Rockies face the thin air of inevitability
As teams go to Denver, more than locale must change for Rox
BOSTON -- The best hope that the Colorado Rockies have now is if it turns out that the Boston Red Sox cannot play at altitude.
Other than that, it does not look particularly promising for the National League entry in the 2007 Fall Classic. The Rockies came up with a competitive effort in Game 2 on Thursday night, an obvious improvement over the 13-1 debacle that greeted their World Series arrival.
But in a way the 2-1, Game 2 defeat was harder to take. You would write off the thumping in the opener as an aberration and there was the built-in excuse that the Rockies were rusted from an eight-day layoff. But here, the Rockies simply came up short.
The Rockies got the beginning of a decent starting performance from Ubaldo Jimenez, exactly what they had missed in the opener, and it still wasn't enough.
The Red Sox play to take the opposing starter out of the game by the fifth, not necessarily by clobbering him into tiny bits and pieces as they did on Wednesday night, but by waiting him out. This is a team that will not expand the strike zone, but has expanded the concept of patience at the plate to a religious experience.
And so, Jimenez had serious heat and a nice assortment of pitches, and what did it get him? It got him 4 2/3 innings. By then he had walked five, had thrown 91 pitches, and was probably feeling the onset of either frustration or tedium. He left trailing, 2-1.
The Rockies had an opening here because the Red Sox starter was not named Josh Beckett. Curt Schilling came in 10-2 in the postseason, but from here on his career is a matter of finesse, not power. He is still a craftsman, but he will not be untouchable as Beckett has been in four postseason starts.
The Rockies scratched Schilling for a run in the first, and then, nothing more. The next time they reached twice in an inning was the sixth. But with two on and one out, the Red Sox clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Sox summoned the extraordinarily reliable lefty, Hideki Okajima. A groundout and a strikeout and the Rockies went away silently.
Okajima went 2 1/3 perfect innings, with four strikeouts, before closer Jonathan Papelbon took over with two outs in the eighth. Papelbon did surrender a single to Matt Holliday, who, to that point, was a rare Rockies high point with a four-hit night. But then Papelbon picked Holliday off first and the high point required a huge asterisk.
The Rockies went down in order in the ninth, to the surprise of no one who had witnessed the previous eight innings. The Boston relief duo was so effective that Schilling coined a new term to describe their combined work.
"This was the Papejima Show tonight," he said. "That was the story. Our bullpen has been dominating and tonight we had to have it and they answered the bell."
Now the Series will shift to Coors Field for resumption on Saturday night. The Rockies can hope that the Red Sox, the lowlanders in this matchup, will not be able to properly draw breath in the thinner, drier air of Colorado. Or they can hope that the outfield expanses of Coors Field will prove to be too vast for the Sox to navigate.
That last issue might have been a problem for Red Sox teams of the past. This one? Probably not.
"Well, I think in the past that would be a bigger obstacle," manager Terry Francona said. "My first couple years here when we went to a turf field or a place that was pretty big, we had tendencies to run into trouble because we were big and slow, and now I think in the outfield I think we're better suited.
"J.D. [Drew] is out there, Coco [Crisp] or Jacoby [Ellsbury], so I think we can cover some more ground. I don't think that will be an issue, unless they're hitting 15 balls in the gap and they're running all day."
The idea of the Rockies hitting 15 balls in the gap is interesting, but at this point not tremendously plausible, since that would be 15 more balls in the gap than they hit on Thursday night. They scored just two runs in two games in Fenway Park, a hitter-friendly facility.
Perhaps the answer for the Rockies is not the Red Sox falling into a slump of epic proportions. Perhaps their answer is playing much better themselves. Much, much better.
"We've got a tough challenge ahead of us, but the reality is we get to go home now and play some baseball," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I anticipate us playing better baseball when we get home."
The core question about this Series asks itself, repeatedly, insistently, incessantly: What happened to the Rockies who won 21 of 22 games, including the last 10 in a row?
And the answer fairly echoes through Fenway Park: None of those 22 games were against the Red Sox. What has happened to the Rockies is the team from Boston.
This is not said to disparage the run that the Rockies put together, a run somewhere between wonderful and astounding. But none of their opponents in that stretch had the quality of the Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps the Rockies can still turn Coors Field into the world's largest home-field advantage. It is a considerable distance from Boston in every sense of the word. At Coors Field the baseballs are stored in a humidor. At Fenway Park, you don't need a humidor; in fact, conditions here would dictate that the baseballs would more frequently require an umbrella.
Maybe the Red Sox will have jet lag. Maybe the Red Sox will have culture shock. Maybe they'll get tired of taking pitches and just start hacking away indiscriminately. Maybe not. But something has to change dramatically in this Series for the Rockies, or it will remain on a one-way street headed in the direction of the Boston Red Sox.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.