Friday, June 29, 2007

Fuck Brian Fuentes

Fuck him. Fuck him. Fuck him.

You think this wouldn't happen. You'd think that just once, on the first game of a road series, it would go differently.


Yet again, Tulo hits a homer to put the Rockies ahead late. Yet again, Brian Fuentes gets two outs, with nobody on, and then proceeds to give up a game-winning hit -- in this case, a GRAND FUCKING SLAM.

We apologize for sweeping the goddamn Yankees. Now please, please let this misery stop. I thought it would hurt less the third time. It hurts more. I broke down like somebody just died.

Fuck you, Brian Fuentes. Fuck you. It feels good to say that and I will not apologize.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Someone Whack Brian Fuentes

I lack the energy, the desire, or the masochism to rehash the latest events in Rockie-land, so let's just put it like this: If they can sort out their elbows from asshats, they'll still be good. In the meantime, they've made me cry with rage and fury twice in the past four days, and should be 2-2 instead of 0-4, thanks to Tulo and no thanks to Brian Fuckin' Fuentes.

Isn't baseball a funny game sometimes, so funny it makes you want to cry.

If you really want to know the details of the carnage, go to the Rockies' site. No recapping for me. Still struggling futilely to get over the pain, and my sister gave me the, "I think you need something in your life aside from baseball," talk. I think she doesn't get how I feel, she thinks I'm psychotic, you know.

Now, to make myself feel better, I'm going to write on my (baseball) novel.

Ideas for Hilary's next obsession and/or life may be left in the comments.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

From Laughability to Respectability: Gen-R, The Luck Factor, and Why These Aren't Your Daddy's Rockies

Well, turns out the blog is good for something after all. It got me invited to write on ArmchairGM, a sports-fan wiki, so I took the offer and signed up over there under my Purple Row handle Silverblood. Naturally, there aren't many Rockies bloggers over there, so, after being thrilled with the Rockies' sweep of the Yankees today, tried to keep my emotions in check and write a rational and analytic overview of their success. If you've read Sparks regularly or are a Rockies fan in general, this may be old hat already, but I thought I'd put it up here so you can see how I did. I'm actually happy-dancing inside, since this is exactly what I wanted the Rockies to do (sweep the Yanks) and never really thought they would, but I put on the studious-statistical hat for now.

Check 'er out. The Rockies will still be under-represented in the media, naturally, and underloved. I'm a homer, but I think they may, maybe, may have found the something they didn't have before.


From Laughability to Respectability: Gen-R, The Luck Factor, and Why These Aren’t Your Daddy’s Rockies

When people think of the Colorado Rockies, a few words come immediately to mind: Coors Field (launching pad) Blake Street Bombers (Bichette, Castilla, Walker no longer manning the premises, but succeeded admirably by Holliday, Atkins, Hawpe) awful pitching staff (Hampton and Neagle, thankfully, gone, and Cook and Francis looking a Mile High better) and chronic doormat-itis (Well, this one’s hard to argue, but not quite as difficult as it used to be. See why in a minute). They’ve been inhabiting the cellar of the NL West with seeming ease ever since their last winning season, an 82-80 showing in 2000. Unlike their brothers in expansion, the Marlins, who are already the possessors of two World Series wins in their scant fourteen years of existence, the Rockies have only dipped their toes in the postseason waters once, a one-and-done affair in 1995. What has followed almost seems to be a primer on how not to run a baseball team.

There was Neifi Perez. There was Tom Goodwin, Charles Jackson, and the entire parade ranging from replacement-level to downright awful, including the Hampton and Neagle fiascos. There was also the four-year shuffle to replace inaugural manager Don Baylor, as the Rockies tried out a succession of pieces – the short-lived Buddy Bell experiment, the brief and fateful Jim Leyland cameo, and then, last and currently, a hitting coach-turned-manager, the amiable but incompetent Clint Hurdle. Nothing has been enough to boost them to mediocrity. Their winning season was the last time they even sniffed .500, as the closest they came was 10 games under (76-86) at the close of 2006. They were the Senior Circuit’s version of the Devil Rays or the Royals, and an inability to have their bullpen convert in close games and a lack of production from key spots looked to have done in the boys in purple and black yet again. Steve Finley and John Mabry, crusty veterans well past their prime, took roster spots from promising young guns Ryan Spilborghs and Sean Barker, and accordingly batted .181 and .118 in late-inning pinch-hit duty. It was going to be a long season in LoDo, and they fell on their faces en route to an 18-27 record on May 21.

The turnaround began the very next day. The Rockies took a 3-1 decision from the Diamondbacks in Phoenix on May 22, and then on May 23, they did something they’d been having difficulty with: they won a series. They rolled into San Francisco and when they ripped off three straight to sweep the Giants in their home park for the first time in franchise history (be it Candlestick, 3Com, SBC, AT&T, or whatever else they’ve called the Phonebooth by the Bay) they arrived home on the coattails of a five-game winning streak, which they pushed to seven by taking the first two games of a four-game set from the floundering World Series champion Cardinals. Lucky number seven would have to be it, as rookie Jason Hirsh was bombarded in the third game, and Rockies fans everywhere (yes, they do exist, and some of them even have Internet connections, as evidenced by this post and the fabulous Purple Row) were sure that it was a return to the same old, same old. When they ended up splitting with the Cardinals, they were sure those fears were justified.

But it turns out they weren’t. The Rockies just kept ripping off series wins, and defying all the gloomy (and usually warranted) predictions for their sudden death. After they chewed through NL Central cellar-dweller Cincinnati in the first few days of June, using a six-run uprising in the late innings to complete a comeback and take the rubber match, they took another series from the Houston Astros and then a third one from the Baltimore Orioles. A June 12-14 set against the Red Sox, in Fenway Park, was hyped as a true test of their mettle – time to see if they really were that good or it was just a brief hot streak. The competition couldn’t have gotten much stiffer – the Sox threw crafty knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, needs-no-introduction Curt Schilling, and undefeated Josh Beckett at the Rox in succession.

After losing the first game 2-1, the Rockies rebounded to blow out the Red Sox on consecutive nights, hanging back-to-back six-spots on Schilling and Beckett. The Red Sox were dropped by a score of 12-2 in the middle game and by a score of 7-1 in the last one. A Monster-conquering grand slam by Garrett Atkins, a hot solo shot by Matt Holliday, and a stunning three-run blow by Brad Hawpe helped in the latter two games, as the Rockies outscored and out-hit the home team, 21-5 and 30-28, for the series. They also outpitched the Sox, as they even enjoyed a fine effort (7.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R/ER, 2 BB, 4 K from Aaron Cook) on the night they lost.

The Rockies came home to Coors Field to face the Devil Rays and promptly dinged another pitcher’s perfect record, serving up another 12-2 blowout to 6-0 James Shields. With a win in the middle game of the series, they secured a franchise-record sixth straight series win, and eighth straight undefeated series. Then the Yankees came calling.

When the preliminary schedule for 2007 was drawn up, the Blake Street Bombers were not scheduled to face off against their Bronx counterparts. Rockies owners Charlie and Dick Monfort lobbied Commissioner Selig to move the Yankees’ Western road trip to Denver from San Diego, and were eventually successful, a move that resulted in a media and advertising blitzkrieg. Every preseason ticket sale package included the word “Yankees” somewhere, and even if they knew nothing else against the Rockies’ 2007 slate, the casual fans knew that baseball’s most storied franchise was coming to Denver for the first time since 2002, when the two teams racked up a record 70 runs and 97 hits. (This was in the pre-humidor era, another topic that shall be addressed in a moment). And then at last, hold the phone, the Yankees arrived for their just-concluded June 19-21 joust with the Rockies. They arrived as one of the hottest teams in baseball, recovering from an early-season swoon to win 11 of 12 and climb to three games above .500. It was a series that, at the beginning of the season and on paper, looked like a colossal mismatch.

