Monday at a glance
Heat on Sox, Dice-K; Owings last hope for D'backs
Posted: Monday October 15, 2007 12:40AM; Updated: Monday October 15, 2007 12:40AM
Clint Hurdle, the ruddy manager of the rolling Rockies, insists he's not surprised that his team is where it is. His players work hard, he reasons. They're talented. They do things the right way. And they've been through the baseball wringer this season.
"There's been," Hurdle says, "a lot of effort put into it."
That said, Monday night in Denver, the surprising Rockies -- yes, Clint, they are a surprise, and a big one, to a lot of people inside and outside of the game -- get their first crack at winning their way into their first World Series, trying to close out a sweep of the Diamondbacks in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Coors Field. A win Monday would cap an historic and mind-blowing run for Colorado, which was two games out of the NL wild-card lead with two games left in the regular season, won those final two games and hasn't lost since. They've won 20 of their last 21 games during this remarkable run.
Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, the Indians and Red Sox, after a five-hour test on Saturday night/Sunday morning, fight to get control of the American League Championship Series. A Cleveland win in the marathon Game 2 evened the series at a game apiece. The momentum of the series will go to Monday's winner.
So, not to look ahead too far, but do you prefer Rockies-Indians, or Rockies-Red Sox?
You have to think it's a pretty big surprise, either way.
Here's a look at Monday's League Championship Series Games:
Red Sox at Indians, 7 p.m. ET
American League Division Series (tied 1-1)
RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 ERA) vs. RH Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32 ERA)
A lot of people -- me being among them -- had doubts about Matsuzaka before his postseason debut last week in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Angels. In his last 10 starts of the regular season, he stumbled to a 3-4 record and had a 5.93 ERA. He walked a lot of hitters, threw a lot of pitches (120 in one memorable stint of 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees) and generally looked tired and ineffective.
Things didn't change all that much against the Angels at Fenway Park. Matsuzaka threw 99 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, gave up seven hits, walked three and didn't strike out anyone. So it'll be interesting to see what he can do against the Indians, a much deeper-hitting team than the Angels. This one's on the road, too.
Westbrook was boxed around by the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS, giving up nine hits and six runs in the New Yorkers' only win. Westbrook had only one 1-2-3 inning. So things won't be an easy sail for him, either.
Outside of the pitching, there's some psychology coming into play in this pivotal game. Cleveland's 11-inning, 13-6 win in Boston on Saturday night -- Sunday morning, whatever -- was huge, but it didn't come without some costs. The Red Sox seemed to have little problem with Fausto Carmona, the potential Game 7 starter. He lasted only four innings. The Cleveland bullpen threw seven mostly effective innings, but the one mainstay -- lefty Rafael Perez -- was pounded.
As for the Sox, they have their problems, too. Curt Schilling was hardly the postseason Schilling of lore. Eric Gagne is so far from being the old Eric Gagne he's unrecognizable. Not to mention unusable.
The Indians, after that 10-3 Game 1 whipping, seem bound to make this a series. Back in Jacobs Field, they'll see Matsuzaka on Monday, a sore knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (supposedly) in Tuesday's Game 4 and then ... well, we're getting way too far ahead. The two teams have an off day between Games 4 and 5. A lot can happen between now and then.
Look out for: Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta gets a lot of grief for his lack of range at shortstop, but the kid can hit, can't he? Peralta is rolling along at a .444 clip in this series, and .458 this postseason, including a monster home run to center off Schilling on Saturday night. And he's been fine in the field, too. His gloving of a bad-hop bouncer off David Ortiz's bat in the 10th inning of Game 2 helped reliever Tom Mastny cruise through the heart of the Boston order and set up the big 11th inning.
Diamondbacks at Rockies, 10 p.m. ET
National League Division Series (Colorado leads, 3-0)
RH Micah Owings (8-8, 4.30) vs. LH Franklin Morales (3-2, 3.43)
Forget, Arizona fans, the talk about Brandon Webb coming back on short rest. No matter how much your team needs him. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin shot that down notion in crystal clear terms on Sunday. Now, if Game 4 on Monday is rained out and it has to be rescheduled for Tuesday's off day, Webb would be fully rested. (He last pitched in Game 1 on Thursday.) Let's not go there just yet, though.
First, the Diamondbacks have to rely on Owings, a pitcher probably known more for his hitting, to get them back in this thing, a near impossibility at this point. (One team has come back from an 0-3 hole in a best-of-seven, but you've probably heard enough about the Red Sox in the '04 ALCS.) Owings had a .333 batting average with 60 at-bats this year and slammed four homers -- two in one mid-August game against the Braves. As a pitcher, he's better than average, a 6-foot-5 fastballer with a nice strikeout-to-walk ratio. Owings had a rough start to his season, but in his last eight starts, he struck out 36, walked only eight and posted a 2.85 ERA. This will be Owings' postseason pitching debut.
The Rockies turn to the 21-year-old Morales, a smallish rookie who lasted only three innings and 14 batters in Game 2 of the Rocks' NLDS win over the Phillies. Colorado manager Clint Hurdle probably pulled his starter a little early in that game, but it worked out fine, and Morales stands to be that much stronger for this start.
The Diamondbacks, who won more games than anyone in the NL this season, find themselves in this jam because they couldn't unlock the mysteries of Josh Fogg in the rain and nastiness of Game 3 and they couldn't sneak a fastball past Colorado catcher Yorvit Torrealba . Of course, that's just the way things are going for the Rockies, who in addition to that 20 of 21 streak, also have won six straight in the postseason.
Look out for: Considering it might be the last time you see him this postseason, get a look at Arizona reliever Tony Peņa, if he gets in. You can pin the Diamondbacks' failures on a lot of people in this series, but Peņa isn't one of them. The right-hander has made appearances in all three games, put in 3 1/3 innings of work, given up just one hit and he's struck out seven batters. Maybe the D'backs can get him a start against the Rockies next time around.