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Five factors

Coors Field's rare air could revive gasping Rockies

Posted: Saturday October 27, 2007 1:42PM; Updated: Saturday October 27, 2007 2:18PM
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DENVER -- It's just a building, you know? About $200 million worth of steel and concrete, give or take $20 million or so. It sits in an area of lower downtown known as "LoDo," on the corner of Blake Street and 20th, swallowing up 76 acres of prime Colorado real estate a mile above sea level.

Named for a beer. Famed for long fly balls. And right now, it just happens to be the Rockies' best hope for fighting their way back into the World Series.

On Saturday night, Game 3 of baseball's not-yet Fall Classic comes to Denver's massive Coors Field, a ballpark that has the unique potential to play a major role in the Series' outcome. That's because there are few ballparks in the majors -- maybe none -- that are quite as quirky and game-changing as Coors.

Can a stadium really make a difference? Here are five ways that Coors Field can help the Rockies, down 2-0 in the first-to-four Series, get back into this thing ...

1. The Rules

Coors is a National League park -- by virtue of the Rockies being an NL team, you see -- which means Games 3, 4 and (if necessary) 5 will be played with NL rules. Bye-bye, designated hitter. So Boston manager Terry Francona has elected to pull first baseman Kevin Youkilis (.396 in postseason play) from his lineup and give DH David Ortiz (.385, but with more power and he's a lefty swinger) Youkilis' first-base glove. Two things are liable to come of this.

One, the Sox won't be as good offensively. Youkilis is a superb No. 2 hitter, with a high on-base percentage and the skill to hit the ball to all fields. Take him out, with his ability to get on base and move runners over, and the lineup suffers. Then there's the matter of the revamped batting order. Francona is thinking of putting rookie Jacoby Ellsbury at leadoff and dropping rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia into Youkilis' spot at No. 2, in front of Ortiz. Who knows how that'll work?

Two, the Sox won't be nearly as good defensively. Youkilis didn't make an error all season long. Ortiz, playing on a sore knee that will require surgery after the season, has put in only seven games this season at first base, and only 27 over the last three years.

"The worry I have ... is just the fact that [Ortiz] hasn't been out there. And even if you're a really good Gold Glove caliber player, when you're not out there every day, it's not fair," Francona said. "But he's done it in the past and he's handled it in the past. And again, the hope would be we have a lead and we put Youk in."

2. The Altitude

We're not talking about how the ball flies in Coors. It carries the same for both teams. Despite the demonstrable effects of the new humidor, Coors remains a hitter's heaven (fifth in home runs per game in '07 and third in runs).

Many pitchers will tell you, though, that their pitches just don't break as much or dance around as much in the thin mile-high air. And for someone with a vast repertoire of breaking pitches -- like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's Game 3 starter -- that could be a huge disadvantage. Matsuzaka never has pitched at Coors before, either, so this will be strange new territory for him. His opponent Saturday night, Josh Fogg, has 30 career starts in Denver. (Though, admittedly, with a 6.06 ERA.)

3. The Gaps

More important than the thin air in Coors Field is the fact that the outfield is so big. It's 350 feet to the wall down the line in right, 347 down the line in left, 390 to the power alley in left-center, 424 into a nook in center ... it's a lot of ground to cover. And the Rockies, because it's their home park, are built to cover it well.

The Sox? Well, Manny Ramirez plays the short left field in Boston's Fenway Park well enough, but running into the gaps, or toward that line in left at Coors Field, could be an adventure of comedic proportions. Remember, too, that Boston centerfielder Ellsbury is a rookie who never has played at Coors. He's fast, but the ball keeps carrying here. He'll be worth watching.

Boston's defense, with those outfield gaps to cover and with Ortiz at first base instead of Youkilis, has been diminished by the simple trip out west. And the Rockies, don't forget, are the best defensive team in the majors.

4. The Crowd

Yes, every park has its rowdy fans. But this will be the first World Series game in the state of Colorado. These fans are especially stoked. Friday, the bars along Blake Street were gearing up for thousands of fans. Buildings throughout the city are glowing purple. Schools have been holding "Purple Days." Scalpers are asking for $500 a ticket, minimum. The Rockies are the lead news story throughout the state.

"There has been a rekindling. It's evidenced all over town now," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I drive a different way to town now because I had to run some errands and they've got tents set up with Rockies gear. You were threatened to be beat up six years ago if you had a Rockies shirt on."

Whether the Sox and Rockies end up playing two or three games here, more than 50,000 are expected at Coors Field for each game.

There's never quite a frenzy like a first-time frenzy.

"I hope the fans are going to be crazy," first baseman Todd Helton said. "I know they will be."

5. The Confidence

The Rockies had a losing record away from Coors Field this season. But at home, they won 51 games, including the tiebreaking game against the Padres to make the playoffs. And they've won all three that they've played here in the postseason. That's enough to get them all worked up about the possibilities for this weekend.

"I expect a lot better things to happen there," third baseman Garrett Atkins said after Game 2.