Field set with one known, one unknown
Upstart Rockies to take on Red Sox team that's been there
BOSTON -- It's still a little hard to believe that the Colorado Rockies, of all teams, have been waiting around for days and days to find out which of the two clubs with the best record in Major League Baseball this season would have the right to face them in the 103rd World Series.
It's still a little hard to believe that the Rockies won 21 of their last 22 games, that their team ERA is 2.05 (bullpen is 1.55) this postseason, that purple and black are vogue colors in October, that Todd Helton is in the playoffs, that they swept the hot Phillies in three games and then won the National League pennant by sweeping a Diamondbacks club that had just swept the Cubs.
Theo Epstein is a believer. Standing on the Fenway Park infield grass during the celebration scene in the wee hours Monday morning following Boston's 11-2 victory over Cleveland in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox general manager already was thinking about the club that's coming to town.
"They're a very good team on a magical roll," Epstein said as he posed for pictures with players and their families. "But you should have to beat a great team to win a World Series. We have that this year with the Rockies coming in.
"I think it will be a compelling matchup, one that's great for baseball. Fans are going to love it. Someone's going to have to raise their game. Well, actually, I don't know if they can. How do you raise your game after winning 21 of 22? I just know that it's going to be a lot of fun to watch. We're good at drama."
All day long before the final game of this ALCS, ESPN Classic was playing a "Greatest Comebacks Marathon." Before leaving the hotel for Fenway Park, a visitor found himself gripped by those classics, such as Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Bill Buckner game) or Game 4 of the 1996 World Series (the Jim Leyritz game). It always seems to be the overriding theme when it comes to the Red Sox in October now.
Would it be at all shocking if the Rockies go up 3-0 or 3-1? No. Would it be at all shocking if the Red Sox proceed to win their second World Series in the past four years? No. In fact, it almost sounds like a logical pattern to watch.
A Red Sox comeback is a thing of beauty, unless you are on the wrong end of it. They just won three in a row to eliminate the Indians, as they had won three in a row to eliminate the Indians back in the best-of-five 1999 AL Division Series. That was the series when Boston won Game 4 by a 23-7 score, missing the extra point late in the fourth quarter. That was the series when Troy O'Leary hit a three-run homer to snap an 8-8 tie in the seventh inning of the Game 5 clincher.
And, of course, there was 2004. It was the mother of all comebacks in sports, forget just baseball. It was on the ultimate stage, and the mega-profile matchup between baseball's Hatfields and McCoys. It was the Evil Empire, always rubbing in its 26 World Series championships, taking that comfortable 3-0 lead, and then Dave Roberts stealing second and Big Papi hitting in the clutch and Johnny Damon hitting a grand slam and all hell breaking loose in New England. The Red Sox actually won that series, which was even harder to believe than the Rockies coming in to play the Red Sox now.
Now you have Jeff Francis vs. Josh Beckett on Wednesday night at Fenway.
Rox and Sox.
"Looking ahead," Beckett said amid the celebration, "it's going to be probably tomorrow and we'll start thinking about those things."
The Red Sox have an optional workout on Monday at Fenway. The Rockies will work out at home in Denver on Monday afternoon and then catch a flight to Boston. Tuesday will be a workout day, and then it's time for another Fall Classic.
This World Series feels a lot different than the 2004 World Series. That year, after the Red Sox accomplished something that most everyone thought was unachievable, it was as if the Fall Classic were already over before it had begun. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was complaining about hotel logistics; some Red Sox fans were complaining that they might not be able to get close enough to their players in a massive Rolling Rally parade celebration. The Cardinals never knew what hit them as a destiny train rolled through in four games and into baseball lore. Any of 29 opponents could have been rolled out and would have had zero chance against Boston in that time and place.
Those Red Sox won their last eight games. They were the definition of a hot October club, one you didn't have any business sharing the same field with, to be honest.
Well, Red Sox Nation, meet your 2007 World Series opponents.
They are the 2007 version of you. They have been idled for a long time simply because they are that good. Colorado is the first team to start an October 7-0 since Cincinnati's Big Red Machine did it in 1976 -- a team that Joe Morgan, their second baseman, said he considers the best in history. Everyone knows the Rockies' story. But now it's time to get this going, to finally see Matt Holliday swing a bat again.
There is great debate about how much Interleague Play -- a sensation at about the time summer begins -- really matters when you get to this point in an autumn. Or, in fact, how much anything that happened in the regular season matters in October. Take, for example, the Indians: They were 0-6 against the Yankees during the season, and they eliminated the Bronx Bombers in four. (By the way, if you are a Cleveland fan, then you have to admit that's a pretty wicked postseason road, having to go through the Yankees first and the Red Sox second -- baseball's two biggest payrolls.)
Will it matter for the Rockies? We are about to find out. They won two of three games at Fenway on June 12-14, as they outscored the Red Sox, 20-5, in the series. The Rockies were one of just two teams to beat the Red Sox's top two pitchers, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. They lost the opener, 2-1, as Tim Wakefield outdueled Aaron Cook.
Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe went 3-for-12 in that series, but one of the hits was memorable. Hawpe hit a tape-measure three-run shot into the right-field seats off Schilling in the second game.
"That's a very tough place to play, but to go there and win two out of three games was nice," Hawpe said. "We had a chance in all three, but Wakefield was locked in that day. We took some good swings but came out on the unlucky end of it."
Wakefield isn't even thinking about that meeting. Just this one.
It's probably safe to say that no team knows how to focus quite like the Red Sox.
"I'm just excited to be part of a club going to a World Series again," he said.
Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo started thinking about the matchup while he was being soaked in the victors' clubhouse, following the first truly competitive series of this postseason. It's been awhile since there has been a World Series Game 7 -- not since the Angels beat the Giants in 2002. Will it be something like that? Or will it be a Rockies kind of 2007 postseason series? There were three sweeps in the first round, and Colorado did it in the second round; four is now the record.
"We're gonna have a tough time," Lugo said, matter of factly. "There are only two teams playing. The Red Sox are one of them. Yeah!"
Experience has prevailed for the Red Sox so far, as some thought it might. At the start of the LCS round, there were four teams and no one could match Boston for depth of experience in terms of savvy veterans who have rings to show. It will be a very new setting for the Rockies. Will it matter? Nothing has mattered to Colorado so far.
"We still feel there's some work to do," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We have to get ready for the Rockies."
It's unbelievable to hear that at this time of year.
That's baseball these days.
This is going to be a total blast.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.