Thursday, May 31, 2007

It Was Great.... Until Eight

As you may or may not have heard depending on your baseball proclivities, the Rockies lost their winning streak tonight after Jason Hirsh coughed up eight runs in 4.2 innings and the offense couldn't exactly stage a valiant calvalric charge against, well, Todd Wellemeyer. Eight runs instead of eight wins, bah. Hirsh was fooling exactly nobody up there, tossing lollipop hanging curves, changeups that didn't change up, and fat fastballs down the pipe, and by the time Hurdle finally gave him the hook after Gary Bennett had hit something that looked so much like a homer they'd already put it on the scoreboard, he was just throwing batting practice. (For the record, Matt Holliday made a great catch, but it didn't matter -- Hirsh couldn't even get Wellemeyer out, yielding an RBI single). It was a disheartening way to end a winning streak, especially against a mediocre pitcher. Holliday and Brad Hawpe remained en fuego, both hitting solo jacks, and in the eighth inning, Hawpe came within inches of making it an 8-7 game as he missed a three-run homer by about a foot. Tyler Johnson served up a slider to him last night that Brad hit to Boulder (actually, the second deck) and tonight he almost did the same thing, but since it wasn't the Rockies' night, the ball didn't get out and the deficit that Hirsh had already allowed proved too much to overcome. I think I'm glad that he's not facing the Cardinals again this year, as he's had substantial trouble with them. As for Hawpe, he's hitting .338 in May with seven homers in eleven games, and basically he's just a roaring beast right now. I need not say that I'm lovin' it, but I love it better when he hits them and the Rockies, you know, win.

We'll learn a lot about the Rockies by the way they approach tomorrow's game. Any team can get hot for a stretch, and they're lucky that it carried them from nine under .500 to three, but they're still not clear of the break-even mark and if they don't bounce back and play a good, strong, winning ballgame tomorrow, the winning streak is going to mean exactly zip. They have to show that their ability to piece together a successful run of games is more than just an accident, and that when they're denied, they have the desire to come back just as hard the next day and play with fire and resilience. With Aaron Cook facing Brad Thompson, the odds are in their favor, but then again, they looked to be today with converted ex-Royals reliever Wellemeyer making the start against Hirsh. If the Rockies lose tomorrow, split the series, and go into a funk afterwards, then it's safe to start labeling them flukes, but I've had a glimpse of the talent and passion that they can play with, and I'm loathe to let it go. I've had so much fun with them making me feel good, making me eager to see what happens every night, and I'm not at all ready to go back to the doldrums of losing two out of every three. The win streak was the longest since 1998, but they need to make it stick, taking this defeat and then roaring back, not allowing the Cards to follow up tonight. Fortunately for them, the Cards have shown a remarkable inability to get it going consistently, and we don't want to be the catalyst that lets them. As I have said... fond feelings for the Cards, but not in the Rox' home park. We need three of four and we need to keep winning.

Also, I happen to be attending tomorrow's game with primo free tickets (16 rows back of home plate) scored from my sister's friend's dad, who knows people who know people... etc. I want to go there and enjoy my boys giving me a win, not a crushing split, which would be a failure considering the red-hot wave of momentum the Rockies were riding into the series. I want to see a fire under some asses, and I want to come out of Coors happy. I'll be wearing my Hawpe shirt, my purple and black Rockies jersey, my Rockies necklace, and possibly my autographed cap as well. Last year I thought my heart would belong to the Cards during this series, but I think the Rockies have well and truly stolen it away. And since I had such a great time rooting for them as a winner, I'll be even more upset if I'm forced to settle for a loser again.

I also have a quasi-special-agenda for tomorrow's game. Jason Hirsh is usually out and about during warmups, and he's quite good about signing, so I'm going to see if I can talk to him. I already have his autograph and picture, so I don't need to bother him about that, but I'm going to ask him what he was doing tonight. In San Francisco he was trying to establish his fastball, but couldn't, and resorted to his curve and changeup as effective enough tools to get him through six innings and three earned runs. The results were not similarly serviceable tonight, so I am planning to ask which pitches he was using and what feel he had for them. Clearly, he wasn't fooling anyone, so I'll ask if it was just a night where he felt good in the bullpen and lost it when he came to the mound, if one specific pitch wasn't working enough to set up the others and so he had to make do with a reduced arsenal, or if he felt all right but they were pummeling him anyway. (I did notice early on that his "out pitch," which is usually his changeup, wasn't working, as guys were fouling off a lot of pitches in order to sit on something hittable). Hirsh is a very sweet and affable guy, so although tonight may not be his favorite topic in the world, he'll probably still give me a decent answer if I manage to snag him.

