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NLCS: Heroes & Goats
All series long, this has been a tale of heroes (Rockies) and goats (Diamondbacks). Monday night's clincher epitomized this theme. Here are the names of note.
Three heroes:1. Matt Holliday. The player showered with "M-V-P" cheers throughout Games 3 and 4 will have to wait for a few more weeks to find out if he earned the National League's top honor, but he did take home the NLCS MVP. Holliday blew the game wide open with two outs in the fourth inning. One at-bat after being pelted in the back, the 27-year-old slugger crushed a hanging slider 452 feet to straightaway center for a three-run homer that gave Colorado a 6-1 lead.
2. Seth Smith. Smith, who made his major league debut on September 16 (the day Colorado started this amazing 21-of-22 streak) and had just eight major league at-bats entering the postseason, came up with one of the biggest base hits in Rockies history. Trailing 1-0 with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the fourth inning, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle pinch hit Smith for starting pitcher Franklin Morales. D-backs hurler Micah Owings quickly put the rookie outfielder in a 0-2 hole, but Smith took a ball and then fought off an inside fastball, dropping it just inside the foul line in shallow left field. The two-RBI double gave Colorado a lead it would never relinquish.
3. Manny Corpas. The momentum took a serious swing in Arizona's favor when Chris Snyder hit a two-out, three-run homer off Brian Fuentes in the top of the eighth inning and Justin Upton followed with a triple into left-center field. But Corpas entered the game and struck out veteran slugger Tony Clark with a nasty, 3-2 breaking ball. In the ninth inning, Corpas gave up a one-out double to Chris Young, but abruptly retired Stephen Drew and Eric Byrnes to end it. While we're on the subject of Colorado's bullpen, Matt Herges perfect work in the fifth and sixth innings also deserve some props.
Three goats:1. Conor Jackson. While CoJack produced the game's first run with an RBI single in the third, he made a horrible error in one inning later that cost Arizona four runs and ultimately put the game out of reach. With two outs and Smith on second, Willy Taveras hit a soft ground ball to Jackson that should have ended the inning. But for the second time this series, Jackson had the ball bounce off the heel of his glove. This error kept the inning alive for a Kaz Matsui RBI single and Holliday's three-run homer.
2. Eric Byrnes. Byrnes quickly became Public Enemy No. 1 in Denver with his comments after Game 2. ("I also don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't. Not even close. They've had a little luck go their way. Definitely, the ball has bounced in their direction. They've been the beneficiary of some calls.") Much to the joy of Colorado fans, the Diamondbacks' regular-season spark plug completely disappeared in this series, especially in the clincher. Byrnes went 0-for-4, appropriately ending the game with a lame, check-swing, ground ball out.
3. Dane Cook. With his jet black rendition of Bart Simpson hair, Cook's been a goat throughout October, but he reached a new low Monday night. Even though Arizona was down 3-0, on the verge of elimination, Cook continued to grace the silver screen with his pro-D-backs spot ("You have to see how long they'll survive"). Here's to guessing more than a few TV remotes met their demise in Arizona households when the commercial ran following the sixth inning ... with the Diamondbacks down 6-1.
So, the Rox have now won 21 of 22 games and find themselves in the World Series. Do they have a chance against the ALCS winner? At this point, you'd have to be an idiot to count them out.
NLCS: Game, set, match
Well, D-backs, guess it's time to start lining up the pregame shots ...
With last night's 4-1 loss, Arizona faces a 3-0 deficit in the series. Only one team in history has ever won a series after going down 3-0: the Red Sox, who achieved said task by shocking the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. According to first baseman Kevin Millar, the self-proclaimed "Idiots" of Boston fueled this unprecedented comeback by taking pregame whiskey shots. So, Arizona, there's your blueprint.
But, let's be honest: This Diamondbacks team is nowhere near as talented as the '04 Sawx. And taking into consideration the Rockies' recent run, the D-backs have dug themselves into a hole that no amount of Jack Daniels can pull them out of.
Colorado is in the midst of a ridiculous month-long stretch. In baseball, when you win five of six, you're hot. When you win 10 of 11, you're sizzling. And when you win 20 of 21 ... well ... I don't know if there's a word in the English dictionary that does justice to that kind of a run. Not to mention, the Rockies have gone on this tear with the stakes at their absolute highest. So, what are the chances that that Colorado goes 20-1 in the clutch and then loses four straight games? Slim and none. And slim left the yard off of the bat of Yorvit Torrealba at around 10:40 p.m. EDT Sunday night.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Torrealba officially revved up the fat lady with one of the most electric knocks in Coors Field's brief history. The Rockies catcher came up to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second in a 1-1 ballgame. Diamondbacks pitcher Livan Hernandez got ahead of Torrealba with a first-pitch fastball for a called strike and then put him in a 1-2 hole with a Mickey Mouse curveball that didn't even register on the stadium radar gun (TBS had it at 58 MPH).
