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10/21/07 8:49 PM ET

Rockies turnaround began in May

Bullpen shift sparked second-half surge into Fall Classic

DENVER -- The Rockies went largely unnoticed before they were deep into the 21-of-22 hot streak that put them in the World Series. But as is the case with most overnight -- or in this case, one-month -- sensations, success came much earlier.

The Rockies woke up on May 22 with an 18-27 record. Since then, they've had baseball's best record (including the postseason) at 79-46, and have been at or near the top in Major League Baseball in many pitching, defense and hitting categories, according to information provided by STATS Inc. baseball editor Jeff Chernow.

The run has christened the Rockies as the out-of-nowhere Cinderella story. But they were solid long before their late-season run, although it was barely noticed. That actually might have helped.

"That may help us in the World Series," right fielder Brad Hawpe said. "People don't know anything about us. Maybe we'll sneak up on the other team."

But since the nine-under-.500 low point of the season, the Rockies have:

• Batted .286, tied for fourth best in baseball. The Yankees, Tigers and Mariners tied at .292, and the Angels matched the Rockies' figure. The Rockies' .457 slugging percentage was third-highest behind the Yankees (.471) and Tigers (.458), and their .358 on-base percentage trailed only the Yankees (.367) and the Red Sox (.363).

• Compiled a 3.94 ERA, third-best in baseball behind the Blue Jays' 3.84 and the Padres' 3.93. The Indians and Angels were the only playoff teams with fewer walks than the Rockies' 369.

• The Rockies' .989 fielding percentage was baseball's best.

Deeper inside the numbers, one stat that may say the most about how well the Rockies have played is the bullpen's 3.12 ERA, easily the best in baseball.

The Rockies' home ballpark still favors hitters, even though storing baseballs in an atmosphere-controlled chamber at Coors Field has kept them from flying for as many home runs as in the past. The method for winning is heavily dependent on a solid bullpen, since a good reliever can rescue a struggling starter and a bullpen that offers a variety of pitching styles can throw off hitters.

The last time the Rockies made the playoffs, 1995, the bullpen made up for mediocre starting pitching. The team's last winning season before this one, 2000, the Rockies had baseball's best bullpen, according to Baseball Prospectus' park-adjusted stats.

This year, the Rockies have had the best starting pitching in their history, but the bullpen has managed to perform even better.

What's odd is it hasn't exactly been a smooth season for the bullpen.

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When the season opened, left-hander Brian Fuentes was the closer and right-hander LaTroy Hawkins was the primary setup man. Both suffered injuries and slumps and were moved to different roles, Hawkins to the seventh inning in most cases and Fuentes to the eighth.

The Rockies entered the season wanting to protect right-hander Manny Corpas from the pressure-packed ninth inning. But he outgrew the role the Rockies had planned for him, and he has been the closer since before the All-Star break. Key right-handers Matt Herges and Ryan Speier started the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Numerous pitchers, many not factors at the end of the season or in the playoffs, have helped.

Many a successful bullpen has been based on routine. The same relievers essentially throw the same inning or innings from start to finish. That hasn't been the case with the Rockies. The attitude that's allowed the Rockies to adapt so well is a fulfillment of something Fuentes predicted before the season began.

"Before the year, we talked," Fuentes said. "There was a lot of pride and a lot of talent. I said there were going to be guys pitching in roles they weren't used to pitching in. I just said, 'I want guys to remember this is a team sport. We need guys to step up and pitch well and pitch well, whether it's the sixth inning or the ninth inning.

"At that time, I was closing. It's kind of ironic that I'm not closing. It's time for me to live out my words, and I stuck to that and took pride in the eighth-inning role."

The Rockies are getting noticed because of a one-month hot streak, but they can take pride in their past five months.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.