Did the Rockies win one of three? No. Did they win two of three? No. They won three of three, taking ‘em all from the Yankees in front of a near-record crowd of 150,000 over the series. The house was packed and rocking, heralding back to the early days when Coors was a sellout every night and getting a ticket on game days was impossible, and although the Yankees fans were loud, the Rockies fans were louder and raucously supportive, lending a playoff-like vibe to a stadium that’s long been lacking it. Josh Fogg debuted with seven stellar one-run innings, Jeff Francis matched him the next night, and Rodrigo Lopez worked 5.2 innings, permitting two runs, in the final contest, concluding a string of sterling pitching – the Yankees scored five runs total, matching half their output from the first 2002 game. Meanwhile, the offense got just enough off Mike Mussina (3 runs) more than enough off Andy Pettitte (6 runs) and plenty off Roger Clemens (4 runs in 4.1 innings, although the final score was 4-3). Just like that, the Yankees were back at .500 and the Rockies leapfrogged ahead, opening up a three-game cushion between themselves and the break-even mark in time for a ten-game road trip versus Toronto, Chicago, and Houston. In previous years, they’ve floundered away from Coors, but this year are 17-16 and have gone 5-1 and 4-2 on their last two trips. All of this has added up to a Major League-best 20-7 since May 22.

What has fueled this meteoric turnaround? Is it just a case of a team getting hot for the summer and fading for fall? (The Rockies looked promising at the outset for a while in ’06 too). Is it an actual sign of legitimacy, a talented young ballclub finally coming into their own? Is it a fluke, and A) why doesn’t Coors Field resemble Cape Canaveral any more? B) Why is Matt Holliday (leading the major leagues in hits and the NL in batting average and total bases – also, third in RBI, tied for first in extra-base hits, and second in slugging percentage) a distant seventh in All-Star outfield voting? Has the extensive “rebuilding” program both supported and ridiculed (sometimes simultaneously) finally yielded results?

There are a few easy answers. A) The Rockies store their balls in the much-ballyhooed humidor, a climate-controlled cabinet that counteracts the effects of Denver’s notoriously thin air, and also, their young pitching staff is starting to yield crops. Lefty starter Jeff Francis is on a 6-1, 1.93 roll, and the team is 7-1 in newly acquired Rodrigo Lopez’ eight starts (he missed significant time early on due to injury). Setup man Manny Corpas and closer Brian Fuentes give the Rockies a “rock”-steady back end of the pen for the first time since Jose Jimenez’s long-past prime, posting ERAs of 2.50 and 1.93 respectively; Fuentes has converted 20 of 22 save chances. These are no longer the days of pick-your-poison ‘penners, and although the bullpen lived up (and then some) to its doleful billing in the early going (it possessed the worst relief ERA in the NL) some of the cracks seem to be patched. LaTroy Hawkins has allowed only one run in eleven appearances since his return from the disabled list. Marlins problem child Jorge Julio, acquired in a trade for Rockies problem child Byung-Hyun Kim, has flourished in Denver, lowering his ERA by more than half. Even perpetual piƱata Tom Martin has found some success, eating innings when the team is trailing.

As for the answer to B), the media market is trying to sell Carlos Beltran (.268/9/39) Alfonso Soriano, and Barry Bonds as better alternatives to Holliday, who, you know, plays for the Rockies. These Rockies, however, are worth checking out, and the answer for some of their success is clearly obvious if you take a look at some of the unsung young players on the roster. Holliday’s corner outfield counterpart, Brad Hawpe, has also blossomed into a star in the making, nearly matching Holliday with a .293/12/47/.381/.506/.905 line. Even Todd Helton, a glorified singles hitter though he may have become, is hitting .329/6/37/.447/.488/.935. After a miserable May, third baseman Garrett Atkins is hitting .317 with five homers, 16 RBI, and a 1.058 OPS in June, and rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, aside from possessing a cannon of an arm, is hitting .278. He also possesses an uncanny and timely flair for the dramatic, enjoying the best clutch rating in baseball (1.73) and doing his best hitting in high-leverage situations (.429 with the bases loaded, .382 in late-inning pressure, .444 in late-inning pressure with runners on). Drafted in 2005 out of Long Beach State with the Rockies’ first round pick, Tulowitzki made his major league debut a scant 14 months later in August ’06, and won the starting job from Clint Barmes coming out of ’07 Spring Training. He remains a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year, and has committed just five errors at his position. About the aforementioned cannon, it’s real – Tulowitzki has been clocked as high as 94 mph from shortstop to first, and he, along with Hawpe, is the likeliest position player to pitch if the Rockies ever run short of relievers.

The team dumped deadweights Mabry and Finley, and brought up 27-year-old outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, who provided an instant spark – he rang up more RBIs in his first half-dozen games than either Mabry and Finley had all year. They platooned veteran Yorvit Torrealba and youngster Chris Iannetta in the catching spot, got a promising pitching twosome – Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz from the Astros in exchange for Jason Jennings, and worked on keeping the ball down (Aaron Cook, whose heavy sinker is his best pitch and, when on, can induce groundball outs like a machine). Pitching never has, and never will be, the Rockies’ forte; they rank fifteenth in the majors with a 4.35 team ERA and the staff has yielded 63 homers, 217 walks, and 397 strikeouts. Still, this is much improved from the days when Coors routinely saw four or five homers fly over its green fences, and it’s a sign that the humidor is helping approximate the effects of more oxygen-rich air.

What else about these Rockies? We already know that they hit, but they play stellar defense, ranking first in the major leagues with a team-wide .991 fielding percentage. Third baseman Atkins, after a rough defensive start to the season, has only six errors overall. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui, another success story (hitting .316 with an .830 OPS, and leading the majors in batting average with runners on and two outs) has yet to make one. Center fielder and speedy leadoff man Willy Taveras (hitting .313 and leading the majors in infield hits) has two. Holliday, once regarded as an all-hit, no-glove proposition, still is prone to the occasional misplay in left field (he’s a converted third baseman) but has improved his defense dramatically, to the point where a Gold Glove is not out of the question.

Perhaps it’s luck, and a period of playing over their heads to match the hot Denver weather (93 degrees at game time today). But then again, perhaps it was luck, and hot streaks at the right time, that fueled the 83-79 Cardinals to their tenth World Championship title in 2006. The Rockies have historically had no-name pitchers, a so-so offense, a rocket pad of a ballpark, and almost militantly bad luck. They have none of the four this year, and their fortunes may change. Now, I’m not predicting an upstart NL West title out from under the watches of the Dodgers or Padres, or even a playoff berth. I’m only saying that the winds of change are blowing in Denver, and this is a young and hungry team that has the ability to keep it rolling.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Boys of Summer

I am quite favorably impressed. At the time of my last writing, the Rockies had just managed to trip up the Red Sox 12-2 and had a crack at clinching the series with Jeff Francis on the mound --- but they had to go through undefeated Josh Beckett first. Much to my surprise, they did just that, hanging a six-spot on Beckett and blasting two homers off him (a grand slam by Garrett Atkins and a solo shot by Matt Holliday) to almost double his season total yielded (from three to five). They rolled to a 7-1 final and started to, well, look like an actual Major League Baseball team. (While I love them, this is not always something I will grant of them). Then, faced with an overnight flight and a 3 AM MT arrival in Denver, they went out and showed no signs of jetlag, laying a 12-2 ass-thrashing on the Devil Rays. Atkins and Hawpe homered again (back-to-back in the first inning) and the Rockies dinged another pitcher's perfect record (the 6-0 mark sported by James Shields, who's surprisingly good for, you know, being a Devil Ray). Matt Holliday is now two shy of the NL RBI lead, after leading in a number of other major statistical categories (and still being eighth for an NL All-Star starting outfield spot. Fan voting is a joke, but that is another post).

