacket. Then, scared but hopeful, I sallied forth to find my friend Nick and the TV he had promised to purloin for us. We chased off, or briefly assimilated, certain annoying Red Sox fans who wanted to hijack it to watch Monday Night Football (the Pats won again, of course, and who the fuck cares about them? This is my team fighting for October, people).

Game started. I was whooping, rooting, cheering, and cursing like a sailor. I was pleased as hell to see the two runs off Peavy in the first inning on a deep sac fly by Mr. Rockie Todd Helton and and an RBI single by Garrett, was stunned (but in a good way) when Yorvit actually hit a homer, and then felt like axe-chopping something when Dragon Slayer Josh Fogg lost his sword and gave up a grand slam to Adrian Gonzalez. Another run on a forceout made it 5-3, and with Peavy on the mound, you might think this was a problem.

It was not. Peavy was mortal. He yielded a solo shot to Helton in the fourth, and then a combination of ROY double/MVP single tied the game in the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth, pinch-hitter Seth Smith blasted a triple and scored on Kaz's sac fly; thanks to another defensive miscue by replacement Pods center fielder Brady Clark, Tulo hit the second triple of the inning, but failed to score when Holliday struck out. Every time he was up, however, the whole stadium was chanting, "M-V-P." It was amazing, chill-inducing, and insane.

In the bottom of the seventh, the umps blatantly missed a call on Atkins, ruling that his ball that went over the wall, hit a chair and bounced back, was a double instead of a homer. Poor Garrett has been fucked out of two homers this year, and yet again, the Rockies couldn't go for the jugular, sitting on a 6-5 advantage into the eighth. Brian Fuentes came in, admittedly got into a little trouble, and should have gotten out of the inning intact, but Holliday completely misplayed a Brian Giles fly ball and let it go over his head for a double. I slapped my hand to my face and moaned, as all the while the morons broadcasting the game on TBS salivated and continued to ride Padre jock hard enough to leave carpet burns. The Rockies couldn't come through in the eighth and Manny Corpas blew through a six-pitch ninth inning; that should have closed the game out in regulation, but since the umps had, of course, fucked poor Garrett out of his homer, it dragged on, and on, and on, close to five hours of a grueling emotional marathon. Matt Herges wriggled out of jams, the Rockies couldn't touch a ridiculous Padres 'pen, and when Jorge Julio came on for the thirteenth, I groaned aloud.

Sure enough, Julio bore out my bad feeling, walking the first hitter he faced before allowing a two-run homer to Scott Hairston, for the love of Christ. It made me sick to see the Padres whooping it up in the dugout, and I admit it, I could not bear to see the season ended on a such a bitter note, losing a winnable game in front of our raucous and screaming home crowd, silenced forever and left to wonder what could have been. I left the TV room and began the long walk back to my dorm, feeling brutally upset and bitter, broken, hollow, and empty. Basically like shit, in other words, cursing the umps for missing Atkins' homer, Matty for missing the flyball, and Jorge Julio for existing. I flung down my stuff on my bed and naturally turned on Gameday, just to see how it would end. Ramon Ortiz, of all people, came in and snuffed the rally in the top of the thirteenth, and then Trevor Hoffman, he of the all-time saves record, came in to try to put the finishing touches on a monstrously aggravating and heartbreaking loss.

He didn't. Kaz Matsui fought off tough pitches and ripped a double deep into the left-center field gap. Coors began to make some noise again, after being deadened by the Hairston homer. Then the Rookie of the Year came up and set the torch to them again with a matching blast, scoring Matsui as he rolled into second with a double. And then...

Matty had been somewhat of a scapegoat earlier in the night for blowing the flyball and striking out twice with runners in scoring position. With one swing, he sent Coors off the edge. I'm not kidding. I was watching this on Gameday, but I saw the video and... the noise the crowd makes when he lights into that ball is unbelievable. It and Brian Giles bang off the right-field scoreboard, the place is in pandemonium, Tulo scores to tie it, and Matty is safe at third with a triple. As you can imagine, my phone began ringing right now, and the first call I fielded was from Nick. He made no bones about it, "GET BACK HERE! NOW!"

Another friend called as I tore down the stairs, fumbling for my keys. I sprinted across campus back to the TV room, and I went belting up the stairs in time to see a mosh pit on the TV -- Jamey Carroll, placed in to pinch-run for Atkins after it was a "double," came through with a shallow liner to right field, Holliday charged home, dived face-first, swiped the plate with his hand as Barrett dropped the ball (dodgy call, but hey, it was karmic justice, the game should have been over in regulation) and came up bloodied and dirtied, probably feeling the best he had in his life, as his team, his city, and his mates went absofuckinglutely berserk. I screamed and threw myself on Nick. I shook. I launched myself across the room to hug his friend, who I don't even know that well. I shrieked at the top of my lungs. My legs would not support me, I fell down. A few people came up the stairs to ask if I was all right, since I was screaming bloody murder. Nick was like, "The Rockies made the playoffs, it's cool."

