Rocky start ends in playoff berth
Tracy leads team to Wild Card but season ends in NLDS
DENVER -- The Rockies' clubhouse was a din of individual hushed tones. All the folks talking combined didn't lift the volume above the level of conversational. Closer Huston Street was bravely explaining what went wrong in the ninth inning of the 6-5 loss to the Phillies that eliminated them from the National League Division Series.
General manager Dan O'Dowd decided to push through the media around Street, and tried to pick up the mood.
"Hey, we wouldn't have gotten here without you, just keep that in mind," O'Dowd said, hugging Street and delivering slaps to the back that would be unheard in a victorious room but rang loudly in this instance. "You did a helluva job."
As days go by, the disappointment of the ending will fade and the Rockies will remember a season that began with silent disappointment, then crescendoed into four-plus months of unexpected joyful shouting.
The Rockies began the year in a pressure cooker, coming off a 74-88 finish in 2008 with manager Clint Hurdle entering the last year of his contract and with a coaching staff shakeup. In retrospect, maybe the Rockies were destined for the tight play, repeated struggles in pressure situations and an 18-28 start that led to the May 29 removal of Hurdle -- who engineered the unexpected 2007 World Series run.
Jim Tracy, one of the coaches added during the winter, stabilized the lineup and quietly guided a turnaround. The Rockies won 11 straight and 17-of-18 in June. Tracy led the Rockies to eight win streaks of four or more games. The Rockies never really slowed down. They led the Wild Card standings for the final 34 days of the season, and smashed the previous club record for wins in a season.
Record: 92-70, second in NL West, lost to Phillies in NL Division Series, 3-1.
Defining moment: There was an odd feeling to the night of Aug. 24. The Rockies and Giants were tied after 13 innings when the Giants finally provided some offense, three runs against reliever Adam Eaton. But those at Coors Field and those watching on television didn't expect the Rockies to take their loss and go away quietly. But suddenly, the Giants couldn't throw strikes, and a single and three walks -- one to Eaton, issued by reliever Justin Miller -- put a Rockies run on the scoreboard. Then Ryan Spilborghs, 1-for-6 to that point, faced Merkin Valdez and delivered the first game-ending grand slam in Rockies history, as well as a 6-4 victory.
What went right: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki signed a six-year contract before the 2007 season. After an injury-filled '07 and a turbulent beginning to '08, Tulowitzki made it pay off for the Rockies. He hit .297, knocked a team-high 32 home runs and played defense worthy of Rawlings Gold Glove Award consideration. ... First baseman Todd Helton underwent a delicate back surgery at the end of last season, but showed he still had a lot left by hitting .325. ... The Rockies boasted five starting pitchers who finished in double figures in wins, and the 4.22 team ERA was the lowest in club history. ... It could be argued that the person who had the best year of anyone with the Rockies was O'Dowd. Street, who converted 35-of-37 saves during the regular season, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who went through first-half growing pains but hit .320 with 12 home runs after the All-Star break, came from the Athletics in last winter's Matt Holliday deal. Right-handed starters Jason Marquis and Jason Hammel, deadline bullpen acquisitions Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel and end-of-the-season additions Jose Contreras and Jason Giambi all made big contributions. ... Helton and Brad Hawpe were the team's most dependable hitters during the first half. Hawpe's .320 average and 14 home runs during the first half earned him an invitation to the All-Star Game. ... Catcher Yorvit Torrealba struggled early, then dealt with the real-life horror of the kidnapping of his son in Venezuela. But after that situation came to a happy ending and Torrealba was able to devote himself to baseball, he turned into a clutch performer in September and a productive playoff hitter. ... Rookie center fielder Dexter Fowler wasn't expected to make the squad in Spring Training, but he started much of the season. ... Another organization product, outfielder Seth Smith, proved he could handle more than the pinch-hitting role he held in the past.
What went wrong: Third baseman Garrett Atkins and catcher Chris Iannetta have been considered potential All-Stars and building blocks of the team's future. But both ended up crashing offensively and losing their starting jobs. Ian Stewart took over at third and Torrealba became the catcher. ... Marquis and Hawpe faltered during the second half and were non-factors during the playoffs. ... The NLDS loss to the Phillies exposed the Rockies' lack of a right-handed-hitting threat beyond Tulowitzki, who didn't deliver big hits in the series. ... The turnaround is even more impressive considering the injuries the team endured. Left-hander Jeff Francis, who won 17 games in 2007 but battled shoulder pain last season, underwent surgery in Spring Training and didn't pitch for the club. Righty reliever Taylor Buchholz, who had a breakout 2007, suffered a right elbow injury in Spring Training and eventually underwent Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. Former closer Manuel Corpas has not been right since his standout performance in 2007. Possibly, the surgery he underwent to remove a chip from his right elbow could correct the issue. Lefty reliever Alan Embree was brought in as a veteran leader, but he suffered a broken right leg when hit with a line drive. ... Second baseman Clint Barmes had his moments offensively, but struggled mightily for the last three-quarters of the season.
Biggest surprise: Right-hander Matt Daley was not drafted, nor was he considered a big prospect. But when the Rockies needed a reliever early in the season, he had earned an invitation. By season's end, he was protecting leads in late innings.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.