Rox the World: Colorado in Fall Classic
Twenty-first win in 22 games solidifies sweep of NLCS
DENVER -- The final out, recorded on a three-hop grounder between short and third, appropriately showcased the major reason the Rockies have -- for the first time in franchise history -- reached the Fall Classic: defense and hustle.
All kinds of numbers will be used to put into perspective the fact that the Rockies are going to their first World Series. For example, Monday night's 6-4 thriller over the Diamondbacks completed a four-game sweep in the National League Championship Series and was the Rockies' nearly unfathomable 21st victory in their last 22 games.
But those three bounces that led to the final out and sent 50,213 at Coors Field into hysterics -- and had longtime leader Todd Helton still experiencing emotions he didn't know he had some 90 minutes later -- best tell how the Rockies went from tied for last in the NL West in 2006 to waiting to see if the Indians or the Red Sox will be hosting them when the Fall Classic starts on Wednesday, Oct. 24. The first two games of the best-of-seven series will be played in the American League city before the next three are played at Coors Field.
NLCS Most Valuable Player Matt Holliday's three-run homer capped a fourth inning that saw the Rockies score all of their runs, but D-backs catcher Chris Snyder's three-run homer off reliever Brian Fuentes in the eighth made it a tense contest. Finally, with two outs and a runner at second in the ninth, Arizona's Eric Byrnes hit a checked-swing three-hopper to the left side.
Folks in Colorado know Byrnes likes to talk. He said brashly before Game 3 that the Rockies were lucky, and that the Diamondbacks had outplayed them. Fans here also know that Byrnes, who spent a brief part of 2005 with the Rockies, hustles on every play as if he's trying to fulfill a World Series dream.
But the Rockies have also come to expect that the team with the highest single-season fielding percentage (.98925) in history to make a play, and for rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who was brash enough to fire back at Byrnes in the media, to get it done.
Third baseman Jamey Carroll, in the game for defensive purposes, nearly grabbed it but, as he said, "That's a play 'Tulo' has made 100 times this year. Just let it go."
Tulowitzki, the 23-year-old prodigy who essentially told Byrnes to look at the results and eat his heart out, said, "I just know I wanted the ball hit to me." He let it fly to first, where Helton grabbed it as a diving Byrnes was skidding through the dirt, reaching desperately for the bag.
"I ran straight to Todd," Tulowitzki said, lighting up. "He's the face of the franchise."
Helton's face turned skyward, and broke into a wide grin as he clutched the ball in his gloved right hand and shook his left fist.
"It's been incredible baseball," said Helton, who debuted with the club in 1997, was nearly traded to the Red Sox this offseason and is enjoying his first postseason -- his 3-for-26 hitting be darned. "And we're going to the World Series."
The Rockies' run is the stuff of history.
They became the second team in history to win its first seven postseason games, joining the 1976 version of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, which won three straight in the NLCS and swept the World Series that year.
The 15-year-old Rockies won 11 straight, lost a late-season game at Coors to the D-backs, and have won 10 straight since. They'd never won more than nine in a row previously.
Colorado and Arizona tied for last in the NL West in 2006. This year, the D-backs took the division title by a half-game over the Rockies, who needed two win a tiebreaker against the Padres to determine the NL Wild Card. Now, the Rockies are the sixth team to go from the bottom of a division one year to the Fall Classic the next. A Wild Card team has reached the World Series in each of the past six years.
Manager Clint Hurdle and his booming voice guided the Rockies through losing seasons from when he took over in April 2002 to last year, and presided over this year's unprecedented winning streak, but he wasn't going to waste that voice putting the team's run into historical perspective.
From Last to World Series
|The Rockies are the fifth Major League team to go from last place to the World Series in consecutive years.|
|*Won the World Series|
"I'll get my mind around that in Breckenridge in about 12 feet of snow sometime this winter," Hurdle said.
The Rockies' minds are on catching and throwing. Game 4 came down to the fact that the Rockies did it when it counted in the ninth. The Diamondbacks are left to wonder what would have happened had they done it correctly in the fourth inning.
Rockies starter Franklin Morales weaved through four innings, yielding a run on Conor Jackson's two-out single in the third. With two on and runners at second and third -- Brad Hawpe and Tulowitzki drew walks from Diamondbacks starter Micah Owings -- in the bottom of the fourth, Hurdle removed Morales for pinch-hitter Seth Smith.
Early in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Phillies, Hurdle went with Smith, who dribbled an infield single to load the bases for Kazuo Matsui's grand slam. This time, Smith looped a two-run double into short left field.
Willy Taveras reached when Jackson booted a grounder for an error at first base. That play turned a manageable two-run inning into a six-run frame that ended the D-backs' season.
Matsui added an RBI single to set up Holliday, who crushed Owings' 83-mph slider with the count 1-1. Holliday also homered in Sunday night's Game 3, and had two home runs in the NL Division Series sweep of the Phillies.
"I never try to imagine myself doing individual things," Holliday said. "I was just trying to win the series."
Matt Herges earned the victory with two perfect innings. Manny Corpas earned his fifth postseason save the hard way. After Snyder homered and Justin Upton followed with a triple off Fuentes, Corpas entered and fanned pinch-hitter Tony Clark on a slider. Chris Young doubled with one out in the ninth, but Corpas got Stephen Drew to pop out and worked Byrnes into the signature grounder for the Rockies.
"When you think about it, it was kind of dripping with irony -- Tulowitzki to make a play, for the baserunner to be the baserunner," Hurdle said. "Baseball ... it's amazing how the game plays itself out."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.