Thursday, April 28, 2011

Blast From the Past

The Origins of Rockies Woman/The 163rd Game

Because of the rain-out at Wrigley last night, a scheduled off-day today, and a late game tomorrow night, you won't get another game write-up from me till Saturday morning. I don't want anybody to go bored so ... I'm recycling a very old blog post of mine. I've only been a regular baseball blogger since the start of this season, but that doesn't mean I'd never blogged about baseball before. I wrote about it for my other blog on October 2nd, 2007. You may recall that date as the day after the Rockies defeated the Padres in a one-game play-off to earn their second Wild Card. It was the most epic game in Colorado Rockies history. This post not only recaps it for you, it may provide an insight or two into why a girl in New York City might care this much about the Rockies in the first place. Enjoy.

(A little context - I was teaching middle school at the time. And the Tampa Bay Rays used to be called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. )

ROCKtober - October 2, 2007

Ok, it happened - the very thing I have been waiting for for twelve years. Since I was my students' age, I have been waiting for this. You might say it's the consummation of my childhood. I was never any good at sports, but I'm one of those girls who should've been, because I'm fiercely competitive and girly only in the sense that I like to have my nails done and secretly wish to find a handsome prince and be ridden off into the sunset. But I was not bequeathed with athletic ability of any kind (unless you count the fact that I'm awesome at kickball), and so my championship run in any sport did not materialize. Somehow I became interested in major league baseball. I don't remember exactly how, because prior to the age of 10 I never thought about it once. My family didn't really have an MLB team, and my professional sports memories up to that time are limited to Sunday afternoon football games where my dad yelled at the TV and I was bored. But in 1993 the Rockies came to Colorado. I'm not sure how expansion works, but the bigwigs in baseball get together and say, we need some more teams. Let's make some. And then they do. Most recently it was the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, maybe six or seven years ago. Before that, in 1993, it was the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. At first, my dad and my brother cared a lot more than I did. I remember hearing that they were pretty good and I remember Denver kind of exploding when they came. But that's it.

In 1994, there was a Major League Baseball strike. It had something to do with money (it always does) and it is the reason that most boys my age lost interest in baseball, so that I only have a few friends who are into it the way I am. For whatever reason, I became intrigued while the strike was going on. I remember asking my dad a lot of questions about why it was happening. I found myself, somehow, wanting to watch baseball. And there wasn't any baseball to watch.

The bigwigs worked out their differences, and the 1995 season started on schedule. That summer I was twelve, and I'm sure that I was out doing all the normal twelve-year-old girl summer things. That was the summer I met my best Colorado friend Brittany, so I know we were hanging out a lot. But I also watched baseball. I have clear memories of playing outside, getting really dirty, coming in at dusk and flipping on the TV to watch the Rockies play. And that season, as I started seventh grade, the Rockies started to get really good. 4 guys that season went 30-30 (home runs, stolen bases) - the Blake Street Bombers (because Coors Field is on Blake Street in Denver). Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker, and, my all-time favorite, Dante Bichette. I can still hear the Coors Field announcer saying his name as he came to the plate. He had a whole routine that he did before each pitch, and I had that memorized (I don't anymore, though I do remember that he always lifted the bat above his head with both arms and then pulled it behind his back). I went to Gart Brothers to get his autograph once, and I still have that ball. I was like a little boy. Sometimes I'm not sure why I was so boy-like in my admiration for an athlete. But it doesn't really matter. I'm was all girl in all the important ways, and I loved baseball with all my heart.

Before long, the Rockies were the National League Wild Card team, a brand new play-off spot that meant they would have the opportunity to compete with the winners of each division, despite the fact that their record was slightly worse. It may or may not have been a fluke fueled by the strike, the Bombers, the THIN AIR (so says everyone). But it happened, and somehow it was magic. We lost in the division series to the Braves, who would go on to win the World Series. I rooted for the Braves that year. I think that was because my dad told me that you always root for the team that beat you because it makes you look better. Either way, six months later we found out we were moving to Atlanta. I didn't really know how to process that, so I took it out on baseball, cursed the Braves, and guess what? They haven't won a World Series since :)

Ok, so we all know the story. My family moved to Atlanta, everything changed, and the Rockies entered a 12-season slump. The Bombers moved on, one by one (though Castilla actually came back for a couple seasons). Galarraga stopped by Atlanta for a while, which was exciting, and Walker hung in with the Rockies for a long time, remaining their best player. Bichette all but fell off the map after the '95 season (when he finished second in the MVP race to Barry Larkin, whom I have never fully forgiven). I did what most teenagers do, which is to say I sort of fell inside myself for several years and didn't much care what was going on with anyone else, including the Rockies. I started to forget about baseball.

I remember vaguely caring about it again during the 2001 World Series. I was in New York City at the time, for the first time, and the Yankees were in Arizona playing for the championship. It was closer to home than it had been in a while. The following year the Angels, my favorite American League team for no discernible reason, played the Giants in the World Series and it was the most amazing Series I've seen before or since. The '02 Angels were such an incredible team, and the Series went to seven games, which you always want. As the Angels walked away with the win, I just remember thinking that I was back into baseball.