I screamed. I threw myself in Nick's arms again. I held on. I fell to my knees. I had earlier promised to freak out on an epic level if the Rockies won, and they did. The Holliday call was justice for screwing Atkins out of the game-winning HR, and holy shit. Holy. Fucking. Shit. I have no classes tomorrow, won't be in bed before 4 and may sleep all day, have homework to do that's not getting done as I live and die with my team, and I don't care. This is amazing. The Colorado Rockies are one of four NL entrants still standing with a run that defies explanation. We didn't even lead the NL wild card. We weren't tied until yesterday. And we beat the best pitcher in baseball and the all-time saves leader. I swear, you can't script this. Even Hollywood would reject it as too corny.

I don't care if Holliday supposedly didn't touch the plate. We won. He lay there dazed, Tulo flung himself over Matty, then jumped into the mosh pit. Fireworks went off. A town believed. A team fulfilled a destiny. 90-73 and a wild-card spot into the postseason and a first-round matchup with Philly. Two strong offenses, two suspect pitching staffs, the first stop on the way to immortality.

Jeff Francis vs. Cole Hamels. 3 ET Wednesday.

See you in October.

GO ROCKIES!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, October 01, 2007


T-minus six hours, and I am a jumping, twitching, sick-with-nerves wreck. Can't eat, could barely sleep (I got about 4 hours, partly because of being too amped to lie down, and partly because some idiots with mowers decided 7:45 AM was the perfect time to do landscaping outside my window). Nervous as hell, already wearing my Rockies shirt, jacket, and necklace, with jersey and hat to be added at gametime. I'll be watching that with my friend Nick, and I'm pretty sure I'll have a coronary before it's over. I need to get off the Internet and stop reading about it; I know what it is, what is at stake, and I want it more than I've wanted anything, which is saying a lot. The Rockies are playing baseball in October but they need one more win, albeit off Jake Peavy with Josh Fogg up against him, in front of a sold-out, amped, raucous crowd that has the purple fever and just won't stop believin', to really play baseball in October. This is the third shot for the Padres, and the Rockies have been lawn-mowing everything in the way. Peavy may be pitching, but I think we still have the advantage.

I believe they will do it. I am dead set they will. That doesn't stop me from dying along the way.

GO ROCKIES!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Whoof Hee Hooba

OMG. Jesus. Wow. Need cardiac unit. Need it.

The Brewers, down to their last strike against Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee, which would give the Pads the Wild Card outright and eliminate the Rockies, pulled off a pretty improbable rally. Tony Gwynn Jr., in the mother of all ironies, hit a game-tying triple to force extra innings, and in the bottom of the eleventh, Vinny Rottino's RBI single brought home Ryan Braun to seal a 4-3 win for the Crew. Still, it didn't mean anything unless the Rockies won; a Pads win or Rox loss would boot my boys out for the 12th straight season.

The Rockies did not lose. Led by a 4-run first and a sixth-inning grand slam from tROY Tulowitzki (if he doesn't have that thing wrapped up, it's highway robbery) they assaulted the Diamondbacks 11-1 and lived to play another day.

But they faced the same situation today -- they had to win, and the Padres had to lose, just to reach a tiebreaker. The Padres chose to pitch Brett Tomko and save Jake Peavy for a Monday start in the tiebreak, while the Rockies tabbed talented 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez. They were opposed by Jeff Suppan and Yusmeiro Petit, respectively, and the Padres went up 3-o early. It looked as if the Rockies were going to go down without being able to lift a hand in their own defense, which sucked.

Then Tomko began to pitch like the 4-11 pitcher he was, the Brewers capitalized, and went up 5-4, stretched it to 6-4, and didn't look back with Gabe Gross's bases-clearing triple making it 9-4. They tacked on a few extra, fended off a ninth-inning threat from the Friars, and made it an 11-6 final.

U-ball and Petit came out of the gate dueling, and Jimenez was amped; his first pitch clocked at 98, and he no-hit the D-backs through five complete innings while racking up 10 Ks. His control goes to hell around 95 pitches, and usuallly in the seventh inning. He walked two, Hurdle put in Julio for some reason best known to him, and naturally, he permitted an RBI single to tie the game at one. (Atkins' single and Hawpe's triple had led to a 1-0 advantage for the Rox an inning earlier). Hurdle fortunately yanked him and installed Fuentes, who came up with two huge strikeouts to end it, and managed (after two walks) to repeat the performance in the top of the eighth as well.

Bottom of the eighth. Tulowitzki reaches on an error, Holliday reaches on an infield single, Tulo to third, Helton walks. Atkins comes through with the tiebreaking RBI single, and then, with Coors going berserk, Hawpe delivers the two-run double to push them to 4-1. Torrealba struck out, naturally, and Cory Sullivan grounded into a double play, to squash their chances of getting more.