Then last night, in a game that myself, my sister, and our friend Betsy from Purple Row attended, they did it again. Brad smacked his 11th homer of the year, tying him for the team lead with Holliday, in the form of a first-inning grand slam that had everyone confused. Jonny Gomes ran with his glove up as if he was going to catch the ball, so Gillian thought it was a flyout. It was veering toward the stands, so I thought it was foul, and Betsy had no idea where the ball was at all, so when the stadium began stamping and cheering, we looked at each other, went, "What the hell?" and happily joined in. Have to admit, I felt a bit giddy after my boy had just done that with me in attendance. My other boy, however... I find him irresistible now that he's taken my advice and gone with the high socks, but his pitching was hard to watch. I'm talking about Jason Hirsh, of course, the first time since New York I got to see a Rockies starter aside from Cook. Hirsh had a great outing last time, but he was extremely unsteady for most of his short and eventful 4.1 innings, yielding five runs and becoming unable to get a shutdown inning to save his life. Taylor Buchholz relieved with the lead at 7-5 and two men on and managed to snuff the opportunity, and the pen (shockingly) was untouchable the rest of the night.

The final tally was 10-5, and part of that came from Atkins going deep for the third time in three games, a two-run bomb to make the score (at the time) 6-1. Willy Taveras also hit his second homer of the year, riding a line drive straight down the left-field line to make it 7-4 after Hirsh had coughed up three more to the D-rays in the top half of the frame. But a Jonny Gomes misplay on a routine Atkins flyball in the seventh gave Garrett his second hit and three RBIs for the game, and a botched throw on a sac fly sent the ball into the Rays dugout and allowed Helton to score, pushing the lead to the final score. The bullpen, shockingly, worked a mostly uneventful 4 2/3 innings in relief of Hirsh, and never allowed the Rays to climb back into striking distance after Buchholz snuffed their best chance to tie it.

The Rockies demoted Sean Barker, saying they wanted him to get regular playing time, and called up Cory Sullivan -- oy, I really thought we were done with the Sullivan era. He's a left-hander and a Hurdle pet, so I'm afraid he's going to take at-bats away from the hot Ryan Spilborghs (who had a pinch-hit RBI single last night). Having this kind of deadweight (Finley, Mabry) was what dragged the Rockies to their miserable start in the first place, and even though they're 17-6 since May 22 (the best record in the Majors during that span) an extended slump always seems to be just a few games away. Hopefully Sullivan sees as little action as Barker did (three plate appearances, 0-for-2: hit by pitch, groundout, strikeout) and lets Spilborghs handle the majority of pinch-hitting duties. Then again, Betsy loves Sullivan, and grabbed my leg in excitement when he was pinch-hitting last night, so oh well. :) We did have a fun time watching the game, but there were far, far too many little kids there shrieking in steam-whistle voices and making us cover our ears spasmodically and wince. Also, the Wave (which I hate) went around five-friggin'-zillion times late in the game when LaTroy Hawkins was trying not to make a pig's ear of things (he succeeded, remarkably enough) so the fans get as much of a failing grade as the boys get a passing. Oh well. I love my Rockies, and I love going to Coors; it makes me so happy.

I got Brian Fuentes to autograph my ticket, Gillian got both Brian and Todd Helton on the magazine page she's collecting signatures on, and Betsy took video of Cory Sullivan's ass when he came out to warm up. (Shhh. It's a secret). We three had a blast; women who love the game and aren't shy about loving their boys too. Betsy is the only person who gets how demented Gillian and I are, and agrees with all of our assorted demented theories, most of which I will not reprint here to avoid embarrassment for all parties. We rooted loudly, yelled, reprimanded, and cheered for the guys, and got to enjoy a win while we were at it, making me 5-2 in the 7 games I've attended this year (2 at Shea, 5 in Coors, and hopefully more to come...) The Rockies go for the sweep today with Aaron Cook trying to reverse his dismal home fortunes against Rays ace Scott Kazmir, before the fuckin' Yankees come to town. Then again, the Rox have been hitting everyone lately, so let's hope that keeps up.

Go Rockies!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ion Storm Redux

Weird day today, for all three of my teams. The Rockies, who have become my chief favorites, lost a tough game yesterday 2-1, playing the Red Sox hard for nine innings, but being too bamboozled by the dancing Tim Wakefield knuckler to back up a sterling start by Aaron Cook. Then today, they had what looked like a wildly unfair matchup on paper: Josh Fogg vs. Curt Schilling. I'd been dreading this game ever since I heard about it, but instead, the Rockies went out and engineered a 12-2 drubbing of baseball's best team. Schilling was responsible for half the tally, while the Sawx pen coughed up the rest, and every starter except Ryan Spilborghs chipped in at least one hit. Atkins had an RBI double, Hawpe had the big three-run blast to break the game open, and Helton got out of his funk with 4 RBI, including a bases-clearing double against ex-mate Javier Lopez. Fogg weebled and wobbled his way through five eventually serviceable innings, managed not to get burned by a dangerous Sox lineup, and handed off to the bullpen, who contributed four shutout innings -- two by Taylor Buchholz and one apiece by Jorge Julio (!) and LaTroy Hawkins (!!). In other words, it feels very nice to come into Fenway and deliver a merciless ass-kicking to its annoying incumbents. Jeff Francis goes tomorrow against hitherto-undefeated Josh Beckett in an attempt to secure yet another series win. Miraculously, the Rockies haven't lost a set since the Series That Shall Not Be Named, taking two of three and splitting with the Cards. They're actually doing... well, and are one game north of .500 on the road and one game south overall. Go Rockies...!

The A's also won today, helped by something that only happens once in a blue moon: Jason Kendall hit a home run, his second in about three years on the team. Despite the fact that the A's are in Houston, and the skewed dimensions of Minute Maid Park are ridiculous, it even wasn't a cheap shot. Also, after falling behind 4-3, they staged a five-run uprising in the top of the eighth, aided by a Mark Kotsay double, a Mark Ellis double, and a 2-run single from Eric Chavez. It's June and the A's are accordingly playing well, eating through a tough part of their schedule and hanging L's on a seemingly never-ending succession of top-flight starters. They managed to avoid their May swoon, so they're in striking distance, but unfortunately I was right and there isn't much catching the Angels at the top of the West this year. Maybe they can climb ahead of the Tigers for the wild card and keep getting stellar pitching, which they have a knack for doing -- Dan Haren and Chad Gaudin are a terrible twosome, with a combined record of 15-3 and a 2.00 ERA. This is the season that Haren becomes an ace while Harden sits out yet again, and he's sporting a 1.58 mark two and some-odd months into the season... and will probably end up losing the Cy to Beckett. Grr.

Lenny DiNardo has also done very well, throwing six innings of shutout ball in his last start and lowering his ERA to 1.22. The A's pitching staff leads the majors with an overall 3.16 ERA and this without Duchscherer, Street, and Harden.... wow. As for Harden, I've decided he's a nice asset in theory, but he will never be healthy and I'll stop thinking he will be. He'll come back, pitch four or five games, and go down again, so it's a good thing that Haren, Gaudin, and DiNardo can manage without him. Even the Fat Joes, Blanton and Kennedy, have been decent. Go figure. And go A's!

Adam Wainwright, who is still near and dear to my heart despite his lack of recent airtime on this blog (blame the Rockies for nestling into that spot at the top of my affections) has also recently completed a very nice turnaround, allowing 2 runs or less in his past few starts and turning in a sparkling effort tonight: 8 shutout innings, with only one hit permitted, against the Royals. Lest you sneeze at this, it should be noted that the Royals are capable of being monstrous pests (they were the authors of the Series That Shall Not Be Named) and whitewashed the Cards 8-1 last night, so Adam's effort against them tonight was both stellar and deeply appreciated. He's shaping into the starter the Cards thought they were getting when they converted him in the first place, which has come as a relief to Redbird Nation. Chris Carpenter is also ahead of schedule, and may be back on the mound by the end of July. With the Brew Crew languishing badly, the Cards have climbed into a tie for second place in a weak division and maybe, maybe can get things to break right. It would take a lot to overcome their season-long shitaceous play, but who knows? The NL West is no longer the NL Worst -- in fact, it's one of the tougher divisions in baseball -- so the NL Central takes the cake for crappitude. Go Cards!