"It just made me laugh," Torrealba said of the pitch. "It looked more like a softball [pitch]."
But Torrealba battled back into a full count and fouled off a 60 MPH curveball. Then Hernandez made a mistake, catching too much of a plate with an 82 MPH fastball, and Torrealba sent it 402 feet into the left-field stands.
"It's the last pitch I want to throw," Hernandez said. "Yorvit is one of my best friends in baseball and I know he can handle the fastball inside very good. It's just the situation. I'd thrown everything: foul, foul. I know he can hit a fastball, trust me. And he hit it out."
The scene that followed was straight out of Hollywood: With the rain pouring down in buckets and fresh pyrotechnics lighting up the Denver sky, Torrealba fist-pumped his way around the bases as the sellout crowd of 50,137 went into a frenzy.
Let's say the Rockies do finish off the series with another win tonight. They will have gone from 4 1/2 games out of the wild card to the World Series in the span of 22 games. With everything that was at stake, that would easily go down as one of the greatest runs in sports history.
NLCS: Rox relying on defense
Defense wins championships.
This saying regularly gets tossed around in football and basketball circles, but I've never heard it uttered anywhere near the diamond. If the Rockies keep rolling through the playoffs, though, baseball could be the new home for one of American sports' age-old adages.
In Colorado's Game 2 win, the Rockies' outstanding defensive effort was impossible to ignore. Yes, second baseman Kaz Matsui made a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth, but the miscue didn't end up costing Colorado because Arizona's Stephen Drew mistakenly wandered off second base. It was almost as if Drew gave the Rockies a mulligan as a reward for the defensive clinic they put on all night.
Colorado set a major-league record for highest team fielding percentage during the regular season (.98925), committing just 68 errors over 163 games. The team's fantastic glove work was on full display during Colorado's 3-2 win on Friday night, with -- surprise, surprise -- Troy Tulowitzki leading the charge. I mentioned Tulo's bazooka arm in yesterday's entry, but this kid's no one-trick pony. The 23-year-old -- who led all major league shortstops in fielding percentage (.987) during the regular season and has a chance to become the first rookie shortstop ever to win the Gold Glove -- also boasts extremely soft hands and plus range. Tulowitzki made his presence felt right off the bat last night. In the bottom of the first, Drew smacked a ground ball into the hole, but Tulowitzki tracked it down and winged the ball across his body to barely nab Drew at first base. As the game when on, Tulo made a pair of sparkling plays on softly hit ground balls and did a spectacular job in blocking Chris Young's hand on a failed steal attempt.
Tulowitzki wasn't the only Colorado player making defensive contributions. Third baseman Garrett Atkins robbed Eric Byrnes of a double down the line in the third, Todd Helton made a great back-handed stab in the sixth and Yorvit Torrealba was a brick wall behind the plate all night long. Center fielder Willy Taveras outdid everyone, though, making the defensive play of the night in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and the speedy Byrnes on first, Arizona first baseman Tony Clark smashed a line drive deep into right-center field, but Taveras got a great jump and snagged the ball with a breathtaking dive to end the inning.
The Rockies don't just make the plays they're supposed to; they play an aggressive team defense that swings momentum and demoralizes the opposition.
Colorado now holds a commanding 2-0 lead heading home to Denver. Having finished the regular season tied for the NL lead in home wins (51), the Rockies will look to close out this series before it shifts back to Phoenix. If Colorado does advance the World Series, they won't be the only team with a dynamite defense. Boston and Cleveland ranked second and third, respectively, in AL fielding percentage during the regular season.
- Up In The Rockies says the media is completely overlooking Colorado's fabulous run.
- The Rocky Mountain News gives some much-deserved props to Colorado manager Clint Hurdle.
- Don't expect spring weather in Game 3 on Sunday night. A developing storm system in over the Southwest could even bring snow to Denver.
- East Valley Tribune's Scott Bordow poses a legitimate question: Are the D-backs finally acting their age?
- As Dan Bickley reports, Arizona's offense is completely leaving D-backs pitching out to dry.
- After Thursday night's shenanigans, the Arizona Republic reports that Diamondbacks fans were on their best behavior.