It's been sporadic since then - some years I've paid more attention than others, depending on the amount of attention I had to offer. This year has not been one where I've been extremely aware, but from time to time I've been keeping up. I watch SportsCenter at the gym, so when I started going a month ago suddenly I was abreast of all the things that had been blipping across my radar only vaguely. And something was starting to happen. Even if I had been paying close attention, I wouldn't have thought the Rockies had a prayer this year. No one else did. Coming into September, they needed to win a whole lot of games. And the Padres and the Mets needed to lose a whole lot of games. But somehow, all three of those things happened. I started paying very close attention, and suddenly we were posting W's night after night. 11 nights in a row, as a matter of fact. And the prayer looked like it might be answered. (I should say that I'm ambivalent about prayer in sports. If I pray to win, no doubt someone on the other side is praying to win, too, and then how on earth does God determine who gets the yes? It just doesn't seem like an appropriate thing to pray for. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't praying at 12:15 a.m. today.)

So that brings me to last night. On Sunday, the Rockies won and the Padres lost, forcing a one-game play-off to determine who would occupy the wild card spot. The game would be played at Coors Field, which is always good news for the Rockies (for any and every reason BUT the thin air). But I was worried. Up till this point, the Rockies had not performed well in the clutch. They've always been a team with a lot of spirit and spark, plus a lot of hometown support, so you can always count on a those things to carry you a certain distance. Beyond that, however, it's a numbers game. And the numbers did not point in our favor. The Padres started Jake Peavy, who has the lowest ERA in the league and is more or less a lock for the Cy Young Award. Cy Young pitchers don't lose games as important as this one. The Rockies started Josh Fogg, who has been a strong starter, particularly lately. But he's not Jake Peavy. Still, we have a great offense who also happens to play the best defense in the major leagues, and we were carrying a lot of momentum from September into the game.

Things started out really well for the Rockies. Peavy was not pitching like he usually does. The bottom of the first produced a sacrifice fly and an infield single that scored Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitski (crossing our fingers that this guy will be Rookie of the Year), and just like that, we were on the board 2-0. I have a tendency to get really excited about early scores, although in baseball no lead is ever safe. Yorvit Torrealba, our beefy catcher, nailed one into left field in the bottom of the 2nd and, with the Padres still posting a big 0, things were looking very good.

Then Josh Fogg had a very bad 3rd inning. He loaded the bases and then Adrian Gonzalez jacked a grand slam - not what you want to see happen in game like this. And suddenly it was 4-3. Our early lead did not look so impressive anymore. Before the inning was over, Khalil Greene scored on a fielder's choice and we were down by 2. The game wasn't even 1/3 over.

Todd Helton, the Rockies' iron giant, stepped up to the plate in the 3rd and homered, cutting the deficit down to 1. I have so much respect for Helton because he came to Colorado in his early 20's, brand new to baseball, following in the footsteps of the Bombers and the mid-90's hey day. And he stayed, and stayed, and stayed. He's one of very few players, and certainly the only one talented enough to have received tempting offers from other clubs, to stick in this long. To me, he deserves this postseason more than anybody.

In the bottom of the 5th, with Peavy still pitching, Matt Holliday hit a single and Tulowitzki scored from second. Suddenly it was tied again. And this is one reason I love baseball. Just like that, it seems, it's anyone's game. Certainly reversals of fortune happen in all sports, but it's most exciting in baseball. The rally is not a myth. In other sports, once someone scores the game kind of starts over again. But in baseball, runs seem to spawn one another, and a 3-run lead can become a 3-run deficit in half an inning. So we were tied at 5, and Peavy's still pitching in the 6th (the Rockies were on their fourth pitcher by that point. All in all, ten guys took the mound for Colorado before the night was over). Seth Smith, a pinch hitter who's had something like eight at-bats this season and who will never forget this night as long as he lives, hit a triple, and then scored on Matsui's fly out. It's 6-5 Colorado.

And looked as if it might stay that way. It was the top of the 8th, and we had 4 outs standing between us and that play-off spot. Brian Giles lined one to deep left, and somehow Holliday let it go over his head. I'm still not sure how that happened. That's Holliday's sweet spot, and he's a good fielder. The ball followed a pretty predictable arc, and there really isn't any reason he shouldn't have caught it. But he didn't, and suddenly Greg Blum is scoring and it's 6-6 and our for sure win has slipped through our fingers.

By this point I'm frustrated. I've been a loyal fan, I've believed in my guys, and I'm wearing my 1995 play-off T-shirt in hopes that the ghosts of Bichette and Walker can find their way out onto the field and get us this win. (I should say that I now believe this shirt has magical powers, as I also wore it during our win Sunday, and I will wear it during every game till we've been eliminated or won it all. So I need to not do anything strenuous while wearing it or else it will get very disgusting.) But now we've lost our lead, and it's late in the game, and I'm tired, and a little mad that I might be staying up late for a disappointment. But these are my guys, and I do believe, so I keep watching.