Onto the ninth. Usually reliable Manny Corpas has been looking wobbly lately, and allowed a single and a double to open the inning; a run scored on a sacrifice fly. He then induced a groundout, but an RBI bloop single made it 4-3. I was pretty much dying. Rocking. Squeaking. Hyperventilating. Moaning. Crazy.

Stephen Drew chops it back to the box. Manny fields it off-balance and flings it to Helton, who beats Drew by half a step to the bag. Coors goes off the handle and so does Helton, who skips around madly and flings himself into Tulo's arms. The Rockies did what they needed to do. They won 13 of 14 to set up the playoff game tomorrow, which will be Jake Peavy vs. Josh Fogg (not good, admittedly, but who had us winning 13 of 14? Who had us in this position, tied for second place in the NL West at 89-73, one game behind the D-backs? Playing in front of a sold-out crowd with the purple fever?

Here are the playoff spots:
NL West: D-backs
NL Central: Cubs
NL East: Phillies (yes, the Mets tanked, and I'm afraid this will cost Holliday the MVP in favor of Rollins)
NL Wild Card: Padres or Rockies (pending outcome of the game tomorrow)

AL West: Angels
AL Central: Indians
AL East: Red Sox
AL Wild Card: Yankees


NLDS 1: Wild Card vs. Phillies
NLDS 2: Cubs vs. D-backs.

ALDS 1: Angels vs. Red Sox
ALDS 2: Yankees vs. Indians

I'm pulling for a Rockies/Indians series. And I do believe that the Rockies are going to win tomorrow. They've defied every odd so far, they're going to make this one as well.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

..... Wow....

Yeah, that's pretty much anyone can say. 11 in a row. 11 in a fucking row. 76-72 to 87-72, one back in the Wild Card, two back in the division (My God, can we ever get any help?! 11 games won and we're still not in the lead?!) and the first unbeaten multi-city trip in franchise history. 10-4 brooming of the Dodgers, homers from Garrett, Brad (back to back in the fourth) and Todd (to provide a crucial insurance cushion, to 6-3 from 4-3). After that, my baby Brad came through again with a three-run double. And.... wow. We did it. We did it. We swept the Dodgers again and head home to what will be a packed, rollicking, screaming, and wildly supportive Coors Field for a season-ending showdown with the D-backs. Win 0 of 3 or 1 of 3, we're toast. Win 2 of 3, we tie for the division. Win 3 of 3, and we sweep, win the division outright, and finish with the NL's best record.

Let me repeat that. The Colorado Rockies, if sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks at home this weekend, will finish with the National League West crown and the best record in the league.

Amazing. It gives me chills to think what Coors will be like this weekend. I wish I could be there. I wish. It will be an experience for a lifetime. For the first time ever, we have roared to life, we will have a sold-out crowd screaming deliriously for us, and the last three games will be fraught with meaning. We are not playing out our string. We could do this. We could.

So, I have a dilemma. The Mets are in free-fall. If the Phillies pass them and win the East, we don't have to worry about them in the Wild Card, and the Mets losing (and a few losses from the Padres, dammit... help us out, Brewers, and learn how to freakin' field, while you're at it) would substantially clear our path to the Wild Card. But, if the Mets somehow hang on and the Nats beat the Phillies and the Rox claim the WC (you think this is complicated, try reading the tiebreaker scenarios) then the Rox and Mets will play each other. Aside from being favorable for the Rox (Mets backing badly into the playoffs on a terrible swoon) it then means I would be able to go to an actual Rockies playoff game here in New York, probably with Mary and Steve (the latter would protect me from any too crazed fanatics). And yeah, I'd be booed mercilessly instead of being among a sea of purple brethren, but I don't care. I'd take it. I'd take it and more to see my Rockies, my deepest and most beloved Rockies, in a NLDS game. October baseball for all the chips.

Three days to go in the season and while the AL playoff spots are all sewn up (snore, I hate the AL, I can only hope the Indians get to the Series because any of the other entrants make me vomit) absolutely nothing is settled in the NL. We could be facing up to four days of tiebreakers.

And my Rox are, finally, enjoying a winning season. More than that, they are winners. They have an amazing camaraderie, they enjoy playing together, they enjoy winning together, and now, finally, they expect to and have shown us what they can accomplish. Even if they fall short, 2008 is going to be amazing.

I live for this.

