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Rockies won't be intimidated by Fenway Park

Posted: Tuesday October 23, 2007 9:31PM; Updated: Tuesday October 23, 2007 9:31PM
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1. Interleague play sapped a little bit of the buzz from this World Series, with the Rockies having played in Fenway Park in June, winning two out of three while handing Josh Beckett his first loss of the season. At their Tuesday workout, the Rockies looked nothing like the Padres at Yankee Stadium on the eve of the 1998 World Series. The Padres snapped pictures, shot videotape and toured Monument Park. By the time they rubbed the stars out of their eyes, they were flying back home down two games to none.

"Obviously, the stakes are a little bigger this time," Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd said, "but it really helps a young team like ours to have been here before: to know the hitting background, how the field plays, the environment. ... This is a confident team."

"And now," said Game 1 starter Jeff Francis, "I think we can come in here and concentrate on the game. We're not in awe of the stadium. We're not kind of blown away."

The Red Sox still think their familiarity with the field is an edge. Manager Terry Francona, for instance, believes Fenway worked in their favor on the key play of ALCS Game 7, when Cleveland third-base Joel Skinner stopped the potential tying run at third base on a single that caromed off the angled side wall near leftfield.

"Things don't always go our way [in Fenway]," Francona said after Game 7, "but we're here all the time. Tonight it helped us."

2. The Red Sox, with a rather thin bullpen, need Beckett to be the pen-saver he was in the first two rounds, when Boston asked relievers to pick up only 12 of the 81 outs in his three starts -- none of those bullpen outs with less than a six-run lead. But look for Francis to match Beckett in Game 1, turning it into a bullpen game that may set up the rest of the series.

Francis beat the Red Sox at Fenway in June with five scoreless innings. Only two other lefthanders in the past five years have beaten the Red Sox at Fenway without allowing a run: Scott Kazmir (twice) and Gustavo Chacin. Only one lefty has ever done it in the postseason: Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs in the 1918 World Series.

3. The Rockies are the rare ballclub that has forged a big part of its identity on defense. They set the all-time fielding percentage record while playing with an athleticism that is fun to watch. They hold a decided edge on defense over Boston, especially with Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo appearing unsteady as pressure mounted in the ALCS, leftfielder Manny Ramirez being a guy removed for defense late in the games, and David Ortiz having to play first base in Colorado.

Baseball really isn't regarded as a sport with true "team" defense. Plays are made largely on an individual basis, and the times when a defense works in concert (double plays, relays, etc.) are done on a limited basis and with a kind of standardization across the sport on all levels. But O'Dowd believes the Rockies have grown into such a defensive-oriented team that they in fact do play team defense.

"It's become a major part of the character of this team and they are very aware of that now," O'Dowd said. "Defense is about focus and commitment. And this group is as dedicated to that as you will find and I believe it's because they don't want to let their teammates down. Everybody is looking out for their teammates. You don't see guys taking their at-bats into the field, thinking about their 0-for-2 or about watching video of their swing. They really think about wanting to make plays because they want to do it for their teammates. It's a special group that way."

4. If Boston righthander Curt Schilling is the guy you want in an elimination game -- his team is 5-0 in his five elimination starts and he's lined up to start World Series Game 6 -- Cleveland leftfielder Kenny Lofton is the anti-Schill. Has there been anyone in baseball history with worse postseason luck than Lofton? The poor guy has never won a ring, and his misery was extended by the Indians blowing the ALCS after being up three games to one.

Lofton's teams are 5-11 in elimination games and 9-19 with a chance to clinch. Ouch. The worst of it reads like a list of the greatest postseason collapses of the wild card era:

* 1995 Indians: three outs away from the world championship and lost.
* 1999 Indians: up 2-0 in a best-of-five, lost three straight possible clinchers.
* 2002 Giants: six outs away from a world championship and lost.
* 2003 Cubs: up 3-1, lost three straight possible clinchers, including the Bartman Game.
* 2004 Yankees: up 3-0, lost four straight possible clinchers.
* 2007 Indians: up 3-1, lost three straight possible clinchers.

In his 95 postseason games, Lofton (.247/.315/.352) hasn't been nearly the player he is in his regular season career (.299/.372/.423), but you have to admit his luck is even worse. Asked about his recent heartbreak, Lofton sounded like a guy who is used to it: "I got the opportunity. It didn't work out."

5. It's great that baseball continues to grow into a nearly $6 billion business. But with the money and warp-speed criticism so, too, grow the pressure and expectations on people inside the business. As one executive observed, when nice guy Terry Ryan quits in Minnesota because he doesn't like the edgy person he was becoming, when Bill Stoneman quits with tears in his eyes in Los Angeles, when John Schuerholz has enough of it in Atlanta, when Walt Jocketty is run out of St. Louis 11 months after winning the World Series and when Tim Purpura gets fired one season after bringing Houston to its first World Series, then you know the game is beginning to eat its own. So you still want to be a GM?