And I sit through the bottom of the 8th. And the 9th. And the 10th. And the 11th. And the 12th. And I'm starting to wonder if this is going to be one of those 20-inning games that comes along from time to time and if I'm going to stay up till 2:30 a.m. and then watch us lose. I'm hoping not. But then it's the top of the 13th and Jorge Julio comes in to pitch. I haven't seen much of this guy, but he did not impress me Sunday, so I wasn't excited. He gave up a 2-run home run to Scott Hairston. That seemed like it had to be it, for two important reasons. One, we hadn't produced a run since the 6th inning. If we haven't been able to come up with a rally yet, why would one suddenly materialize? Two, the Padres were of course going to put Trevor Hoffman on the mound. They had been saving him for their lead. He is the ultimate closer. He's the all-time leader in saves (524), and he's so reliable I think the loss was a lock in everyone's mind.

But don't underestimate the Rockies. Especially the top of the order, which fortunately we had coming up. Matsui, our fantastic lead-off hitter, did his job and punched a double. Tulowitzki doubled and Matsui scored. Could it be? Were we rallying? With the great Trevor Hoffman pitching to us? Holliday tripled. It was too good to be true. Tulowitski scored standing up. The crowd was going wild. Todd Helton came to the plate. Hoffman pitched around him, which irritated me a little. Helton is the ultimate Rockie, like I said, and I wish he could've had a more pivotal part in the end of the game. But he homered earlier, and he's humble enough to know that it's not about him. Jamey Carroll, who'd replaced Garrett Atkins at third in the 8th inning and who was not spectacular, knocked a sacrifice fly to right. Did I mention there were no outs at this point? It's ok to fly out when there are no outs and there's a man on third. In fact, it is very very good. Holliday sailed home, and literally face planted into the dirt by the plate. He stuck his left hand out, and made contact with the catcher's foot. Most people are saying that the video makes it look like he didn't actually touch home. I tend to agree, but there's no clear shot, and there's also no replay in baseball. The umpire called him safe, and the Rockies are in the play-offs.

I wouldn't try to sell the above story as a movie script, because Hollywood would send it right back to me and tell me that it was unbelievable. Because it is. I still can't believe it. I wish the game hadn't ended at 12:30 because I would've been significantly less tired, and also I would've been able to scream out loud instead of silently (so as not to wake three sleeping roommates). There they were. The Rockies, celebrating at Coors Field, headed for the postseason. And me, in a New York City apartment, in my 1995 play-off T-shirt, and I'm twelve again, and all that matters is baseball, and that it's October and we're still playing games.

There's a poem in that. I think I'll call it "Consummation of My Childhood."

6 comments:

  1. I remember seeing Dante Bichette about 5-6 years ago playing in the Independent League here in Jersey. I couldn't believe it was actually him.

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  2. I love Dante so much. I would give anything to see him play again!

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  3. That night was as good as it gets as a baseball fan. It was a roller coaster ride from start to finish, but how else would you it expect to go for the Rockies. It was perfect. It made all those years of waiting for the moment well worth it. I just remember yelling loud enough to wake the neighborhood and then calling everyone who went to bed early and missed the end.

    Great night. The Rockies had finally arrived and they haven't gone away since.

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  4. I don't think I would've been able to forgive myself if I'd gone to bed early and missed the end! I kept thinking of a game when I was a kid where the Rockies were down by something like 6 runs, and I went to bed and they came back to win. I knew that was a possibility and I couldn't miss it. And you're right about their arrival. I think one of the reasons this game was so special is that it seemed to mark the start of something brand new for Rockies fans. Even though we haven't been to another World Series, it's always felt like we could, and before this game I'd never felt that way.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Nice commentary. I was there myself, and have the scorebook to prove it. A couple additions:

    - The game should've never gone to extras. Garrett Atkins hit a solo HR in the 6th that bounced back onto the field and was erroneously ruled a base hit. (All our cell phones were lighting up from people watching at home, so we knew even then.) In fact, that blown call is one of the reasons umpires now use instant replay on close HR calls. (It was specifically referenced as an example by MLB.)

    - There was a clear momentum shift in the middle of the 13th, in large part due to the DJ. He started blasting Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It", and the crowd went nuts. (My friend and I even made the DiamondVision waving our purple pom-poms in time to the music. :) I swear, we KNEW--before the Rox even came to bat, we *knew*. (Sometimes baseball really is magic. :)

    - Holliday did NOT touch the plate. I know this definitively. However, I don't care, and as you say, it doesn't matter.

    Btw, I've had the same "movie script" thoughts (though in my case, I have friends who do that stuff professionally.) I think someday there _will_ be a movie, though it needs to include much more of the 2007 season (Jason Hirsch pitching 6 innings on a BROKEN LEG, Tulo's unassisted triple play, the 21-day streak, Byrnes bad-mouthing us and then being the final out that sent us to the WS etc.) However, the tiebreaker was definitely the highlight. Possibly the best game in the history of baseball. :)

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  6. Meredith - Thank you so much for adding all of that! Since I wasn't there, I really appreciate knowing what it was like from those who were. I'd totally forgotten about Atkins's almost-HR. And it's true that there are changes in the wind you can only feel if you're present! You go for it with the movie script. I'd love to see a movie about the whole 2007 season!

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