Rockies' hard work rewarded big-time
Late-season surge results in tiebreak win, Wild Card berth
DENVER -- On Sept. 15, the Rockies had just dropped their second straight to the Marlins, 10-2, and were 4 1/2 games down in the playoff chase when first baseman Todd Helton made what sounded like a comment a player has to make in a gloomy clubhouse.
"I don't think we're going to go out and play like we're desperate, but I think we realize where we sit, and how many games are left and what we have to do," first baseman Todd Helton said. "[We may have to] get a little bit lucky, but we're going to have to start winning some ballgames."
Helton's statement turned into more of a blueprint than a platitude.
Certainly, luck was involved. The Padres succumbing to the Brewers in the final two regular-season games and the Mets' tumble in the National League East, which made the Phillies champions even though they had the same number of wins as the Rockies after 162 games, were fortunate developments.
But good baseball trumped luck as the Rockies won 14 of their final 15 games, which commenced with the Rockies besting the Padres, 9-8, in 13 innings on Monday night in the NL Wild Card tiebreaker, qualifying them for the NL Division Series starting Wednesday against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Magic, which can be the product of good baseball, and luck aren't one in the same.
The run began with the Rockies winning a club-record 11 straight. The one loss meant the Rockies had to win their final two scheduled games while the Padres were falling in Milwaukee. So magic was totally necessary.
Here details some of the late-season magic:
The milestone: In the first victory, 13-0 over the Padres on Sept. 16, Helton clubbed his 300th home run, becoming the first player to start his career as late as 1997 to reach that plateau. But this wouldn't become a year defined only by accomplishments of a star player.
The one that really counted: The Rockies swept the Dodgers in a doubleheader on Sept. 18, with the second game featuring the biggest homer of Helton's career. Helton lifted a slider by Dodgers closer Takashi Saito over the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth for a 9-8 victory. His home-run trot touched off a wild celebration with his teammates.
(Almost) a home run a day keeps the doc away: Left fielder Matt Holliday made himself a prime NL Most Valuable Player candidate with a hot finish, which included a ridiculous stretch during which he hit 11 home runs in 12 games. He concluded the spurt with a three-run shot during a 9-4 victory over the Dodgers, which completed a four-game sweep.
National League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Sat. Oct. 6||6 p.m.||Wrigley Field||TBS|
|*Sun. Oct. 7||1 p.m.||Wrigley Field||TNT|
|*Tue. Oct. 9||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Wed., Oct. 3||3 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||3 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|Sat. Oct. 6||9:30 p.m.||Coors Field||TBS|
|*Sun. Oct. 7||10 p.m.||Coors Field||TBS|
|*Tue. Oct. 9||6:30 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
Through about a week of the run, Holliday kept quiet the fact he was suffering from a strained left oblique muscle that would eventually force him to sit out a couple of games.
Cooking under pressure: Right fielder Brad Hawpe became the most clutch of the Rockies. The high-water mark was a 14th-inning home run off Padres left-hander Joe Thatcher -- who had not given up a long ball in the Minors or Majors all season -- for a 2-1 victory on Sept. 21.
But Hawpe also had an eighth-inning homer to beat the Dodgers on Sept. 19, and a two-run double in the eighth inning for what turned out to be the deciding runs in Sunday's 4-3 victory over the Diamondbacks.
The kids were all right: The Rockies were roundly criticized for not pulling in pitchers with proven playoff experience at the Aug. 31 non-waiver trading deadline. But they didn't need them.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and left-hander Franklin Morales each had a win, and each had strong work in no-decisions. Ryan Speier, a late-season callup, entered four times in tight situations and wound up with two wins. Closer Manny Corpas, who made his Major League debut last season, converted five of six save opportunities.
This kid ain't no kid: Rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki made repeated outstanding defensive plays, including one at Dodger Stadium that had manager Clint Hurdle comparing him favorably to Ozzie Smith and his former teammate, Mets glove man Kevin Elster. The fans finally got to show their appreciation for it all on Sept. 30, when Tulowitzki blasted his first career grand slam in an 11-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.