Go Rockies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Does Not Kill You Will Make You Stronger

Jesus. H. Christ. It's 2:25 AM, I have class in seven hours that requires me to be awake again after six of them, and only now is my adrenaline high wearing off enough for me to think about sleep. What a crazy night. The Phillies lost to the Braves (good!) the Padres stunned the shockingly shitaceous Giants (fuck!) and the Rockies themselves just kept up the good times, logging a 9-7 win over the Dodgers for, coincidentally, their ninth straight win. And boy, did they do it in a wild, roller-coaster, completely draining way. Now that I've resigned myself to the fact I'm not going to get a lot of sleep tonight, it's time to put this down so hopefully it will be out of my head and I don't lie awake hyperventilating for another hour.

What. A Game. And as I say, whatever doesn't slay you must toughen your resolve for the playoff games (I BELIEVE!) that will come. By my (admittedly inexpert... c'mon, I go to a liberal arts school) calculations, the lead changed hands or the game was tied five times. Kaz Matsui got the scoring started; Sullivan hit a single, Matsui did as well, and both scored. Confused? I'm sure the Gameday operator was as well. It featured the Rockies running wild on Juan Pierre's joke of an arm in center and Russ Martin throwing a ball into center field. End result, both Sullivan and Matsui scored in what must have been a very bizarre play to score indeed. 2-0 is a good edge to jump out to, especially in a must-win game (they all are) against Brad Penny in a forbidding Chavez Ravine that has been brutally unkind (4-12) to the Rockies. But the rollercoaster had just gotten going.

Ubaldo Jimenez had been dominant against the Dodgers in two previous starts, but forgot his lucky charms tonight, allowing a two-run homer to Chin-Lung Hu. The very next inning, the Rockies pushed across two runs on a RBI single and a botched DP ball. In the bottom of the inning, James Loney cracked a three-run homer to put the Dodgers ahead 5-4 -- dizzy yet? It also featured the unusual combination of strikeout-double play-strikeout, as Martin struck out but beat the wild pitch to first. Andre Ethier lined into a double play which featured lightweight Cory Sullivan gunning Jeff Kent down at home to prevent him from scoring; Torrealba redeemed himself for letting Martin's ball get away with a perfect block of the plate. Then Andy LaRoche struck out, leaving Ryan Speier successfully having gotten four outs.

The next inning, Kaz (the Purple Dragon) and the Iceman swungeth for the Rockies yet again. Troy Tulowitzki, long may his godliness grace us, hit a two-run shot to left to push it to a 6-5 lead. Visibily pumped, Tulo skipped and punched the air as Rockies fans had orgasms and heart attacks simultaneously. After Scott Proctor hit Holliday in the seventh (making a successful return from oblique injury, he didn't hit any bombs, but got two singles) Helton got his third hit of the game (he smells the postseason and you can bet to hell he wants it) to make it 7-5. The cavernous drought that is Dodger Stadium's center field stole a three-run shot from Atkins (it was out of any park except the hitter's abattoirs known as the Ravine and Petco). Matt Herges, having already gotten through a successful sixth, did the same with the seventh.

Then the real heart attacks started, better known as the bottom of the eighth. Brian Fuentes threatened so badly to revert to June form, Hurdle actually thought about putting Julio in. (Thank GOD he did not). Fuentes allowed a run, walked the bases loaded twice, and then let Matt Kemp hit a low, slicing liner into center field. In any other year, any other day, perhaps, it would have dropped for a two-run single, devastating a two-run lead for the Rox into a one-run deficit. But not in this day, this age, this moment, this charmed season that perpetually hangs on the edge of a knife. Ryan Spilborghs made a sliding catch and saved it. More simultaneous heart attack/orgasms for Rox fans. I was pretty much dead by this point.

The Rockies went to the ninth. Torrealba doubled. Mr. Clutch, Spilborghs, came through with the insurance double, and Jamey Carroll, in as a defensive replacement for Atkins, cashed him in with a single. 9-6 going to the bottom of the ninth, and usually lights-out Manny Corpas wobbled, allowing a one-out solo jack to Delwyn Young, getting Martin to ground out on the first pitch, and then allowing a double to Andre Ethier.

I was rocking, whimpering, shaking, crossing my fingers, unable to stand up and totally drained by this point. I didn't know what he was going to do if Manny didn't get the next out -- but he did. Groundout. Game in the bag. And one totally exhausted, completely euphoric, never-did-finish-reading-her-politics-assignment-so-what fan, who almost collapsed in her computer chair and took a while to get up the focus to take a shower, much less anything else.

It's almost 3 AM. I'm still awake. As one of my friends reminded me, Rockies playoff race > everything else. I have taken up a 24-hour Rockies representation -- I have worn my Hawpe shirt for the past three days, and now I am sleeping in my Atkins shirt. Nine in a row ties the franchise record and leaves us still one behind the Padres (ARGH! FUCKING GIANTS! Try not sucking for once in your life! Goddammit! Yes, a lot of frustration here... we could have been tied if they'd just hung onto a 4-2 lead in the ninth!)