On a final note, the bloody Yankees have won 11 of 13, and everybody keeps talking about 1978. My hatred for the Yankees is unmatched -- I was rooting for the Red Sox to beat them, and I still hate the Sox, albeit not quite as much since they lost douchebags such as Lowe, Damon, and Millar. I loathe them with a fiery, burning, completely unmatched raw passion, and if I have to hear one more time that they're coming to Coors next week, I'll flip a wig. I frigging know. I don't care if the rotation lines up so the Rox face Mussina, Pettitte, Clemens, as it seems they might. I want the Rockies to destroy them and make everyone shut up about the goddamn Kings of Overexposure. I like Pettitte, but I still want him to suck. And yes, I may need help, but we knew that. Yuck the Fankees. Living in New York, and even going to (and enjoying) a game at the Stadium hasn't changed my opinion of them. Hate them and their completely overhyped and overpaid aging team of self-important egoistic prima-donnas.

Okay. I'm better now. Really.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Photo Day!

Yes, I finally got my lazy rear in gear and uploaded the pics from our splendiferous wonderful time at Photo Day. I know the blog hasn't been very fastidiously updated these days, but I still try to get a post at least every other day. This has something to do with starting my new job and the fact that I'm working 36 hours a week (I asked for Wednesdays off/early so we can go to Ladies' Night games at Coors, heh). In the meantime, enjoy. (Some of these pics aren't from Photo Day, so I'll label those. Also, please ignore my hair; it's not usually that frizzy and although I bear a striking resemblance to a psychotic witch, that is not really the case. I blame the hat).

This is Gillian and I at our first game of the year together -- May 16 vs. the Diamondbacks. Seeing as I got home on May 11, you can tell that I could NOT wait to get back to Coors. Also, despite appearing pregnant in this picture for some aggravating reason, I am not. I'm not even fat. Oy, I'm such a pick about how I appear in pictures, so I apologize for the running commentary.

This is Gillian and Chris Iannetta from that same day. Check out those blue eyes; they actually look like they're related.

Me and my new boyf -- I mean, Jason Hirsh, also from the May 16 game. This was right after he flung his arm around my waist, began grinning like a cheese, and temporarily put my brain circuits out of commission. Love the boy.

OKAY! Here's Photo Day.

Here's a shot to show you where we were -- i.e. right on the field. Ignore the fat woman, she's no one I know. If that is you, I apologize.

Me and my boy, Brad! Yay! Again, please ignore how psychotic I look, and trust me, Brad did put his arm around me by choice. He actually didn't run away screaming.

Gillian and Brad. Yet again, they look alike, this time by dint of matching sunglasses.

Gillian, Spilly, Garrett, and Darcy. I accidentally cut Darcy's head a bit out of this picture, but yeah, Spilly decided to mug for the camera right as I took the shot. What a ham.

Gillian can die happy now. This is her and Matt Holliday, and yes, she's deeply in love with him.

I'm not, but I do like him, and I got a picture too.

This is Darcy and Iannetta again. You have no idea how much convincing it took to get her to do a picture alone.

Me and Tulo, the Thrice-Introduced.

Gillian and Tulo.

Gillian and my boyf -- Jason. Check out the shit-eating grins on both of them.

Me, Bucky (Taylor Buchholz) and Gillian. I think this is a cute pic, actually.

Okay, the best for last. I LOVE THIS PICTURE. Me, Darcy, Gillian, and Todd giving us a big ol' bear hug. Warm fuzzy memories forever.

That's it for the photos. I'm going to go write now. I wrote a baseball-themed short story called Elysian Fields for my second-semester writing project, and now I'm redoing it as a novel. I swear, the other day, I realized that I think about baseball pretty much 24/7, and I woke up early and spent a while contemplating the philosophy of the game and why it has so much effect on me. God, do I ever need a real life.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Merits of Dirtbags: Tulowitzki vs. Crosby

This is a feature that I've had banging about in my head for a while, and since it's too late for me to spend the time uploading my Photo Day pix (yes, I got them... hooray!) I thought I'd do a side-by-side comparison of the Long Beach State alma-mater shortstops on two of my teams. The scholarly commentary also got added. Also just for the record: STEVE FINLEY CUT! Thank the lord, I need to update my sidebar. The Rockies did in fact give the geezer his release, and promoted Sean Barker, just like I told them to. I cannot help but think this must portend many good things.


The Basics

Name: Troy Trevor Tulowitzki
Nickname: Tulo
Age: 22
Birthday: October 10, 1984
Birthplace: Santa Clara, California
Residence: Santa Clara, California
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 205
Throws: Right
Bats: Right
High School: Fremont High School
College: Long Beach State
Drafted: First Round, 2005, Colorado Rockies (seventh overall)
MLB Debut Season: 2006
First Full Season: 2007
Salary: $381,000

2007 Stats

Batting Average: .275
BABIP: .340
Home Runs: 3
Runs Batted In: 26
On-Base Percentage: .347
Slugging Percentage: .393
OPS: .740
Walks: 21
Walk Rate: 9.3%
Strikeouts: 48
Strikeout Rate: 23.3%
Double Plays: 5
Stolen Bases: 1
Caught Stealing: 2
Clutch Rating: 1.82
WPA: 1.60
RC/27: 4.36
Total Chances: 118
Errors: 2
Double Plays Turned: 25
Fielding Percentage: .983

Fun Stuff

Astrological Sign: Libra
Marital Status: Single
Awards: He’s hoping for the NL Rookie of the Year 2007...
Best Buddy: Chris Iannetta
Hobbies: Video games (specifically MLB 2K7) generally being confident and exuberant.
Personality: Hyper, brash, extreme self-confidence with a hint of swagger
Fun Facts: In high school, he earned six varsity letters total – four in baseball and two in basketball. He hit .519 as a senior and also pitched, going 15-1 as a hurler. This explains the reason he has been clocked as high as 94 mph throwing to first base. On April 13, 2007, he turned only the thirteenth unassisted triple play in ML history.


The Basics

Name: Robert Edward Crosby
Nickname: Croz, BoCro
Age: 27
Birthday: January 12, 1980
Birthplace: Lakewood, California
Residence: Long Beach, California
Height: 6’3"
Weight: 215
Throws: Right
Bats: Right
High School: La Quinta High School
College: Long Beach State
Drafted: First Round, 2001, Oakland Athletics
MLB Debut Season: 2003
First Full Season: 2004
Salary: $2.5 million

2007 Stats

Batting Average: .244
BABIP: .276
Home Runs: 5
Runs Batted In: 23
On-Base Percentage: .289
Slugging Percentage: .366
OPS: .655
Walks: 12
Walk Rate: 5.5%
Strikeouts: 37
Strikeout Rate: 18.0%
Double Plays: 7
Stolen Bases: 6
Caught Stealing: 2
Clutch Rating: -0.36
WPA: -1.20
RC/27: 3.32
Total Chances: 235
Errors: 8
Double Plays Turned: 33
Fielding Percentage: .966

Fun Stuff

Astrological Sign: Capricorn
Marital Status: Engaged (Gina)
Awards: AL Rookie of the Year, 2004
Best Buddy: Nick Swisher, Huston Street, Danny Haren
Hobbies: Video games, driving his pimpmobile (Black Cadillac Escalade with spinners, last time I looked) and flirting. A lot. Personality: Frat-boy sense of humor and fun, a ladies’ man, and stubborn.
Fun Facts: He is the son of former Major Leaguer and current scout Ed Crosby, and his younger brother Blake is also a ballplayer. He was the starting shortstop on the 2000 USA National Team, and in his three years at CSU Long Beach, he amassed a .324 batting average. His selection for the AL Rookie of the Year award was a vote shy of being unanimous, despite the low .239 average he had, the lowest ever for a winning rookie.

