Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fireworks and the Fourth (On the Seventh)

Sorry for the lackadaisical blogging on a number of accounts: first, I'm working full-time and prefer to use my scanty time in the evenings to work on my novel instead of recapping the Rockies, and besides, until recently, the Rockies were a source of acute agony for me due to the 1-9 road trip they just suffered through, no thanks to Fuentes. (I am feeling marginally more charitable towards him now, if only because he's sitting out the next few games and seems to genuinely feel bad/be angry about his monumental fuckups). Thirdly, my computer has decided that it hates Blogger and freezes whenever I open the page in Netscape, or will not allow me to give the post a title in Internet Explorer, so I have to switch back and forth between the two in hopes of finding something that will permit me to actually update. I opened this post in Explorer, tiptoed through Netscape trying not to freeze it, and managed to get somewhere, but I remain convinced it will crash at any moment -- even though the new auto-save feature is great, I'm sure that clicking it will cause massive system failures. Oy.

Anyway! The Rockies came home from said shitaceous trip to a tough assignment -- the Mets and Phillies for their last series of the first half. And either they really, really like Coors Field, or the road trip was just an aberration, and one that they should have gone 5-5 on without Fuentes' dubious services. (They left Coors on June 21 at 38-34 and returned home on July 1 at 39-43. Yeah... ouch). But they are again beginning to resemble the team that tore through May and most of June at a 20-7 clip after brooming the Mets in three, including two blowouts (6-2, 11-3, 17-7). In doing so, the Rockies became the first team ever to sweep both the Mets and Yankees in the same year, something which I am very proud of them for doing; living in New York for college has not made me feel any more charitable towards their sports teams. I hate the Yankees with a violent and unbridled passion, and just can't summon the energy to care about the Mets; I sort of dislike them as a matter of principle. But the last game of the series, the one on July 4th, where the Rockies provided offensive fireworks early and often and then put on an actual fireworks show afterwards... well, I was there. I got two field-level tickets for $23 total (sweet Player of the Homestand deals) and me and my sister headed down for a fabulous Fourth.

Aside from the fact that the stadium was sold out and almost everyone there actually were Rockies fans, the atmosphere was great. Everyone was really into the game (except for the bottom of the fifth when the Wave went around five hundred friggin' times) and cheered loudly every time the Rockies scored, which they did absolutely relentlessly. The bottom of the first and the bottom of the eighth were the only times they didn't put at least one run on on the board, and they hit every pitcher that the Mets trotted out there like so many pinatas. Brad Hawpe had a two-run homer, Todd Helton had a two-run double and two bases-loaded walks, and Garrett Atkins enjoyed a monster night, going 4-for-5/5 RBI with a deep infield single, an absolutely crushed two-run homer, and a laser of a two-run double, picking up Player of the Game honors for his sudden offensive resurgence. Ever since that miserable May, Atkins has come on like a machine, OPSing 1.050 since June 1st, and has jacked his batting average up to a perfectly respectable, if not yet stellar, .263 from its season-low mark of .219. He is again beginning to resemble the player that went .329/29/120 last year, and his 13 homers are only two shy of Hawpe and Holliday for the team lead. (Those two seem to be having a race. In last night's game against the Phillies, Holliday jacked his at-the-time-leading 15th about 460 feet into the center-field rockpile. In the bottom of the ninth, Hawpe crushed his 15th about 430 feet to tie the game). Considering Atkins had only 3 homers at the end of May, it's been fun to watch him put it back together.