Peavy vs. Misch for the Pads/Giants tomorrow. That's bad. Fogg vs. Lowe for us, not great. Tim Hudson vs. Kyle Lohse for Braves/ Phillies, good. And not to mention... I believe. I do. I do. This is a Rockies team that is hot and hungry like you would not believe.

I have learned my lesson.

I will never doubt them again.

I may never sleep, either. Or get anything done in a timely fashion.

One thing I will not do is stop loving my Colorado Rockies. Ever.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eight Straight

Holy shit, that's about all I can say. Everybody in the world, myself undoubtedly included, wrote the Rockies' obituary after they lost two of three to the Marlins to follow up a disappointing split in Philly, painful experiences that I am sure you are already well aware of if you've been following their season or reading this blog. And while Baseball Prospectus still puts their playoff odds at a disappointingly far-away 5%, what the Rockies have done defies explanation. They said they needed a sweep to be talked about at all, and a sweep they got. Their convincing 7-3 victory today featured an absolutely ace-like performance on the back of Jeff Francis (8 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 8 K) to improve to 17-8 and tie Kevin Ritz and Pedro Astacio (yes, he's following a dubious precedent) for the all-time franchise single-season victory rotal. Adding to the oddity was an inside-the-park-homer from Garrett "Fankles" Atkins, whose sprinting lumber barely beat the throw home after Cameron and Bradley collided on his deep flyball to center, and Brad Hawpe turning into Mad Hawpiday after Mad Mattie MVP had to sit out (boo!) for the second straight day with an oblique strain. After having the game-winning homer in fourteen innings, he followed it up with a 4-for-4 performance in the middle game of the series and another multi-RBI performance, and another HR, today. So proud of my boys I could burst -- and I will be wearing my Hawpe shirt around SLC for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of which, doing my homework on Sports Sunday (football and baseball, the Rockies won and the Broncos got their asses kicked by the Jaguars) didn't work so well. Good thing I already read Adam Smith, now I was supposed to read Karl Polanyi as a counterpoint, and now I really should be in bed since I have a busy day tomorrow (politics lecture, neuropsych class, Mets game with Mary and Steve YAY) but I'm staying up late talking to my friends, reveling in the Rockies' glory (84-72, 1.5 back of the WC, 8 wins in a row) and trawling laboriously through page by page of Polanyi and really getting worried that it will not be done in time. Who cares?! The Rockies rule!

Oh man. My love for my sports teams is going to get me into so much trouble. But it's amazing the way you can feel for them. At the close of the Rockies game today, I cried. It was in joy, in disbelief, in hope, perhaps, relief, gratitude for them for giving me this ride and this amazing resiliency and talent. This team is for real. I love them deeply enough to forego homework, and if you know me, you know that's something.

They begin their final six games of the season -- three against the Dodgers starting on Tuesday, three at home against the D-backs -- with a chance to stun everybody and complete this comeback. And you know what? I believe they can. There is no quit in them. It's time. They can. And that's what a fan's prerogative is. I can't let go of them, not now and not ever.

Go Rockies. Yours forever.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Don't Stop Believin'

Cue the Journey. I wrote their epitaph, and yet... it has gone down to the wire. It may be. I can believe. 3.5 back of the Padres with 8 games remaining to play. A dramatic 14th-inning victory against the Friars culminating with Brad Hawpe's 27th HR of the year, hit off a lefty, as he did all the offensive lifting and Matt Herges closed it after Manny Corpas blew his first save since July. Baseball is amazing and unpredictable and I love this game and my Colorado Rockies forever, no matter how this ends. That is all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Which Some Goes Wrong and More Goes Right

The Rockies confound me. Not that I think they'll really make the playoffs, that coffin was pretty much nailed shut by the disastrous umpiring and Jeff Francis's horrible start in Philadelphia, and their playoff odds currently stand at an oh-so-overwhelming 2.5%. After struggling to a split in the City of (Not-So) Brotherly Love, they went home and promptly lost two of three to the Marlins, who entered the series 20 games south of .500 to pretty much put the kibosh on any talk of pulling out a last-minute wild card. Then they faced their direct combatants in the standings, the Dodgers, who entered a four-game series at Coors (making up for a July rainout, the teams played a doubleheader last night) with a 13% chance of making the playoffs. So if the Rockies couldn't make the playoffs themselves, at least they could spoil it for the Dodgers, who have confounded them all season and have been responsible for their fair share of purple-and-black woe.

