Mile-high challenge for Phillies
Down 2-0 to Rockies, how will they fare at altitude?
Posted: Friday October 5, 2007 11:03AM; Updated: Friday October 5, 2007 3:25PM
PHILADELPHIA -- Pity the poor Phillies. Not only are they down 2-0 in a best-of-five series, but they lost those two games at home and now have to travel to one of the most bizarre and unique parks in baseball, the literally mile-high Coors Field in Denver.
The only team ever to lose the first two games of a five-game series at home and come back to win the series was the 2001 Yankees, who traveled to the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum and won a momentum-changing 1-0 contest in Game 3 behind a stellar outing by Mike Mussina and Derek Jeter's flip play. The Phillies, who had the National League's best offense this year and play in an extreme hitters park themselves, are well positioned to use Coors Field to their advantage in a similar way.
Indeed, Colorado reliever LaTroy Hawkins believes that it's Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia, not his own home park, that is more unusual. "This ballpark right here is just . . . in day games it's just a joke, man, you see some balls here that are just, like, 'wow.'"
There were eight home runs and three triples hit at Citizens Bank Park in the first two games of the NLDS between the Phillies and Rockies, and there seemed to be a jet stream heading out toward the Southwest Airlines advertisement between the 374- and 387-foot measurements in the left-field gap. Josh Fogg, who pitched two scoreless innings in the Rockies 10-5 win on Thursday, says, "This is probably the ultimate hitters park here."
Not quite. Looking at Baseball-Reference.com's park factors for runs scored, the Phillies' home park actually ranks fifth in the NL among hitter-friendly ballparks, behind Coors, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Chase Field in Phoenix, and just barely behind Wrigley Field in Chicago. What's most noticeable about that list, however, is that Coors doesn't top it, rather it's nestled in between the Reds' and D'dacks' home fields in the top three. That sounds right to Hawkins. "All I know is Coors doesn't play like it used to play, before the humidor and all that," Hawkins says.
It does play differently than the other hitter-friendly parks on that list, however, and the Phillies' pitchers and fielders, who only play one series there a year, will have to adjust. Game 3 starter Jamie Moyer has only pitched in Coors twice in his 21-year career, most recently in a rain-delayed 6-3 Phillies loss in July that dropped the team's record below .500 ("A miserable frikin' night," Moyer recalls).
"It doesn't play as big as the dimension show," recalls Moyer, "but outfielders play deeper because of the size of the ballpark which sometimes allows the in-between pitch to fall. That allows baserunners to go first-to-third a little easier, to be more aggressive on the bases, things like that. Other than that, the mound is still the same distance and the bases are still the same distance."
Moyer may want to point out that last fact to his manager, Charlie Manuel, who referred the Coors Field infield as "big and spread out" prior to Thursday's game.
Though Moyer didn't pitch well in either that rainy July contest or his previous Coors start (an interleague game way back in 2001 when Moyer was part of the 116-win Seattle Mariners), he just might be the Phillies pitcher best suited to the park's unique effects on breaking pitches.
One lesson Phillies closer Brett Myers has gleaned from his four career starts at Coors is that, "you cannot try to overthrow your pitches or breaking stuff, or it's going to be flat."
Asked about the effect of the thin air on breaking pitches, Fogg says, "You definitely see something. There's a difference, but you try to pitch a little differently. You try not to rely so much on a breaking ball and add and subtract velocity-wise and keep hitters off balance that way."
That's exactly how Moyer pitches. Says Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes, "For Jamie, I don't think it's a big deal at all. He's a fastball/changeup guy, so I don't think it's going to effect his pitching too much."
There's still the matter of how his fielders play behind him. Says Fogg, "There's definitely a lot of grass in the outfield. I think we've benefited from having outfielders that know where to position themselves. Brad Hawpe's been out there for a few years. Matt Holliday's been out in left field for a few years now, and having Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan in center field, they know what gap to play in and what hitters are trying to do, so I think they take away a few more hits than opposing teams that don't know it so well."
Fuentes, a home-grown Rocky, downplays the effect his home park is likely to have on the fate of the Phillies. "They've been to our place before," says Fuentes, "so it's not going to be a huge problem for them, I don't think. I think we have an advantage because we're leading 2-0. That's our biggest advantage. Yes, we've played there before and it's always nice to play at home, that's the greatest advantage you have other than being up 2-0, but we've got to keep our eye on the prize. We've been coming back on people all year and you don't want to let it happen to yourself. We're going to keep pushing, keep the gas down, and do our best on Saturday."
If they do as well as they have in Philadelphia, that will send the Colorado Rockies to their first-ever appearance in the National League Championship Series.