NLDS: Huge Mountain to Climb
Truth be told, Thursday night's NLCS opener could not have gone much worse for Arizona. While it was only one game in a seven-game series, the 5-1 defeat did far more than just take away the Diamondbacks' home-field advantage; it instantly erased all the momentum Arizona gained during an impressive first-round sweep of Chicago.
Entering this series, it was obvious the Diamondbacks' fate was tied to Brandon Webb's right arm. And when manager Bob Melvin decided to employ a four-man rotation throughout the entire series -- meaning Webb would only make two starts -- Game 1 took on epic importance. Arizona needed a dominant effort from last year's Cy Young winner. But the Rockies proved to be Webb's kryptonite once again, scoring four runs on seven hits. (Granted, these hits were all singles, and most of them bloopers, but they got the job done.) Now the Diamondbacks face the unenviable task of winning four of the next six games while only pitching their ace once. And considering Webb's '07 line against the Rockies (7 GS, 1-3, 5.80 ERA), even that one remaining Webb start looks a bit grim.
While Webb's struggles against Colorado persisted, Jeff Francis continued his dominance of Arizona. Scattering seven hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings, the SI cover boy improved his career mark to 8-2 against Arizona (and 5-0 at Chase Field). Francis didn't overpower the Diamondbacks, but after a shaky first inning, he got every big out. During its sweep of the Cubs, Arizona flourished in clutch-hitting situations. That wasn't the case on Thursday night. Stephen Drew, who starred in the division series, hitting .500 with two home runs, had two big opportunities to get Arizona back in the game and fell short on both occasions. In the bottom of the fifth, Arizona mounted a two-out rally and put runners on first and second base, but Drew ended the inning by swinging through a hittable fastball for a strikeout. Then in the controversial seventh inning—in which Justin Upton was called for interference, giving Colorado a much-needed double play—Drew came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. The second-year shortstop failed to capitalize once again, flying out to right field on reliever Jeremy Affeldt's first offering.
This Diamondbacks have overachieved all season long, making a magical run to the NLCS, but they stumbled mightily Thursday night. Now it's up to Game 2 starter Doug Davis to get Cinderella back on her feet.
NLCS: Top five storylines
Featuring a pair of small-market franchises with minimal team history, the NLCS is definitely playing second fiddle to its American League counterpart when it comes to national interest. But it would be foolish for any baseball fan to overlook this matchup of NL West counterparts. Here are five key storylines to watch in the battle for NL supremacy:
1. Youth is served. The biggest back story of this LCS is the young, homegrown talent on each ballclub. The Diamondbacks start three rookies (CF Chris Young, RF Justin Upton and 3B Mark Reynolds) and boast four other regulars (SS Stephen Drew, 1B Conor Jackson, C Chris Snyder, OF Jeff Salazar) who have yet to turn 27. Arizona's Game 4 starter -- rookie Micah Owings -- just earned the full car-rental privileges of a 25-year-old a few weeks back. Colorado counters with a rookie shortstop (22-year-old Troy Tulowitzki), two rookie starting pitchers (21-year-old Franklin Morales and 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez) and a 24-year-old closer (Manny Corpas). You may as well get familiar with these two squads now, because with this many talented young'ins, neither team seems like a flash-in-the-pan winner.
2. A tangled Webb. According to most national prognosticators, this series will ultimately be decided by D-backs ace Brandon Webb, and that's not necessarily a good thing for Arizona. Yes, Webb handed the Rockies the only loss in their past 18 games, but in his five other starts against Colorado this season, Webb went 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA. Even if Webb is his dominant self, his contribution will be limited to two games. Arizona manager Bob Melvin has decided to use a four-man rotation, eliminating the possibility of a third start in the series for last year's Cy Young winner.
3. Fast Willy's return. The Rockies have been on a well-documented tear for the last month, and they've done so without the services of a key cog: leadoff hitter Willy Taveras, who has been battling a strained quad. Colorado activated Taveras for the NLCS. During the regular season, the speedy center fielder provided solid defense and hit .320 with a team-leading 33 steals. Taveras' return to the top of the order will most likely push Kaz Matsui to second and Tulowitzki down to No. 7. Have fun with that lineup, D-backs pitchers.
4. Melvin's magic touch. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but Melvin has simply pushed all the right buttons this season. No manager in all of baseball had a bigger influence on his team this season. The D-backs skipper produced the National League's best record (90-72) with an inexperienced team. Funny to think that Melvin was Arizona's second choice behind Wally Backman.
5. Rock solid defense. Colorado's offense gets all the attention, but the team's defense is actually far more impressive. The Rockies set a major-league record for highest fielding percentage in a season (.98925). Air-tight defense like this is made for playoff baseball.
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)