The Rox won the first game of the doubleheader in traditional fashion -- a strong performance from ace Francis (winning his 16th game of the season to tie for the franchise record, and setting a personal best of 10 strikeouts -- one-upping his 9-K performance from June 20 against the Yankees). They got RBIs from big man Matt Holliday and Todd Helton, and Brian Fuentes the much-maligned and the amazing Manny Corpas finished off the game by retiring the final six Dodgers batters in order. (Manny is 15-for-15 in save chances since taking over for Fuentes, who is fine as a setup guy but completely lacks the bulldog mentality needed to finish off save chances, especially in tough situations). This is a very patchwork bullpen showing signs of fatigue and overuse -- Matt Herges lost his rabbit foot and pixie dust, probably in unison, to explain his sudden nose-dive, and Affeldt has an ERA over 6.00 since the All-Star Break. Julio was serviceable earlier, even good, but the grind of the season caught up with him as well and he's now giving up runs like a sieve every time he's out there. Four or five months' worth of rest will be good for everyone, my mental state included. Boy, it's hard rooting for (and watching the hijinks of) this team day in and day out, but hey, it's not like I'm going to stop now.

Game 2, the nightcap, was far more dramatic, a thrilling, agonizing, and ultimately glorious see-saw of a battle. Fill-in starter Mark Redman naturally permitted three first-inning runs before the Rockies roared out of the gate against David Wells and got them right back to tie it at 3. Redman wasn't content in that state and had to turn it into a deficit again; the Rox went down 4-3 and stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, in which Mad Matt Holliday struck again. After being rewarded for his insane play (six homers in seven days, 11 RBI) by being named the NL Player of the Week for the second time this season (at least he now has an extra luxury watch to give as a present) he went out and did it again, bashing a no-doubt moonshot of a two-run homer to edge the Rockies ahead to 5-4.

The lead didn't last long. Herges, now notably lacking his lucky charms and/or lucky underwear, immediately permitted a game-tying homer to James Loney in the top of the sixth. After he allowed the next two batters to reach via walk and single, Affeldt came in and managed to get two outs, falsely raising hopes that he would get out of it unscathed. Not so; the man is a former Kansas City Royal, after all. He coughed up a two-run triple to Tony Abreu, yanking the Dodgers up 7-5, and while the damage was minimized (for that inning, at least) it wasn't a good sign. Every game, as mentioned, is now must-win territory for the Rockies, and they've made it very hard on themselves by consistently losing to teams they should beat, while confoundingly beating teams they should lose to. In fact, they seem to play to the level of their competition -- they can look insipid, lifeless, and flat while dropping 3 of 4 to the Nationals (getting shut out in each of their losses) only to turn around and score 34 runs in the course of a three-game sweep of the Mets. It happens all the time. Some teams' fans look forward to the cupcake portion of their schedule, yet we as Rockies fans actually want them to be facing the stronger teams since they seem to play better when they do.

But never mind the digression. Jorge Julio came in for one inning, miraculously escaped, and then for some bewildering reason (he's already overworked and ineffective) was left out for a second one. He promptly yielded a solo shot to All-Star catcher Russell Martin to stretch the deficit to 8-5 going to the bottom of the eighth, and the Rockies had a tough task ahead of them in trying to crack Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito. Broxton has been solid as a setup man for the Bastards in Blue, and closer Saito's numbers are unworldly -- before last night, 39 for 42 in save chances, a 1.21 ERA, four homers permitted all year, and five games, and five saves, against the Rockies, who were 0-for-14 against him. You shall soon see the point of this numerology, but in the meantime...

The Rockies started the bottom of the eighth on a high note when Garrett Atkins fought off seven pitches and cracked a clean single to center. Then Ryan Spilborghs the super-sub stepped up and followed with his third hit of the night -- this one just happened to leave the yard and push the Rockies to within 8-7. Unfortunately, they couldn't get more that inning, as pinch-hitters Brad Hawpe and Yorvit Torrealba struck out, and after a quick and clean top of the ninth from a suddenly rejuvenated Ryan Speier, they headed to the bottom of the frame down one run against an elite closer who'd owned them all year.

Omar Quintanilla hit a hard shot, but unfortunately right at Saito, who snagged it for the first out. Troy Tulowitzki was called out on a questionable strike for the second out, leaving the bases empty and the Rockies down to their last gasp. But they had the big men coming up -- there was still a hope, even faint and flickering, and Holliday's fourth hit of the game, a sharp single to right, brought up Todd Helton, who's playing meaningful games in September for the first time in his long and illustrious career. Despite hitting well through the stretch, he had been 0-4 that night with a rally-killing double play, and his power numbers have taken a swan dive in general -- he only had 14 HR coming up to that at-bat.

Saito started with a ball; Helton fouled off pitches twice before lighting into one of Saito's nasty sliders and sending it over the scoreboard in right field, keeling Coors into delirium and Todd sprinting around the bases like a kid in little league. As he rounded third and headed for the plate, he ripped off his helmet, let out a roar of jubilation, and stage-dived into a mob of ecstatic teammates who hopped up and down, hugged, and thumped madly -- I have never seen Helton, the reserved veteran, so absolutely psyched. He'd just hit 300 career homers earlier, but No. 301 had to top them all -- it was a moment that Holliday, who jumped in the air and pumped both fists as the ball left the yard, said he'd never forget. It was an amazing finish, almost as great as their comeback on my birthday, an amazing moment for a veteran who's ground through so many disappointing and empty Septembers, to hit one that meant so much.