The offense is now clicking very nicely -- tablesetters Willy Taveras and Kaz Matsui use their speed to get on base and discomfit the opposition, Holliday hits a double or a homer or something else that leaves the infield at a high rate of speed, Helton fouls off six and works a walk, and then Atkins, Hawpe, and Tulowitzki are waiting to take advantage. (Tulo is hitting .285 with 9 homers, is a fantastic all-around player, and is endlessly confident. Atkins remarked that Tulo's not happy with his numbers because he thinks he should be hitting above .300 -- I love the kid's swagger and the shot in the arm he brings to the club, especially with a manager who, um, doesn't really have the winning attitude). This is a very hard lineup to get through without getting hurt -- even Yorvit Torrealba and Chris Iannetta, the constantly platooned catchers, have shown signs of offensive spark and Torrealba is 8-for-16 in his past few games. The offense was never the problem on the Road Trip from Hell, just the relieving, and with Fuentes taking a seat due to a sore back (he'll also miss the All-Star Game, which clearly he was elected into before the previous week's debacle) the bullpen looks suddenly much more trustworthy. (They worked six shutout innings last night in relief of Jeff Francis, who only went five and permitted six runs against the Phillies).

But back to that Mets game. Not only did Atkins, Hawpe, and Helton hit, everyone else hit, as well. The problem was Josh Fogg, who permitted a first-inning three-run homer to David Wright that (very briefly) made the Rockies faithful nervous that they weren't going to get that coveted sweep. Fogg ended up allowing five runs in six innings, so in other words, he's lucky that his offense opened up a nine-inning can of whoopass. Clint Hurdle made remarks to the effect that both Fogg and Jason Hirsh needed to step it up or risk losing their rotation spots -- Hirsh responded with six shutout, three-hit innings against a high-octane Mets offense in the opener, before having to leave after spraining his ankle on the basepaths. Fogg responded with, you know, the mediocre-to-bad outing which is his trademark. Due to the All-Star Break, it's likely that Hirsh could only miss one start, and the Rockies are going to have to look seriously about keeping dead weight in their rotation (and the team in general) if they hope to have a prayer of putting together a strong second-half run. This means that young Taylor Buchholz could be seeing more action as a starter, after being used temporarily in that role during Rodrigo Lopez's injury. It remains to be seen if Hurdle will actually yank Fogg from the rotation, which I've been hoping would happen since day one, and put Bucky in there instead.

But anyway, about the rest of the game. The Rockies wiped their feet on the Mets 17-7, and then the real fun started. One of our friends works as ballpark security at Coors, and he told us that sections 148 through 160 were going to be brought down onto the field itself to watch the postgame fireworks. Our tickets were in section 146, so around the eighth inning, we got up, sallied nonchalantly past the ushers while they were checking someone else's tickets, and jumped the caution tape into sect. 148, clearly put there to make sure that people didn't do exactly what we did. Nobody caught us, we watched Matt Herges stagger through a zillion-pitch ninth inning (including half a zillion pitches to Paul Lo Duca) and then it took us a long time to manuever with the crush down the stairs and onto the field. But once we got there -- oh yeah. We walked down the outfield grass by the warning track, and got a first-hand look of what it is like to stand on a baseball field with forty thousand people watching you. My sister steered us to left field, aka Matt Holliday's spot, and we sat down in the outfield grass and took off our shoes, wiggling our bare feet against the actual hallowed ground. It was amazing.

Then they turned off all the stadium lights -- have you ever been in a full-to-capacity baseball field at night with all the lights off, except for the eerie glow from the guide lights and the hundreds of flicking flashbulbs? Neither had I, until then. AMAZING, especially when you're lying on the outfield grass of Coors Field barefoot, cheering loudly with everyone else as fireworks begin to shoot up just beyond the Jumbotron. Awesome fireworks, too, and they were playing some great music -- when "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong came on, my sister and I just looked at each other and went, "Yeah." The fireworks were so loud you could feel them all the way into the ground -- it was just one of those moments that I never wanted to end. Another one of the best nights of this summer, and the reason that the hardest thing for me to leave when I return to college in the fall (something that I am looking forward to) will be the Rockies. God, I've gone crazy for them this year, it's a little sad, but who cares.

Last night they rallied back from a 6-1 deficit to win 7-6 in 11 innings, on Yorvit Torrealba's squibbler of a game-winning single. Who cares, I'll take them however they come, will probably be half relieved and half bored stupid during the All-Star Break, and look forward to see what my boys in purple and black do next. I'm going to the game again tonight, and since Rodrigo Lopez is pitching, I will have seen all the Rockies starters at least once.

Go Rockies!

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