Hilary's Scholarly Commentary: The presence of Bobby Crosby in the A's farm system was the chief reason that they didn't re-sign fan favorite shortstop Miguel Tejada, opting instead for a six-year, $66 million deal for Eric Chavez. (You can ask A's fans their opinion of the deal now, but since Chavez has declined while Tejada is still hitting at a consistently high level, it looks like they misjudged, but not even Beane is psychic, no matter how many appearances he may give to the contrary). Crosby posted a decent full first season in the majors, and won the Rookie of the Year despite a .239 batting average. Voters were probably swayed by the fact that he had 22 HR and 64 RBI, as old-school stats are generally the only thing that ever glimmers through their consciousness. Crosby has never been a great fielder, and in his rookie season he amassed 19 errors in 505 chances for a .975 fielding percentage, but the fact is that he's so often hurt that it's difficult to judge what he'd be like if he was ever healthy and playing a full season at his potential. It's not what everyone thought it was, as Crosby is a shadow of the player that Tejada is and almost literally a thousand times less durable as well. Still, to be fair, he's been doing a shade better in May and June after a horrible start to the season, at least offensively. His defense is still very much a fifty-fifty proposition, and he can make an adventure out of even routine ground balls. He also doesn't want to change his swing, which leads to a continued rate of high K numbers (at least he's brought his strikeout rate down from 21% last year). He only walks 5.5% of the time, and as I've mentioned before, it's not that hard to pitch to him. Throw a slider outside in the dirt, and he'll go fishing.

Also, if you take a look at some of those "new-fangled" sabermetric stats above, you get some pretty alarming numbers. Crosby's clutch rating is in the negative numbers, which means he's not at all the guy you want up there in a high-leverage situation. For example, with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom ninth of a tie game against Boston, he grounded into a first-pitch double play, and unfortunately, he's always been a bad hitter with ducks on the pond (.232 with runners in scoring position, .250 with runners in scoring position and two outs and the bases loaded, and .189 in late-inning pressure -- he also hits .385 in the first inning, lower every inning thereafter, and .197 after the seventh. In other words, "Beer Vendor" would be an apt nickname). Crosby's RC/27, or Runs Created Per 27 Outs, is 3.32, which means that a team of nine Crosbys would average about three runs a game. His WPA, or the average wins that he contributes to his team, is also in the negatives, which means that the A's might actually be better without him. Unfortunately, they have no other real options unless they want to make Marco Scutaro into an everyday player, and while great in clutch situations and off the bench, Marco isn't really a starter.

Now, about Tulo. You already know that I love the kid, but I am not entirely blind to his faults. Tulo, like Crosby, was a highly touted shortstop prospect, but unlike his fellow Dirtbag, he appears (thus far) to be living up to his hype. Drafted with the Rockies' first pick in 2005, he never played an inning at AAA and was promoted directly to the majors from AA Tulsa last September, making the Road to the Show in practically record time. As evidenced from early returns, there isn't much he could have learned in Colorado Springs. After struggling out of the gate to an .185 average at one early point in the proceedings, Tulo made the adjustments (something Crosby doesn't do) and accordingly watched his average go up. Also unlike Crosby, he's always been a strong fielder, and he does possess a cannon for an arm. While Crosby's throws from deep in the hole are a choose-your-own-adventure, Tulo almost always makes the play, and makes it look easy. His previous experience as a pitcher explains why he's been clocked going as high as 94 from short to first, and should the Rockies ever run out of bullpen help, I am all for sticking either Tulo or Brad Hawpe (also a former high school pitcher) in there to see what happens. My dearest hope is to see a position player pitch, as I think that would be exceedingly amusing.

Tulo walks at a slightly higher rate than Crosby (9.4% to Crosby's 5.5%) so he has somewhat better pitch recognition and selection, but it's still possible to get him to chase, as evidenced by his 23% strikeout rate. Tulo will have to work on that, as that means he's striking out on close to a third of his trips to the plate, but fortunately he makes up for it with an astronomical and almost uncanny knack for getting the big hit. His clutch index is the highest in the major leagues, and when it comes to pressure, he's the guy you want up there, as evidenced by these numbers: .283 with runners on base, .400 with the bases loaded, .600 in late-inning pressure, and .533 under late-inning pressure with runners on. Some guys just have that clutch makeup, and the active desire to be the hero, while others try to avoid the spotlight, and the ultra-confident and slightly swaggering Tulowitzki, who will cheerily tell you that he has never been on a losing team and is determined to change fortunes in Colorado (good for him, someone has to) always wants to be the guy at the plate. He's the guy that Rockies fans want up there too. Tulo's still working on the RC/27, as nine of him would score about four or so runs a game, but his defense is generally sterling, which gives him a leeway that Crosby doesn't have with his leaky glove.

In conclusion, if someone put a gun to your head and forced you to pick one of the ex-Dirtbag shortstops, take Tulowitzki. He has a much higher upside and at the tender age of 22, is only going to get better. Crosby is 27 and has never been that great, plus he's an injury risk. Still, A's fans refuse to believe that he's a complete wash, and he can occasionally show flashes of value. But when put head-to-head with his collegemate (they weren't at school at the same time, seeing as Crosby's five years older than Tulowitzki) he comes out on the short end of the stick. Psst, it's something called adjustments, Croz...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Great Surprise!

Yesterday, the Rockies, facing off in the finale of their three-game set with the Reds, looked a little, well, unimpressive. Rodrigo Lopez permitted three earned runs (four total) in 4.1 innings, and Ramon Ramirez did yet another Hindenburg impression for the recently beleaguered pitching staff, recording a 1-inning, 4-run disaster to stretch the Reds' advantage to 8-2. He wasn't helped out by Hurdle calling for two intentional walks, both of which scored, but things were looking a bit dreary for the Blake Street boys. Garrett Atkins appeared to benefit from his days off, and cracked a 372-foot solo shot to left in his first at-bat, but it looked as if it was going to be yet another series loss at home (before this series, the Rockies hadn't won a home series since their season-opening set against the D-backs). The other run came from Atkins blipping a double into shallow right, followed by a screamer off the wall by NL Player of the Week (hooray for my boy!) Brad Hawpe.

Then a few things began to happen. Lineup deadweights Yorvit Torrealba and Jamey Carroll cracked back-to-back RBI singles in the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, Holliday singled, and Helton and Atkins walked to load the bases. Hawpe started out in an 0-2 hole and crawled back to work a run-scoring walk. Naturally, Torrealba flew out on the second pitch to squelch the rally, but the Rockies had climbed to within 8-5 and weren't quite done.

Bottom of the eighth. Jamey Carroll and pinch-hitter Jeff Baker got aboard with sharp singles, and Willy Taveras beat out a bunt for his ML-leading 17th infield hit on the year. This left the bases loaded with no outs for Kazuo Matsui, and while I was cautiously hopeful, I didn't think that the guys were actually going to roar back to life after being down six runs. Kaz had different ideas and laced a game-tying triple down the right-field line, scoring everybody and making me scream loudly and in disbelieving delirium. Holliday struck out and Helton was walked, Atkins flew out, and my boy Brad laced a go-ahead single. (.455/3/8/.571/.955/1.526 for the week. Nice job). But the way the game was going, there was no way it was going to be easy, and Brian Fuentes, after allowing a leadoff double, had the guy picked off and threw the ball into center field instead, allowing the runner to move to third. He subsequently scored on a Jeff Conine single, and with the bottom of the order coming up in the ninth, the game moved into extras at a 9-9 deadlock, just like those halcyon days of yore in Coors Field when the park averaged about three or so homers a game.