I have to say, the Rockies chose kind of a lousy day to break the streak, aside from squandering what looked like a pretty favorable matchup on paper. I had to attend training for my new job (Starbucks) today, and since it's done through King Soopers, there were all these required food handling videos I had to watch, and... oy. Let's just say that when your day starts off hearing about Barney Kroger's entrepreneurial exploits with sauerkraut in Cincinnati, and goes downhill from there, you're in trouble, especially when you're forced to watch endless, mind-numbing bars of text scroll onto the screen at the approximate pace of a glacier and be repeated by criminally perky virtual people. (Not to mention that you review them about five times... I feel sorry for anyone who actually needs those videos, as they clearly do not have an IQ above 80 and will never be successful in life aside from teaching connoisseur courses on how to load plastic grocery sacks. Yes, there is apparently a whole art to this. Shoot me). I went through a number of stages. I actually almost cried when I saw I had to watch yet-fricking-more videos after my noon break. I sat there in despair. I took off the headphones. Then I began scrabbling for happy thoughts, most of which involved the Rockies, the fact that I'm going to the game both tomorrow and Saturday, the fact that they were going for eight.... etc. Then I became very fascinated with the operations of the printer -- seriously, I thought it was interesting to watch the wheels and arms and paper feeds. Then I began reciting a militant litany of "fuck you"s under my breath at the idiots on the screen teaching me about correct food temperatures, and flipping them off when I was sure no one was looking. Then I noticed spelling and grammatical errors and became homicidal, and to top it off, the Rockies couldn't even win and salvage my day. How very inconsiderate of you, boys.

Side note: Why in crapping hell does Steve Finley still have a job in the majors, let alone on my favorite team, where I have to watch him spectacularly suck in all manner of key situations? Not only is he good for a pair of weak groundouts, a shallow popup, and a feeble K a game (pick and choose one as the result if he's put in as a pinch-hitter) his defense is atrociously atrophied. Today he tried to dive for a Jim Edmonds flyball that went past him completely, turned into a triple, and keyed the Cardinals' big inning; five in inning five was enough for them to thrive. Then, when Hirsh allowed a hit to the pitcher (bad), Finley bobbled the ball anyway on a routine single to center. Veteran presence is the most overrated quality in baseball and it offers absolutely nothing of value if the veteran in question is as godawful as Finley is. His start tonight was another example of Hurdle's overmanaging; he heard that Wellemeyer was vulnerable to lefties, so he stuck the matchup statistic (Finley) in there instead of the hot hand (Spilborghs), apparently missing the memo that certain pitchers' vulnerability to left-handers does not include ancient, decrepit, grizzled geezers, left-handed or otherwise. Finley can't see the Mendoza line with a telescope and he's taken up far, far too many at-bats for the big club while poor Sean Barker withers away down in AAA. (It's worth noting that Barker's "slump" has dropped him to .338 from .398. Wish I had that kind of slump on the big club). The reason Finley is kept around is precisely because he is left-handed, which is coincidentally also the reason that Tom Martin is still employed. As you can see, Hurdle loves matchups, but I for one am a believer that stronger hitters are worth more than which hand is on top of the other on the bat. Barker's right-handed, but he's hitting over .300, for Christ's sake. The promoting Spilborghs experiment worked out -- SEE! I told you. Now it's time to free Barker. The only other left-handed outfield option is Seth Smith, but he's hitting only .265 and may not be ready for the callup to the Show yet. It isn't as if we're short on outfielders, and if the Rockies need a good veteran presence, how about, uh, Todd Helton?

Hopefully, somebody will see the light and realize that Finley has no redeeming value to contribute to a big-league club and that he should be given his walking papers pronto. Even though Hirsh was throwing like a Little Leaguer tonight, Finley's defense behind him wasn't doing much to help out. Hirsh has evened out his GB/FB split a bit since last year, but he's still a flyball pitcher with almost 50% of his outs coming in the air, and although he's managed to (usually) escape with this at Coors, he's going to need outfielders there who can, you know, track down and catch the ball. Spilborghs has shown some terrific range and versatility out there, including a great catch to save Ramon Ramirez' bacon and preserve what would become game five of the winning streak in San Francisco. He also had Scott Rolen dead to rights yesterday night with a perfect throw to Torrealba as Rolen tried to score on Pujols' shallow fly, but naturally Torrealba flubbed the catch. In other words, HE'S HERE, HURDLE, NOW PLAY HIM! God. How many times do I have to yell it?

Well, that's all for tonight. Despite my trepidation about whether or not the Rockies can avoid an all-new and even more depressing tailspin, I am looking forward to going back to Coors, very much so. There is never enough time for me to be there and to be with my boys. So I'll be there to root, root, root for the purple and black and hope that there's a spark under more than one butt. Tulowitzki, I'm sure, will have it, and most likely Holliday and Hawpe as well, but three guys do not a winning game (or team) make. So, Rockies, thou have thy mandate. Thou shalt go forth and fulfill it.

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