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10/12/07 2:26 AM ET
NLCS rivals no longer so friendly
Tension higher for Game 2 between Rockies, D-backs
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- They had spent the days leading up to the National League Championship Series expressing admiration and kinship for each other. The D-backs and Rockies insisted they were two of a kind, brethren in arms. Neighbors prepared to turn the NLCS into a mutual lovefest. Well, it didn't take long for the kissing cousins to turn into kicking cousins, and for the block party to turn into a rolling-block party. The love lasted about as long as D-backs fans' reputation for being passive. Six-and-a-half innings into it, the NLCS came across some vitriol. A little bit of irritation has replaced admiration for Friday's Game 2 at 10:18 p.m. ET at TBS. All it took was one kneecap-drilling pitch, one suspicious leer toward the mound, and one rolling takeout slide. Ironically, given the series' other prevalent theme -- the teams' youth -- the youngest player on the field helped dial up the intensity. Justin Upton's takeout slide of Colorado second baseman Kazuo Matsui also took the D-backs out of a potentially productive inning when second-base umpire Larry Vanover called interference, resulting in a double play and Chris Snyder's return to second base. The sellout crowd threw a game-delaying fit -- along with lots of water bottles -- Vanover's judgment call thus bringing the 48,142 fans closer to the pitch of Coors Field fanatics. And we've got a pitched battle for the NL pennant. Upton appeared to spend that entire inning in the Rockies' cross-hairs. He had reached base after taking a Jeff Francis pitch off his left knee, and threw an annoyed look toward the left-hander as he began to make his way down the line. "No, I didn't think it was deliberate at all," Upton said afterward. "It was a curveball. It got away from him." Still, there appeared to be a little extra intent behind Upton's slide after Augie Ojeda grounded to third baseman Garrett Atkins, who made the short flip to Matsui crossing the bag. Upton levitated across the bag, touching it with both his right leg and hand, but with his bent left leg clotheslining Matsui mid-thigh. Vanover's call was immediate, and Upton protested mildly before letting Arizona manager Bob Melvin have the floor. The whole time, Upton could feel Troy Tulowitzki's eyes burning a hole through him. "When I was going to first base, I didn't say anything directed towards Francis," Upton said, "so I don't understand why [Tulowitzki] would be saying anything to me. He's the leader of that team, so he had something to say obviously."
In general, the D-backs neither disputed nor blamed the call."You don't see too many of those," said first baseman Conor Jackson, "but if that's what [Vanover] saw on the field, that's what stays on the field. You can say that was a rally-killer, but the truth of the matter is, we had a lot of opportunities besides that one." Orlando Hudson, the D-backs' veteran but disabled second baseman, could see clearly from Matsui's perspective. "He's a young player," Hudson said of Upton, "and he wanted to break up the double play. He tried to do the right thing. He just kept going too aggressively. He was just playing hard." And are these teams ready to continue playing with hard feelings? To find out, you will have to stay tuned for Friday night's duel in which Arizona left-hander Doug Davis will spot about 10 mph to Ubaldo Jimenez. But there is little doubt that pre-series talk of rivalry has advanced beyond mere words. "Seems a lot of people are talking about us developing [a rivalry]," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle had said before Game 1. "I've heard players asked about that. I think we're mindful of it. I think competitive rivalry is good. "A healthy rivalry? We'll see. We'll see how it develops." We'll also see how Arizona plays with its D-backs to the wall. For the first time since Sept. 3, and only the second time in 77 days, they are chasing somebody. This deficit may prove to be a little more discouraging, even for a club that all year treated holes as catapults to dramatics. In the NLCS, Arizona is one game behind a Colorado team that needs ginkgo biloba just to remember what it is to lose. By the time they take the field Friday night, the Rockies will have lost once in 26 calendar days. Arizona hasn't trailed in anything since Sept. 3, the last day it spent out of the NL West lead, ending a 38-day stretch on top. Still, the D-backs, a mere two games over .500 and still in third place in late July, remember what it's like to have to fight back -- and to do it. "We'll have Davis on the mound, and I'm sure he'll be raring to go," said left fielder Chris Young. Added Jackson, "Absolutely, this is another test. Once we step out of this locker room, it's over with. We'll come out [Friday] and play like [Thursday] never happened."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.