Manny Corpas pitched a quick tenth, and in the bottom of the tenth, hero-of-the-day Matsui led off with a single. For some reason he made the pitcher nervous, and on the fifth straight pickoff attempt at first, there was naturally an error that allowed Matsui to move to second. (Karma, baby). Matt Holliday struck out again (not something he does that much) and yet again, they intentionally walked Helton. (Hurdle has yet to learn that unless he separates Helton and Atkins in the lineup, that is going to happen a lot. But does he? No, he just keeps letting them take the bat out of Helton's hands). But this time, Atkins came through with his third hit of the day, lashing the game-winning single into left field to allow Kaz to bolt home. Both of them got a hero's welcome (Atkins' helmet got knocked off, heh) and it was a very good sign to see Atkins' bat waking up out of its month-long slump. He was decent in April and horrendous in May, but Hurdle sat him for two days and stuck him back in after Jeff Baker's three GIDPs at the position a game earlier. Atkins rewarded him with the three-hit, multiple-RBI game, including his first homer since May 19 against the Royals, and now the trick will be maintaining the consistency. He's a big part of their offense that hasn't really shown yet, and if he's finally busted the slump (I shall refrain from asking how, Garrett, but I am grateful) then the offensive production might take a sharp upswing. That would be very nice to see.

Next on tap is to get Jason Hirsh on track. The Rockies have an off-day today, and then they get back in the saddle to close out their long homestand with a three-game series against the struggling Astros. (Then again, the Rockies have previously showed a remarkable inability to beat teams that are even worse than they are). Hirsh's ERA has ballooned from 3.41 to 5.10 over the course of his past few starts, and his last start was the eight-run disaster against the Cardinals. Last time, they were consistently fouling things off until they got a pitch they could drive, so finding his out pitch will be key. If he can't get it going, there are mutterings that he could see a stint at AAA when Josh Fogg comes back. I don't see how this would help, as pitching with the Sky Sox would be harder as they don't humidor the balls in Colorado Springs. A good outing would go a long way towards securing the number-four job he won out of spring training, and, you know, make me happy.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Best Day of 2007

.... is Saturday, June 2. I'm not even kidding. If there's going to be another contender for the best night of this year, they're going to have to put up a damn impressive show to come close to touching the awesomeness that unfolded tonight. I'm sitting up at 12:43 AM, pretty tired and completely happy, writing this down since I want to get down every detail before I forget anything. My two sisters and I went to Photo Day/the Rockies game today, and what can I say, it was absolutely marvelous. I could have asked for absolutely nothing more, and it's left me with that kind of happiness that sinks into your bones and rests like a glowing marble in your chest and makes you happy when you even start thinking about it. If I ever am at a loss for happy thoughts during my continuing job training next week, I know what will do the trick. So here's the blow-by-blow, and I am determined to spare no detail, since I want to remember them all for myself. Very long, but what hey, I want it all down for posterity.

The Photos/The Guys

My older sister just got home from college yesterday, and as an early birthday present, we gave her an Atkins shirt and a ticket to accompany us (me and my younger sister) to Photo Day. So my older sister, Darcy, and I left home around 2:20 in the afternoon, decked out in Rockies gear (Atkins shirt and Rockies hat for her; Hawpe shirt, purple and black jersey, logo necklace, and signed hat for me. Yes, I take my baseball seriously). Then we drove down to pick up my younger sister, Gillian, from work, and headed down to Coors Field from there. The traffic on the normally congested I-25 connector was actually moving, which was only the first herald of all the greatness to come. We got down to the field so early that the signs for parking weren't even up, so we parked in our usual spot and saved five or ten bucks on it. (Gillian was worried that we were going to get ticketed or towed or something, but of course not. The day was destined to be perfect, so it didn't happen). We wandered up toward the stadium, picked up our tickets from Will Call, and went to Gate C, where they were just starting to let people in. Gillian and I were anxious to get going, so we dragged Darcy down and stepped onto an actual major league field. Yes, for Photo Day, they actually let you head onto the field and walk around the warning track. If I had a religious experience when I walked into Shea, then standing on the dirt of Coors Field itself damn near blew my circuits. I just walked around, looking up at the wall, as Gillian steered us to one of the numbered stations for photos. (As it turned out, this didn't matter, as the guys just made their way down the line). But we stood there in the sun, excited, three girls in Rockies gear who love their team, waiting for their boys to come out, and in due time, they did.

It was just cool to see the guys in white come out of the dugout and start spreading across the field toward the line of fans on the warning track. I was so busy tracking who was going where (Gillian wanted Holliday, Darcy wanted Atkins, they debuted a little to our right) that I almost didn't see who was walking straight toward us. Right: Carroll, well we know that guy, but not high on our list for pics. Center: Baker, oh cool, we remember him, maybe he remembers us. And on the left: OH. My God. Brad Hawpe is walking toward me. Do not do something stupid. Have to admit, I got a little weak-kneed there for a second. But I recovered.

Brad took a picture with the girl next to us, before he reached us and smiled. "Hey guys, how are you?" he said, and naturally, since Hawpe is my boy and I was wearing his shirt (albeit underneath my jersey) I got to go first. There was only one moment all day in which I was not thinking, and that was when Brad Hawpe and I had our arms around each other, grinning into the sunlight of a perfect day as Gillian snapped the picture. Then she got to go with him, and our brilliant time was officially begun. Jeff Baker, who was there as well, remembered us from Thursday, where we talked to him and got his autograph. "Hey!" he said enthusiastically. So we introduced ourselves to him, and he introduced himself as well, as if we didn't know. "You guys live in Denver?" he said. "No, Evergreen," we said. "About how far?" he asked. "Forty minutes or so," we said. He was terrifically nice, hung out for a little bit and chatted before moving on, and generally made us very happy that he'd remembered us, but the good times were coming fast and we had to keep up with 'em.

Right at that moment, Garrett Atkins (who is really a big guy... I think I knew that) came up to us, and I said, "Hey, Garrett, I don't know if you remember me, but I was the one Rockies fan in Shea Stadium." He grinned a little bit and went, "Yeah, I remember." Since I already have a picture with him, I got Darcy (who has a fairly sizeable crush on him and refused to go with him alone) and Gillian (who agreed to do it with her to ameliorate her nervousness) to pose with him. Just as I was taking the picture, Ryan Spilborghs grabbed Garrett by the shoulder and popped his head up in the frame, grinning like a cheese, so we got two for the price of one. I smiled at him (I think he remembered us too) and said, "You starting tonight, Spilly?" "Naw, I'm sitting," he answered. "You three are all Rockied out!" This was a reference to our gear, which had garnered a number of comments. (Later, someone remarked, "I'll take your pic... I think you guys really like the Rockies." My answer: "Yeah, just a bit.")

The two of them meandered on and just then, Gillian's absolute favorite ballplayer, Matt Holliday himself, arrived on the scene. She was having conniptions that he wouldn't be there because of his flukey little self-inflicted injury. (For the record, there are conflicting reports about how he did it. The Rocky Mountain News says that while trying to bang himself on the head with his helmet, he accidentally sliced himself with the brim of it. Matt takes umbrage with this, says it portrays him as a selfish player, and insists that it was an accident of braining himself on a ceiling when jumping off a step. Who knows what actually happened). But Matt was smiling and happy and Gillian just about overloaded when she got a picture with him. (I got one with him too).

