Monday, January 11, 2016

Best Postseason Win: Colorado Rockies

It was September 15, 2007, and the Rockies were in fourth place.

Admittedly, they were better off than most fourth-place teams; for starters, they were the only one in baseball that had a winning record. But at 76-72, it was a pretty uninspiring figure by winning record standards, and they trailed three other teams for the Wild Card, all of them by at least three games. With only 14 games left in the season, their playoff chances looked to have been effectively finished off by their current three-game losing streak.

But the Rockies recovered to win the final game of their series with the Marlins 13-0. Up next came a four-game series against the Dodgers, one of the teams that Colorado trailed. They won all four games, including a doubleheader sweep which in turn included this absolutely insane game, a multi-comeback 9-8 victory. The Padres, also direct competitors, were the next victims, with a three-game road sweep (including a 2-1 win in 14 innings) putting the Rockies just a game and a half out of the Wild Card. They faced the Dodgers in three more games and again won them all, pushing their streak to 11 and pulling within a game of San Diego for second place with three to play.

The Rockies' last remaining games were against the league-best Diamondbacks, while San Diego took on a .500 Brewers team. When Colorado dropped the first game of their series and the Padres won theirs, things were back to looking grim. But the Rockies won the second game of their series in blowout fashion, while San Diego dropped a nailbiter courtesy of a Trevor Hoffman blown save. And on the last day of the season, Milwaukee pounded the Padres and Colorado took a tight one that went back-and-forth late, and the two teams were tied.

That meant a single-game playoff - which is technically part of the regular season, but which I'm designating as their best postseason win anyway, because I'm pretty sure it's the most fondly-remembered game by Rockies fans.

2007 NL Wild Card playoff: Rockies 9, Padres 8 (13). The starters could hardly have been more different; Colorado's Josh Fogg was a well-traveled soft tosser who had never in his career thrown over 100 innings with an ERA better than league average, and would never meet even the first of those criteria again after this season. San Diego's Jake Peavy, on the other hand, had just completed a year that would win him a unanimous Cy Young.

It was the star pitcher who blinked first, because that's how baseball goes sometimes. In the bottom of the first, Kaz Matsui led off with a double, Troy Tulowitzki singled him to third, Matt Holliday walked to load the bases, Todd Helton hit a sacrifice fly to open the scoring, and Garrett Atkins singled to push the lead to 2-0 before Peavy finally ended the rally. After Fogg worked around a Josh Bard single in the second, Yorvit Torrealba led off the latter half of the inning with a homer, and the Rockies looked to be on their way to a 14th win in 15 games.

But the Padres lineup had other ideas. Peavy led off the third with a single, Brian Giles walked, and Scott Hairston singled to load the bases. Kevin Kouzmanoff flied out, but Adrian Gonzalez then hammered a first-pitch grand slam, putting San Diego in front 4-3. The rally continued, as Khalil Greene singled, Bard doubled, and Geoff Blum was intentionally walked, loading the bases once more; the result was rather less dramatic this time, as Brady Clark brought in one run with a groundout before Peavy's lineout ended the inning.

Colorado got one run back immediately when Helton homered in the bottom of the third, cutting the San Diego lead to 5-4. The remaining deficit held up for two more innings, until Tulowitzki doubled and Holliday singled him home in the bottom of the fifth. Fogg had already been pulled in the top of the inning after allowing a Gonzalez double, and a trio of Rockie relievers combined on a fairly-eventful-but-scoreless sixth (Clark singled and moved to second on a wild pitch, but advanced no further). The Rockies pulled ahead again in the home sixth when pinch hitter Seth Smith tripled, then scored on a Matsui sacrifice fly; Tulowitzki followed with a triple of his own only to be left on third.

Latroy Hawkins worked around a Gonzalez single to secure a scoreless seventh. Peavy gave up a double to Atkins in the bottom of the inning, then was pulled after intentionally walking Hawpe; Heath Bell struck out the next two Rockies to end the threat. In the top of the eighth, Brian Fuentes gave up a leadoff single to Blum, who would advance to second on a wild pitch before scoring on Giles's two-out double to tie the game at 6. Bell worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth, Manuel Corpas worked a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, and Bell allowed another walk in the bottom of the ninth, but nothing else, sending the game to extras.

Matt Herges had a relatively adventurous top of the tenth, issuing a two-out walk to Terrmel Sledge and allowing a single to Michael Barrett before escaping. Doug Brocail was spotless in the home half of the inning, and the Padres tried again in the eleventh, as Hairston reached on an error and took second on a bunt. An intentional walk and a double play got Herges out of that jam, and the Rockies created one of their own in the bottom of the inning, courtesy of a Helton walk and a Jamey Carroll single, before Joe Thatcher relieved Brocail and retired Hawpe to strand the runners.

Morgan Ensberg's leadoff walk in the top of the twelfth made him the only hitter on either side to reach in the inning. The same was not at all true in the thirteenth. In the top of the inning, Giles drew a walk from Jorge Julio, and Hairston followed with a two-run homer to take an 8-6 lead for the Padres. Julio allowed a single to Chase Headley before Ramon Ortiz took over and retired the next three hitters to keep the deficit to only two runs. And that proved more important than might have been expected. Trevor Hoffman took over for the save opportunity and was greeted by consecutive doubles from Matsui and Tulowitzki. Holliday followed with a triple, tying the game at 8. Helton was intentionally walked, and Carroll followed with a fly to right, which scored Holliday with the winning run (maybe - there are probably still people who aren't convinced he ever touched the plate).

This game, which gave the Rockies their second-ever playoff appearance and first since 1995, occurred on October 1. Colorado would go on to win seven more in a row, sweeping the NL playoffs on the way to their first World Series. Rocktober ground to a halt at that point, as the Red Sox ousted them in four straight.

Along the way to the World Series, the Rockies played one of our two honorable mention games - Game 2 of the 2007 NLCS, an 11-inning victory over the Diamondbacks in which Arizona rallied to tie in the ninth, then the Rockies laboriously loaded the bases in the eleventh before pushing the go-ahead run across with a walk. The other option is the third game of the '95 NLDS against the Braves, in which Atlanta came back from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 (with the second comeback being completed with 2 outs in the ninth) before Colorado staged a two-out, two-run rally in the tenth to seal it.

While neither of those two contests can compete with the '07 Wild Card playoff, they still grade out among the top 100 postseason games ever by WPL, which gives Colorado three entrants on that elite list among their 10 total playoff victories. That hardly seems fair, given that there are teams that have been around much longer and had far more playoff success who don't have that many thrilling wins. (The Pirates, for instance, have no top-100 victories. The Giants have only had one since moving to San Francisco, and even that game only makes the top 100 because it lasted 18 innings, most of which were incredibly eventless.)

Up next, we'll check in with another team that has more playoff wins than the Rockies, with fewer of them being WPL favorites. On the other hand, the Arizona Diamondbacks' best victory was rather satisfying in a different respect.

1 comment:

  1. Catching up on the thing you didn't mention in the write-up was the controversial nature of Atkins' eighth-inning double. The ball appeared to hit a railing behind the fence, but the umps ruled it struck the top of the fence and bounced back into play. That predated the use of replay on boundary calls, which predated full-on instant replay. SoSH