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THE COLORADO ROCKIES spent the sixth of eight consecutive days off frolicking in the snow on Sunday in Denver, hardly the schedule or climate you would associate with the hottest team ever to reach the World Series. In an upside-down baseball world in which the Boston Red Sox have become the New York Yankees and just about anybody can go to the World Series—one third of the 30 franchises have done so in just the past six years—the Rockies entered the Fall Classic like no other club in history: riding a 21--1 run. Talk about your freak storms.
"I think there are a lot of words you could use to describe it," says Colorado ace Jeff Francis of the run. "I don't know if it's unprecedented, unbelievable ... I've thrown out ridiculous before. If you tell someone they have to win 21 out of 22 games to get to the World Series, you would probably count yourself out right at the beginning."
For the Rockies to get to the Series they needed not one but two of the greatest final-week collapses in baseball history (the New York Mets went 1--6 while the San Diego Padres lost their last three games despite holding a lead in all of them); a winning run in the final at bat of their 163rd game (even though the player who scored was called safe despite failing to touch home plate); and two fewer losses than the Denver Broncos over a 38-day span. Ridiculous? Even that description seems inadequate. In fact, only one team in history had close to this kind of end-of-season surge. The 1935 Chicago Cubs went 23--1 after Aug. 31 to win the NL pennant, but they lost their final two regular-season games, then bowed to the Detroit Tigers in the Series, four games to two.
The question being asked before this Fall Classic is one never before posed in the Rockies' 15-season history (unless you count the hundreds of millions they wasted on veteran free-agent pitchers in the pre-humidor days): Can anybody stop Colorado? Forget the Red Sox, who on Sunday defeated the Indians in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series 11--2. The answer just might be the Fox network. Says Boston general manager Theo Epstein, "We can hope all the off days slow them down."
Baseball has scheduled every World Series since 1991 to open on a Saturday. Fox, noting that Saturdays drew the smallest viewing audience, asked baseball to start this one on a Wednesday, which had the added benefit of lining up potential Games 6 and 7 for weeknights as well. Baseball agreed to the switch, which forced it to add three off days to the postseason calendar. With sweeps of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado earned its trip to the World Series with the maximum 15 days off in 22, including a record eight days of inactivity before the Fall Classic. Which raises another question: Are the Rockies too good for their own good?
Working around the occasional snowstorm, Colorado held simulated games at Coors Field to try to maintain its edge. Francis was scheduled to start the World Series opener on 13 days of rust, er, rest. "We were asked the same question when we had three days off in between the DS and the LCS, and it didn't seem to make too big of a difference for us," first baseman Todd Helton says. "So I think once the game starts, we'll be right back in the same mind-set that we have been the last three weeks."
Other than the phantom winning run scored by Matt Holliday in the wild-card tiebreaker game on Oct. 1, Colorado largely has dispensed with drama and oddity, building its streak on the kind of baseball that would serve well for an instructional video. The offense blends speed, power and a nice balance of lefthanded and righthanded hitting, but pitching and defense have carried the club. The staff ERA during the 22-game run is 2.80, with 10 pitchers getting wins, and only two of the runs allowed were unearned. The Rockies have trailed in just three of their 65 postseason innings.
"They're young, talented, athletic, have some pitchers we're not familiar with, and they can hit good fastballs with any team out there," Boston pitching coach John Farrell says. "Plus, like Cleveland, they have a bunch of players who came through the minor league system together so there is a lot of organizational pride there. We'll have our hands full."
THE RED SOX are hot in their own right, outscoring the Indians 30--5 to win the final three games of the ALCS. "It all started in Game 5 with Josh Beckett," Boston pitcher Curt Schilling says.
Beckett owns the best postseason ERA of any starting pitcher in history with at least 50 innings (1.78). He turned around the series with his 7--1 Game 5 win in which he struck out 11 over eight innings and, in a moment that typified his bravado, shouted down Kenny Lofton for flipping his bat after what the Indians' leftfielder thought was ball four. Lofton cursed back at Beckett, prompting both benches to clear, but the game proceeded without further incident, especially from the Cleveland offense. Beckett, who had barked at Lofton for a similar offense in 2005, does not so much pitch postseason games as much as he enforces them. "A lot of pitchers would want to do what Josh did there," Schilling says. "Josh just did it. He's a guy who never backs down from a challenge. In fact, he looks for a challenge."