My sister was at this game with our friend Betsy (I have never been so jealous) and she said the atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was screaming, leapt to their feet when the ball left the yard, and she said she hugged Betsy, high-fived a complete stranger, and did a little dance as she was leaving -- the crowd roared and treated Helton to his second career curtain call, the other coming earlier this week. Outside the stadium, people were yelling, screaming, high-fiving as well -- if nothing else, even if this year closes like all the other ones, it is not the same. The Rockies have proven what this nucleus has the capability to do, and they have gotten the city of Denver to fall in love with them again. It has been (and still is) Broncos country for so very long that the Rockies, once they stopped being the new thing in town, failed to draw 60,000+ a night, and started all the abysmal seasons, were an afterthought, occasionally parodied or despaired by an ever-dwindling fanbase. But the city is genuinely excited about and in love with its baseball team again, and that just makes me so happy -- the thought of all this gives me the chills. Ah, September. Fall baseball. It's a beautiful thing.

On another Rockies note, as we thank the guys for this great season and eagerly anticipate 2008, the team has announced their intention to try super-prospect Ian Stewart at second base. I, for one, am fully behind this idea. The one (well, actually, two) problems being a) Stewart hasn't played second base since Little League, and b) at 6-3 and 215 lbs, is a big guy and only getting bigger. If he actually did make the conversion, he'd be the biggest 2B in the league, beating out Jeff Kent (6-2, 210) by an inch and five pounds. Although this probably isn't going to work, I find myself rooting very hard for it to somehow come through. First, it would give us an in-house solution to the second base vacancy, as Kaz Matsui may or may not be re-signed, and secondly, it would allow us to keep Garrett Atkins' bat. Atkins' defense at third is an iffy proposition, and since he's a natural first baseman, you'd have two defenders out of position in the infield -- Atkins at third and Stewart at second. However, the infield would have absolutely astronomic offensive totals (Helton-Stewart-Tulowitzki-Atkins is a serious helping of firepower) and would find a way to accommodate Helton, Stewart, and Atkins at once, which otherwise isn't possible; Atkins or Helton would have to be traded this off-season.

I regularly defend Atkins (or at least his offense, as his defense makes me roll my eyes too) and it's important to note that .290/23/103 is not chump change. Stewart replicating that in his rookie season would be a feat for the ages (not everyone is Tulowitzki here, people ;) ) and for next year at least, there would be a significant offensive drop-off with a still-aging Helton and a newbie Stewart. While Ian is certainly capable of this production, it may not come for a few years, and by that time, Holliday will have hit free agency and the Devil will have garnered him some insane contract with a high-profile East Coast team. If the Rockies really want to compete, 2008 and 2009 may be their best shots to do so if they keep the talented nucleus intact. They still need all that offensive cannonade as long as they keep playing in Denver and their pitchers hiccup accordingly, humidor or not, and there is no doubt Atkins knows how to hit. Damn, this Stewart-at-second is such a pipe dream... but please work. Please?

The other drum I must beat regards the candidacy of Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki for Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards. If they don't win, or at least finish in the top three, then it's a blatant act of highway robbery that yet again focuses on the popular markets instead of actual talent. The field of potential winners is deep, there is an elite crop of talent to deal with this year, but the numbers stack up every which way (and Tulo should get a Gold Glove as well, leading his position in fielding metrics).

Matt Holliday (season to date)
AB: 597
H: 202
BA: .338
HR: 33
R: 109
RBI: 126
OBP: .400
SLG: .601
OPS: 1.001
2B: 48
3B: 5

That is a monster season. Those numbers you see are good for first in the NL for batting average and RBI, third for slugging percentage, fourth for homers, OPS, runs, and eighth in on-base percentage. Not to mention that he's drastically improved his defense in left field. He leads the NL with 281 putouts, ranks third with a .990 fielding percentage (three errors in 291 chances) and second with a .912 zone rating, which measures how many balls a fielder is able to get to. If you don't believe me, just check out all the defensive video highlights he has this year -- it used to be all homers and they skated over the iffy fielding stats. He is a complete player, not at all a product of Coors (and that drives me nuts. How about bandboxes like Cincinnati, Arlington, and Philadelphia -- where Holliday hit four homers? Do those somehow count less?) You'd think, and yet people discount Rockies players out of hand because they play in Denver. Take a look at the numbers, people. Holliday received the most votes by his fellow players to the All-Star Game. They know what a wrecking ball he is, even if the fans at large haven't caught on yet.