Jeremy Affeldt and Tom Martin wandered by around this point, and since neither of them are a) starters or b) good, we didn't get a photo with them. (For the record, I think Jeremy was disappointed). But we shook hands with both of them and introduced ourselves, and they asked how we were doing and we said that we were really happy to be there. We also talked to Brian Fuentes briefly. Then we peeled off and headed further down the left field line to where Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta were making their way along. (We saw Hurdle around here, but intentionally skipped him). We got to Iannetta first, where Gillian said to him, "I'm the girl who asked you about The Elegant Universe." (In case I forgot to tell you, on Thursday, she asked him if he'd read it and he smiled and went, "Yeah.") "Yeah, I remember," says Chris with a smile, and then Darcy was actually persuaded to take a picture alone with a player, which is kind of a milestone for her. But she did it all on her own, and since Gillian and I already have pictures with him and have talked to him before, we just introduced ourselves and shook. On a random note, Iannetta has the world's largest hands. I mean, my hands aren't that small, but they were just swallowed up in his grip. Then we got to Tulo, who we were really hoping to track down because he is awesome. So he got to us, and gave us a big grin and went, "Hi!" He's very hyper, energetic, brash, and outgoing, and the funny thing was, we all introduced ourselves and he did the same thing each time. "Hi, I'm Gillian." "Troy!" (Handshake, smile). "I'm Hilary. "Troy!" (Handshake, smile). "And what's your name?" "I'm Darcy." "Troy!" (Handshake, smile). Both Gillian and I got a picture with Tulo, then we decided to head back to right field to get those who were trying to escape from us.

We got there and I got a chance to track down Aaron Cook, which I've been hoping to do since I got back to Denver. "Hey, Aaron, I don't know if you remember, but I was the one Rockies fan in Shea," I said. "Hey, yeah, I remember!" he said. "By the tarp, right?" "Yep," I said. "Did I give you a ball?" he asked. "No, you just signed my hat," I said, and showed it to him. "Right on!" he answered. "Who was with you? They were in Mets gear, right?" I was surprised that he remembered that as well, but told him that it was my friend (Mary) and her boyfriend (Steve). "Back in Colorado now, awesome," said Cookie. "Yep," I said. "Well, thanks for coming out and supporting us!" he said. "Oh, no problem," I said, and he meandered on. It was a beautiful day and everyone just seemed completely laid-back and happy, friendly and engaging and easy to talk to. It made me love the Rockies even more than I already do, and while I get frustrated with them so often for not playing up to their potential, they're now my friends as well and that's a terrific element to have. Honestly, I think we talked to almost everyone, even if we didn't get a picture with them, and introduced ourselves and whatnot. But the photos weren't quite done.

Taylor Buchholz came by and Gillian and I got a picture together with him. Then Jason Hirsh came along and remembered Gillian right away when she said she was the sign girl. "And the calendar too!" he added. "So I'm told," said Gillian. "What, you don't have one?" said Hirsh, stunned. "No," she said. "Call the front office!" he suggested. "You tell them you're on the front, they'll probably give you lots." The whole time they were talking, he had his arm up ready to put around her, and then he did. I stepped back to get all of him in the picture -- he's a humongous guy, I tell you, and yes, I am still a bit in love with him. Around this time Holliday came back and said, "Didn't I see y'all over there?" with a laugh. "Yeah, we moved," Gillian said. "How's your head?" He laughed and said, "Great." "You playing tonight?" I asked. "Sure am," he said with another smile. (Baker was also back, and waved at us and grinned. "You starting at third, Bake?" I asked. "Yep!" he said).

We had exactly one shot remaining on our camera, so we decided to spend it by getting all three of us together with Todd Helton. He was laughing and very friendly, just like everyone else, and when he got to us, we told him what we wanted. Todd promptly obliged. "C'mere, guys!" he said, and draped his arms over Gillian and I with Darcy in the middle. We all grinned as a helpful fellow fan snapped our last pic, and then we carefully tucked the camera in our backpack to await development. (We're probably going to have to get double or triple prints, since we'll all want one to take to school). Jamey Carroll showed up a bit later, and when we told him we'd run out of film, he said, "Darn!" We stayed there as long as we wanted, about 45 minutes in all, enjoying some pure baseball heaven -- talking with our boys, standing on the field, in a glorious summer-like afternoon -- until we at last decided that without film and the fact that the guys were heading in, we might as well amuse ourselves in the hour and a half remaining until gametime. So we headed up, got a drink, and headed for the Diamond Dry Goods store, which in itself was another section.

The Store/The Interim

Naturally, when you walk into the place, there's all sorts of Rockies goodness that scream at you, and your pocketbook, to be taken off the shelf and purchased. We ambled around, bickering good-naturedly, comparing prices, and trying to talk each other into buying things. I got a Rockies magazine and two very cool necklaces (the necklaces are silver and black with a little hurricane on them, and they look a bit like Rich Harden's if you've ever seen it. We promptly dubbed them the sweet-ass necklaces since they were so cool -- one was for me and one for Gillian). We argued about whether or not we would buy a new baseball (I actually spent an hour the other day hand-sewing our one remaining ball, which had its stitches coming to pieces, so we could play catch) and/or a pack of baseball cards. (We eventually ended up nixing both of them, as I insisted that I would pay for $20 worth of merchandise and no more. "I have to put my foot down somewhere.") Darcy bought herself a hoody (I need one of those, they're awesome) as a birthday present for herself and we'd barely gotten out of the store before she decided that she needed a sweet-ass necklace to match ours. So we went back in, still arguing about who owed who money, and she found one more hurricane necklace and bought it. Now with matching sweet-ass necklaces, we finally decided to go find our seats.

We'd used our Ladies' Night vouchers to get two free tickets, so we'd only paid for one, Darcy's. We were very pissed that we couldn't sit in our accustomed spot in the right field mezzanine, but we got to Section 332 and stopped complaining, as the seats were third deck, right behind home plate and were just fine; we could see the whole field and there was nothing to bitch about. We dropped our stuff and then climbed up to the very top of Coors, to the very last row, and looked out through the mesh at Denver beyond. I snapped a few pictures on my cell phone of us, the field, and we just stood up there and admired how beautiful it was and how unbelievably happy we all were. We took one picture that I declared I would send to the "Fans of the Game" promotion they always do. I said with certainty that there was no way they couldn't feature it, and for the record, here it is:

Left: Gillian. Center: Me. Right: Darcy.

I took one look at it and said, "We're finally gonna get on the scoreboard." We took some more pictures and then headed off to get dinner -- pretzels, hot dogs, sodas, you know, ballpark food. We hung out on the sunny upper concourse for a little, then wandered back to our seats, too goofily and incredibly happy to care about anything very much. Coors Field is my happy place and I want to be there so much that it feels as if I can never get back soon enough when I leave. We got back to our seats in time to cheer for the Rockies when they announced the starting lineups. I know that I grind the start-Iannetta axe all the time, but in the three games I've attended this year, he's started each of them, so maybe it's something about me? Dunno.

The Game

The game started, Jeff Francis came out of the gate dealing (four perfect innings) and Helton blasted a bomb to dead-center in the bottom of the first to ensure that he was never working from behind. Francis lost the perfect game in the top of the fifth, and had to deal with traffic in the sixth and seventh as well, but he ended up with yet another strong seven-inning showing and only one run allowed. He's really been the "Jeffrey Franchise" that the Rockies expected and needed, and it was fun to watch him pitch tonight. Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, the Reds' top homer threats, both looked absolutely silly against him (he had an insane number of swing-throughs tonight; they just couldn't get a bead on that changeup or slider). Manny Corpas' punchout of Griffey in the eighth gave Junior the golden sombrero, and while striking out Dunn isn't that difficult, Francis did it twice for a total of six Ks on the night. The Rockies got their other two runs on a single and stolen base by Kaz Matsui followed by a perfectly placed bloop single from Holliday, and in the bottom of the eighth, Spilborghs (pinch-hitting for Francis; thank God it was him and not Finley) laced a double and scored when Willy Taveras bunted and the Reds reliever threw the ball away. Corpas had a perfect eighth in which he buzzsawed easily through three up, three down, and Fuentes came in for the ninth. Aside from a walk, he was great, and the Rockies ended up winning 4-1.

