Spilborghs a big part of Rox success
From fill-in starter to spark off the bench, outfielder excels
PHOENIX -- When the Rockies provide Colorado its first taste of the National League Championship Series action on Sunday evening, the October fervor usually reserved only for the Broncos will be showered upon the likes of Matt Holliday and Todd Helton.
While Holliday, Helton and Troy Tulowitzki deserve this praise, Rockies fans would be remiss not to at least recognize that Coors Field might currently be in its annual dormant stage without the consistent and oft-overshadowed contributions of Ryan Spilborghs, who was deserving of this recognition even before he scored the winning run in Friday's 3-2, 11-inning win over the Diamondbacks at Chase Field
Having captured the first two games of the NLCS, the Rockies head back to Coors Field for Game 3, riding the same wave that has carried them throughout this improbable run. While it's impossible to peg one reason they've been able to win 19 of their past 20 games, there's no doubt Spilborghs played a significant role in Willy Taveras' absence and could continue to do so now that he finds himself back on the bench.
"You can't measure how great he makes his teammates," said Vinny Castilla, who now serves as a special assistant to Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd. "He's a great guy to be around, and he's a great player too. He does the job."
Many of the Rockies players say their club was energized when the always-upbeat and energetic Spilborghs was promoted from Triple-A Colorado Springs on May 19. But the 26-year-old outfielder's most significant tangible contributions may have come after Taveras strained his right quadriceps muscle on Sept. 8 and was lost for the rest of the regular season.
While primarily serving as Taveras' replacement in center field during the season's final three weeks, Spilborghs hit .328 with a homer, a .409 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage.
Still, when Taveras was healthy enough to play in the NLCS, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle immediately put his speed back at the top of the lineup and an understanding Spilborghs back on the bench.
"I'm still in the National League Championship Series," Spilborghs said. "I'm still going to contribute at one point in this Championship Series. I'd obviously much rather start. But we're a better team with Willy on the field. ... He's great at the top of the lineup. He steals bases. He does things that I can't do."
Taveras' speed is a primary reason the Rockies have won the first two games of this series. He sparked the pivotal three-run third inning in Thursday's Game 1 victory with an uncontested stolen base. Then, on Friday, he needed just two fifth-inning fly balls to advance from second to the plate to account for a go-ahead run. Two innings later, he raced toward right-center field to prevent at least one run with a highlight-reel-worthy diving catch. In the 11th, it was his patience that allowed him to draw the decisive game-winning four-pitch walk from Jose Valverde.
Fittingly, it was Spilborghs' pinch-hit, bunt single that began that memorable frame, providing further proof of the versatility he can bring off the bench. He hit .310 and collected 11 RBIs in 29 pinch-hit at-bats during the regular season.
"It doesn't have to be a line drive every time," Spilborghs said. "Sometimes, you can get a doink hit. Obviously, a hit's a hit. Just getting somebody on base off Valverde with nobody on base is important for us."
Spilborghs earned a lasting place in the Majors while hitting .338 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in the 58 games he played from May 20 through Aug. 11. The 3.51-RBIs-per-at-bat ratio he compiled during that span ranked as the best in the Majors.
"He's very popular in the clubhouse, and he's a great talent too," said Holliday, who immediately smiled when Spilborghs approached him with one of his patented snide remarks before Friday night's game.
When it came time for Spilborghs to take his swings during batting practice, he found himself once again on the wrong end of a gag orchestrated by third-base coach Mike Gallego.
As Spilborghs was running the bases, Gallego hid his bat in some utility vehicles that were located behind the plate. Once he located his lumber, the outfielder could only smile, knowing he'd done similar things to the third-base coach's fungo bat throughout this season.
"I just constantly get under people's skin," Spilborghs said with a smile. "I think since May, I've been like a constant itch. That's probably been my greatest prank, just being consistent like that, no matter what."
Spilborghs' contagious personality has seemingly helped create the relaxed atmosphere that has allowed the Rockies to lose just once since Sept. 15.
"We just find ways to win," Spilborghs said. "We can't wait to win. We can't wait to get to the ballpark."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.