And as for Tulo, his chief competition appears to be Ryan Braun, who has him beat in precisely two categories, home runs (30 to 21) and batting average (.323 to .295). Everywhere else, the numbers point to Tulo in a walk. He has more doubles (27 to 22) more runs scored (89 to 78) more RBIs (89 to 83) and half as many errors. Tulo has been a catalyst for the team after starting sub-Mendoza, set the NL record for homers by a rookie shortstop, and plays Gold Glove-worthy defense. His howitzer of an arm leads to regular swollen thumbs for first baseman Helton, and he can hit 90 with regularity on blistering throws from deep in the hole; it's just a joy to watch him play. Braun's defense, by comparison, can charitably be rated as poor. He has 22 errors, a sub-.900 fielding percentage, and achieves the difficult task of making Atkins (13 errors) look like Brooks Robinson. BBWAA writers, and ROY voters, love the surface offensive numbers, and it's true that Braun can mash like nobody's business and came up on May 25, instead of starting the season like Tulo has. However, if you want to rate the complete player, the true sparkplug and young star of a contending team, it's Tulo. And I'm not even saying this because of my permanent purple-colored glasses (or maybe I am). Troy puts in tremendous work each and every day, will go above and beyond the pale to get a win, and refuses to settle for losing or mediocrity. Simply put, he's the fire and inspiration the Rockies have been lacking for so long, and deserves to be rewarded for it.

I know this has been a long post already, but I would like to close by noting that since I am unable to attend Rockies games (clearly) I have made up (sort of) for the lack by attending two games, one Mets and one Yankees, since my return to school. (I will also be going to either one or two Mets games next week). Both times I went with a guy friend, and I tell you... I've been generally indifferent about the Mets, but the Yankees are seriously enough to make me almost actively like them. I can root for the Mets without feeling unclean (and I had to, since the one game I was at, they were playing Philly, and lost anyway.... the Mets are following the 2006 Cardinals script for the postseason by choking and threatening to squander it all before backing into the playoffs). The Yankees and their fans, however, are all such douchebags. They have an astounding arrogance and ignorance, strut around like they own the place (yeah, yeah, we've already heard about your 26 fucking championships, want to talk about the years since you've won your last one? 2004, for example? God, I hope there's a Curse of A-Rod or something that will prevent them from winning for another 79 years... such poetic justice, they could suffer through every inch of the agony that the Red Sox did).

I went to the Yankees/Orioles games with my friend Nick, and while we admittedly asked for it by sitting in the bleachers, the fans sang "Why Are You Gay?" to him to the tune of "YMCA," and incessantly chanted, "Ug-ly shirt!" pointing at his Jeremy Guthrie T-shirt. (I was wearing my Rox stuff -- Atkins shirt, Rockies jacket and hat, and was hoping so very much that they'd heckle me about rooting for a bad team, but they probably don't even remember that the Rockies exist, and maybe had enough sense to realize that I could, you know, point out that we swept them). Don't get me wrong, both of us found the heckling very amusing, but only in the way you find an irretrievably stupid person funny; because they just think they know so much and know actually nothing at all. Perhaps it's a rite of passage, but they are stupid, aggressively stupid, and strut around like they're still the kings of the world. The late-90's Yankees dynasty has passed, people, and besides, you root for the Evil Empire/Chevy/GMC of baseball, headed by an asshole owner and fronted by a calvacade of "twenty-five guys/twenty-five cabs" overpaid primadonnas. Oooh. Don't get me onto the topic of the Yankees, clearly; there is so much hatred here. Don't try to justify liking the Yankees to me. I understand that you're from New York so they're your hometown team, and they win a lot and it's fun to root for a winner, but that's it. And what about all the Yankees "fans" that have never even been to NY? They don't have an excuse at all. They are shameless front-runners, and should be ritually crucified as a warning to all others. (Same goes for non-resident Red Sox and Cubs fans as well. Besides, I don't even get why you'd want to root for the Cubs if you were from Chicago, much less anywhere else. See my diatribe against Cubs fans below).

In contrast, the Mets seem like more fun, have a few players that I could even like, and even though planes roar overhead every half-hour, their much-maligned Shea is less of a dump than the historic but shitty Stadium. Not that I'm going to suddenly start rooting for them, but if you had to make me pick a sports team from my adopted home state with a gun to my head, I'd take the Mets in a (New York) minute. I'm looking forward to going with Mary and possibly Steve (remember them?) next week, and will probably clap for the Mets since a) I'll be in Shea anyway, and b) who the hell wants to cheer for the Nationals? Even those from D.C.? Seriously.

Okay. Long post over. I feel a little better now. Or maybe I don't. I hate the Yankees. Oh well. I fiercely adore my Rockies, even though they shave years off my life, inflate my blood pressure, and ruin my emotional state, and so that shall do. Josh Fogg vs. Brad Penny tonight (Fogg always seems to draw the toughest assignment from the opposing team) as the Rockies try to find their oft-missing killer instinct and put the finishing smackdown on the Dodgers.

Go Rox!