Rox remain postseason's hottest show
With Colorado in Classic, focus shifts to Boston, Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- Something big has been happening all year in Major League Baseball. It was all those major milestones and statistical records, all those no-hitters, all those sellout crowds, all those days and nights spent scoreboard-watching because virtually every division or Wild Card race went down to the wire.
Now the Colorado Rockies, nee 1993, are the 26th of the 30 active big-league franchises that have reached a World Series. How big is this? The Rockies, managing to transform their image throughout the sport, survived a late surge by Arizona on Monday night at Coors Field and won, 6-4, to complete their second straight postseason sweep and record their astonishing 21st victory in the last 22 games.
It was the fourth sweep in this postseason, the first time it has happened in Major League history. How big is this? Of the five postseason series that have been completed this month, only once was a sweep avoided. That happened when the Yankees managed to win one game against Cleveland in their American League Division Series. TBS just completed its first year of postseason broadcasting, and only one of the five series it televised didn't end in a sweep.
"Looking at all of these sweeps we've had, it doesn't mean we haven't seen some great baseball," Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said at 2:40 a.m. ET on Tuesday, signing off as a TBS studio analyst. "Now, about this hot streak. I've been waiting for them to tail off and maybe lose a game, but I'm starting to think they're not going to."
"This has been a great ride. We're not done yet," said Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, just 4-for-26 in his long-awaited first postseason but utterly enjoying the ride of a lifetime. "We're gonna keep it going."
The Rockies will keep another streak going: It is the sixth consecutive year that a Wild Card will be in the World Series. They also joined the Marlins as World Series participants from the expansion class of 1993. Florida got to the Fall Classic in 1997 and beat the Indians in seven games for the title. Now it's 10 years later, and ironically, the Rockies just might be facing Cleveland as well when this World Series starts.
"We've got a lot of work to do before we can think about facing them. A lot of work," Indians ace C.C. Sabathia said as he plopped onto the sofa in the middle of the clubhouse at Jacobs Field, watching Yorvit Torrealba bat in the bottom of the second inning out in Denver. Sabathia's team had just beaten Boston, 4-2, to take a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.
But like everyone else, he just had to watch the hottest show on television.
"I didn't know they were this good until they got into the playoffs," Sabathia said. "Then you could see they had something special going on. That's when you knew. Hitting, pitching and fielding, everything."
Colorado, which has left Tampa Bay, Texas, Seattle and Washington as the remaining franchises without a World Series appearance, now faces a significant challenge that involves no other team. The Rockies have to stand the test of time. They will open the World Series on Oct. 24 at either Boston or Cleveland, a potentially huge home-field advantage secured by the AL when it won the All-Star Game on July 10 in San Francisco.
That is nearly a full 10 days, because their last game was completed on the night of Oct. 14 local time in Denver. Manager Clint Hurdle quickly dismissed any such concern when asked about it. "These guys know what they're doing. They're professionals," he said. "They respect each other, they're unselfish, they know how to play the game."
The longest layoff in any World Series was 10 days, and that was not really comparable because two teams had to deal with keeping sharp over the same time frame. It evened out. That was in 1989, between Games 2 and 3 of the Bay Bridge Series between the A's and Giants, after the Loma Prieta earthquake tragically struck the area, causing a suspension of play until the Commissioner approved a resumption.
During that delay, A's manager Tony La Russa took his troops down to the club's Spring Training facility in Phoenix to keep them sharp. The A's eventually swept the Giants. This Rockies team must do something creatively despite Hurdle downplaying it, because it's one thing to just stay sharp. It's another thing to stay Rockies-sharp. And while they are idled for nearly 10 full days -- much longer than the week Detroit had to wait after winning the AL pennant last year -- the Indians and Red Sox likely will be spending much of that time just trying to get a crack at them.
"They're playing unbelievable baseball," Indians closer Joe Borowski said, just moments after saving a huge Game 3 in front of a towel-waving throng of 44,402 fans at The Jake. "Their pitching is unbelievable. This game is all about being the hot team this time of year. I'd be interested to see how many teams have gone through a stretch like that at this time of year."
The Rockies are 7-0 in this postseason, and only the 1970 Orioles and 1976 Reds can lay claim to that since Major League Baseball expanded to four divisions and added a second playoff round in 1969. In both of those previous cases, that was as far you could go -- a best-of-five LCS and a best-of-seven World Series. The LCS was expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985, and a best-of-five Division Series round was added in 1995. So if the Rockies open victoriously against either Boston or Cleveland, they will have the record.
How good are the Rockies? They didn't even let the new LCS day off enter the equation. That extra day was added for both series this year as part of the new broadcasting/scheduling arrangement, theoretically helping in the event of inclement weather. It will come into play over in the AL, where Tim Wakefield will start Game 4 for Boston on Tuesday night against Paul Byrd and Cleveland, followed by an off-day.
To know Tuesday's important times, all one had to do was look at the white markerboard behind Sabathia as he was watching the Rockies on the big screen. It read:
"We're just focused on Boston," Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore said. "Obviously you watch games when you can like anyone else, but we're just focused on Boston."
Right now, Red Sox fans are the ones probably with the biggest worry. Boston won Game 1 in convincing fashion, and it was on course to maintain home-field advantage through the entire postseason. But the Indians stole one on the road in that classic Game 2 on Saturday night (and Sunday morning). Then Jake Westbrook just dominated the potent Boston offense in Game 3, with Kenny Lofton hitting a two-run homer in his everlasting pursuit of a ring, and the Cleveland bullpen continues to be brilliant -- personified by a typical Rafael Betancourt long at-bat sequence against Kevin Youkilis.
Momentum is in the Indians' favor, and the city of Cleveland is showing peak excitement. "Tribe Time Is Now" is the hot slogan all over town, visible just about everywhere, including those ever-present red T-shirts with the saying that were first distributed for that key home game against Detroit in late September.
The Indians haven't been to the World Series since Edgar Renteria's walk-off hit to win the 1997 World Series for those surprising Marlins. Could the Indians get there this month against that other 1993 expansion team? Half of the matchup is already set. Somehow, some way, the Rockies have put it all together and the just made it to the World Series.
"Absolutely amazing," NL president Bill Giles told the screaming Coors Field denizens in presenting the league's trophy to members of the Rockies.
You can say that about the new NL champions, and about 2007 in general. TBS is through for the month, and now FOX will bring you the rest of this ALCS and the World Series. The Rockies will wait a long time, and the Red Sox and Indians will try to survive for one more round. The rally towels are out. What a year.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.