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3 colorado Rockies
Josh Elliott
March 26, 2001
Two more big-ticket pitchers believe they can conquer Coors. They may be right
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March 26, 2001

3 Colorado Rockies

Two more big-ticket pitchers believe they can conquer Coors. They may be right

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[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 82-80 (fourth in NL West)
Manager: Buddy Bell (second season with Colorado)

BATTING ORDER

B-T

PVR

BA

HR

RBI

SB

CF

Juan Pierre

L

118

.310

0

20

7

2B

Todd Walker*

L-R

150

.290

9

44

7

RF

Larry Walker

L-R

28

.309

9

51

5

1B

Todd Helton

L

2

.372

42

147

5

3B

Jeff Cirillo

R

78

.326

11

115

3

LF

Ron Gant*#

R

125

.249

26

54

6

SS

Neifi Perez

S-R

82

.287

10

71

3

C

Ben Petrick

R

186

.322

3

20

1

BENCH

OF

Todd Hollandsworth

L

138

.269

19

47

18

IF

Terry Shumpert

R

268

.259

9

40

8

IF

Greg Norton#

L-R

288

.244

6

28

1

C

Brent Mayne

L-R

294

.301

6

64

1

OF

Mark Little (R)?#

R

358

.283

15

64

22

STARTERS

PVR

W

L

IPS

WHIP

ERA

LH

Mike Hampton#

32

15

10

6.6

1.35

314

LH

Denny Neagle*#

59

15

9

6.3

1.39

4.52

RH

Pedro Astacio

66

12

9

6.1

1.50

5.27

LH

Brian Bohanon

132

12

10

6.1

1.47

4.68

LH

Ron Villone#

183

10

10

5.5

1.65

5.43

BULLPEN

PVR

W

L

S

WHIP

ERA

RH

Jose Jimenez

54

5

2

24

1.29

3.18

LH

Gabe White

105

11

2

5

0.94

2.36

LH

Mike Myers

167

0

1

1

1.06

1.99

RH

John Wasdin*

283

1

6

1

1.42

5.38

RH

Mike DeJean

309

4

4

0

1.58

4.89

RH

Bobby Chouinard

272

2

2

0

1.35

3.86

LH

Tim Christman?(R)

355

0

0

0

1.22

2.53

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats
?Triple A stats
?Double A stats

The cell phone bleated while Mike Hampton was watching his two young sons at a playground near his suburban Houston home. It was early December, and the pursuit of Hampton, the top pitching prize in the free-agent market, was intensifying daily. The Mets were lobbying hard to keep him in New York, while the Cardinals saw him as their missing World Series link; other teams, including the Braves and the Rockies, were also contenders. All the wooing had begun to take its toll, but Hampton answered the phone.

"I say hello, and this guy starts in, saying he's John Smith, a columnist with the Denver Post," says Hampton (who then explains that the caller didn't actually use the name John Smith but rather an unprintable moniker). "He's calling to see what my chances are of signing with Colorado. For a second, I'm thinking, What the ...? until it hits me. So I say, 'Neagle?' "

Sure enough, on the other end Denny Neagle, the newest Rockie and baseball's preeminent court jester, let fly a maniacal laugh. The two pitchers had met only a handful of times, but Neagle, who had signed a five-year, $51.5 million deal with Colorado the day before, made his first pitch as a Rockie directly to Hampton. As Neagle recalls, "I just said, 'Look, I would love to be your teammate, and I think that if you come here, we can get to the World Series.' I think he appreciated the call, and he told me that things were close. Later, when I heard he signed, I was—we all were—shocked, but in a good way."

When Hampton signed a then record eight-year, $121 million contract four days after the phone call, Colorado's playoff expectations shot a mile high, and with good reason. Offense has never been a problem in Denver, but Coors Field has undone Rockies pitchers for almost a decade (see Kile, Darryl). The signing of Hampton, coupled with Neagle's arrival, gives Colorado its best starting rotation in the team's nine-year history and reason to think it can challenge for the division crown. "When those two signed, it made me want to be here," says veteran outfielder Ron Gant, who signed on Dec. 10, a day after Hampton. "They don't care where they have to pitch. They have no fear. To get one of those guys is great, but to get both?"

Hampton was in a similar position with the Mets a year ago, expected to be a difference maker after going 22-4 and leading the Astros to the playoffs in 1999. But he initially blinked in the face of those expectations; at April's end he had a 2-4 record, a 6.48 ERA and, he admits, little control of himself on the mound. But he rebounded with a 4-0 mark in May, helped lead New York to the postseason and was named the League Championship Series MVP. As the pitched battle for his services bled into December, he narrowed the field to St. Louis and Colorado. His final meeting with the Rockies, combined with wife Kautia's newfound love for the Denver area, sealed the deal. If any pitcher has the repertoire to succeed in Coors Field, it's Hampton, 28, whose diving cut fastball and power sinker should keep the ball on the ground and out of the thin Colorado air. "People make a big deal of pitching here," says Hampton, "but I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I'd succeed."

Fellow lefty Neagle brings a different pitching style but a similar history of success. Neagle, who has an 89-47 record over the last six years, is a control pitcher who mixes a superior changeup with a nibbling fastball. It's of little concern to him that he's also a fly ball pitcher in a homer-friendly ballpark. "I like hearing that you can't pitch effectively here," he says. "That fires me up. Changing from the Blake Street Bombers to a team focused on speed, defense and pitching is the way to go. Mike's the key, and I think we'll take the pressure off each other."

One afternoon in early March first baseman Todd Helton looked on as Neagle tortured a reporter with his deafeningly realistic rendition of a locomotive's whistle. Meanwhile, Hampton sat quietly in the trainer's room, lost in thought. "With those guys," Helton said, motioning to Colorado's generous new helpings of levity and fire, "things are different here. In the past we acted surprised when we won. We won't anymore."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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