We were really into the game the whole time, rocking out to the music, cheering for the guys, shouting assorted encouragements or reproaches at them according to what they did, and threatening Baker that he could no longer be our friend after he grounded into three double plays. Each time, Brad Hawpe came up, got to first (two singles and a walk) and got erased. It was just a little frustrating; maybe somebody hexed the third base spot on the Rockies and it isn't Atkins' fault after all. At least when he plays, he only gets himself out.... Love ya, Garrett, but try to pick it up so we don't have to watch Baker do that again, no matter how much we appreciate him for talking to us. We got a little nervous in the sixth after seeing three straight Rockies starters turning into the Hindenburg, but Francis flashed some balls of steel and escaped. And by the way, about our picture? I was right. During the seventh inning stretch, they flashed the Verizon "Fans of the Game" on the scoreboard, and there we were, featured second. We cheered and whooped and high-fived each other.

We danced in our seats and enjoyed the hell out of the game and Gillian and I were happy to see what a great time Darcy had. She's very young for her age (21 next Sunday) and she's very transparent emotionally, so you know if she's happy or not, and she was. We all were. It was a ridiculously good night. The stars were aligned for everything, even moving traffic and free parking, as mentioned. Fuentes ended the game with a groundball to second, and everyone got up and cheered and headed out. It might have been just me, but it seemed as if there was a lot more fans who were actually wearing their Rox gear, so there was plenty of shirts, caps, jackets, etc., on display. It was nice to hear Coors make a lot of noise and get behind their guys, who may or may not always deserve it in terms of their play, but at least they're all terrifically friendly and polite and just great human beings. It made me love them more, and remember why I put up with all their shenanigans.

The only slightly worrisome thing was that Tulo came out of the game in the fifth with tightness in his groin and Carroll took his place. Tulo is an integral component of the team both offensively and defensively, so I really, really hope that it's nothing serious and he'll be back in there tomorrow or the next day. The lineup can't go long without the spark that their rookie shortstop provides, so happy thoughts in Troy's direction. Still giggling about the way he introduced himself three times in a row, as if we might not know.

In conclusion, and as you can see since I've taken so much time to write this all out in excruciating detail, I had a friggin' FANTASTIC time tonight, and if it's not one of the best nights of my life, then it's at least by far the best of 2007 to date. We three deserved a night out to have fun and celebrate the end of the year after all working so hard in school, and oh man, we had a wonderful time. It'll make me happy to think about tonight for a long, long time, and that's not something that happens every day. And our fun-filled weekend isn't even over quite yet -- me and my sisters are going out for a night downtown tomorrow again, attending a 7:30 performance of Wicked. That in itself is going to be great -- I've heard the show's awesome and I'm looking forward to it.

Okay, it's 2:38 in the morning and it's time for me to hit the hay. I've been up so late writing this down because I hope I never forget it. Awesomeness to the tenth power or so, and hey Rockies, you just made my day, month, and possibly year as well. Win tomorrow, bastards. (Some things never change).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

From Luck to Suck

The Rockies are doing more and more every day to further the impression that their winning streak was nothing more than a lucky fluke, and that they really are as bad as that shitaceous 18-27 record they sported before going on their fortuitious seven-game tear. Then, they had strong starters, stellar relievers, and just the right amount of offense, without committing any egregious defensive lapses -- in other words, the way that you win ballgames. Now it's back to the offense taking nine-inning catnaps, the starting pitcher trying to do too much to compensate for the bats' doldrums and turning into the Hindenburg as a result, and the bullpen going back to their leaky selves. In other words, the Rockies lost the winning streak and then two more, getting shut down tonight by a rookie pitcher that the Reds pulled out of their ass and looking limp and uninspired in a 4-2 final. They're 2-3 on the homestand with five more games left against Central doormats Cincinnati and Houston, but it remains to be seen if they can even beat them.

Considering the momentum that they entered the Cards series with, splitting is as disappointing as if they lost three of four. I was in attendance last night to witness the 7-3 clunker, which looked moderately hopeful until Juan Encarnacion, yes Juan Encarnacion, hit a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning to give the Redbirds a lead they'd never relinquish. At least we had great seats (sixteen rows back from homeplate) and got three more autographs (Ryan Spilborghs, Jeff Baker, and Kaz Matsui) which prevented the night from being a total wash. They really needed to win today, and, well, they didn't. Bobby Livingston, who had made a grand total of one previous career start and allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings, shut them down until the seventh, where a mishandled grounder gave them their first run, practically by accident. In other words, the Rockies are back to doing splendid flounder imitations and I'm starting to remember again why I was so frustrated about this team before a week of seeming luck took the pain away. Now it's coming back. Oy.

Jeff Francis goes tomorrow in a game which both my sisters and myself will be attending -- which means they should win, considering how well he's been pitching lately -- so if they happen to extend the losing skid to four, I'm going to be in a foul mood indeed. Then again, even Francis can't win if the offense that scored five runs in two games shows up, instead of the offense that scored 14 runs in the two games beforehand. Also, tonight's horrid lineup didn't help. Jeff Baker was inserted for Garrett Atkins, and managed to ground out with the bases loaded in the seventh to squander one of the Rockies' best scoring chances. Hurdle kept batting the hot hand, Brad Hawpe, sixth, and played Jamey Carroll as well, who's not even hitting his weight. Combine this with Yorvit Torrealba and the pitcher's spot, and you have four black holes in a nine-man lineup -- not the way you can win games. Tonight's starter, Taylor Buchholz, was victimized by a three-run fourth inning, right after he spent the bottom of the third running the bases -- so even when he did get a hit, it didn't work out.

And of course, the Rockies, not content with just losing the game, had to go and lose Matt Holliday as well. The details of what happened are pretty sketchy, but apparently he somehow hurt his head in the dugout between innings and had to leave the game with what the team is labeling a contusion. Clint Hurdle is trying to pass it off as a mishap innocently suffered since Holliday is a big guy and the dugout ceilings are low, but he only said that Holliday banged his head hard enough to warrant removal and cut off follow-up questions. Now call me a suspicious bird, but I'm a little leery that tonight, out of all nights, should be the one where Holliday develops a terminal attack of clumsiness and concusses himself on a ceiling. At least nobody else was leaving the game, so it wasn't a Carlos Zambrano/Michael Barrett-type scuffle such as took place in the Windy City today -- the batterymates got into a shoving and punching match after a tough inning and had to be dragged apart by coaches. Still, it makes me wonder if Holliday was just a little frustrated and ended up getting a flukey injury because of it. My younger sister will be very upset if he's not at Photo Day tomorrow, as she's deeply in love with him and has been waiting all season to get a picture with him, but I'll be more upset if Holliday was taking out his frustration and ended up costing himself and the team some games without his services. If it's enough to land him on the DL, then the Rockies are even more screwed than they generally are. With Atkins slumping, losing Holliday would cut out half of the core which includes Helton and Hawpe, and if they didn't really have that great shakes of an offense with them, they'll be swinging wet noodles without them.

There is nothing more aggravating than discovering that an encouraging win streak might have been smoke and mirrors, following it up with a three-game skid, and then losing your star player in a suspicious accident which might have been self-inflicted out of frustration. Why do the Rockies do this to me, and why do I love them so much?

On another note, Adam Wainwright turned in another sparkling start tonight, recording 7 IP with 1 run allowed, 4 walks, and 6 K's. True, it was against the light-hitting and light-weight Astros, who just broke a 10-game losing streak and will probably still beat the Rockies, but one has to start somewhere. And yet again, he got screwed out of the win, but at least the Cards got it -- why couldn't they wait until they got to Houston to do that? They scored seven runs in a ninth-inning uprising to flatten the Astros 8-1, but since Adam was already out, he didn't get the decision. Grr. I wish he would have pitched last night, as that would have taken a tiny bit of the sting out of watching the Rockies getting their behinds handed to them. If they can't recover and take the next two from the Reds, or at least two from the Astros, or generally play well at Coors during their long homestands, then... well, they're fucked, but we might have known that already.

Le sigh.