Commentary

It's time for Rockies to start worrying

Originally Published: October 25, 2007
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Matt Holliday on first base after his, count 'em, fourth single of Thursday night. Two outs in the top of the eighth inning, the Colorado Rockies trailing 2-1. Todd Helton, who hit .334 against right-handers this season, making himself comfortable in the batter's box against, ta-da, Boston Red Sox righty/Riverdancer Jonathan Papelbon.

Here ... we ... go, baby.

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Wait, no we don't. Instead, Holliday wanders off first base like he just spotted a fiver lying on the infield dirt. Why? I don't know. Why does Papelbon favor Irish folk dancing in compression shorts? Some things can't be explained.

Papelbon fires a fastball. To Kevin Youkilis' glove. Youkilis tags Holliday's right hand a full foot or two from the first-base bag. End of infant rally, end of Helton's at-bat before it even begins, and, as it turns out, end of the game.

The Rockies are 18 innings away from being swept into a World Series dustpan. After Thursday evening's one-run loss, they took their team charter flight and an 0-2 World Series deficit back to Denver. They're not done -- yet -- but put it this way: City officials aren't worried about parade routes.

So far, the Rockies have proved they can't pitch (Game 1's 13-1 loss). And when they've pitched, they've proved they can't hit (Game 2's 2-1 defeat). Add Holliday's brain freeze at the worst possible moment, and you have the very real possibility of a Rockies' World Series oh-fer.

Even if Colorado does win a game back at Coors Field, this thing is probably finished. That's not me saying it; baseball history is doing the talking.

Of the past 11 road teams to fall behind 0-2 in the Series, exactly zero have recovered to spray champagne. I know the 2007 Rockies have a history of defying odds, but at some point, the odds say enough is enough and punch you in the groin.

If you are a Rockies fan and you weren't worried about the fellas after the opening blowout, then you had better be worried now. Thursday night's loss didn't have anything to do with an eight-day layoff. That was the excuse given (not by the Rockies, by the way) for the 13-1 blowout an evening earlier.

This latest loss had more to do with a simple fact: The Red Sox are the better team. The question becomes, as this series moves west: Are the Red Sox the better team in a National League city, without a designated hitter, at altitude, at Coors Field's spacious outfield alleys, with a full-throated hometown crowd leaving blisters on their eardrums?

I think they are. Even without David Ortiz or Mike Lowell or Youkilis (one of them will be benched), the Red Sox seem to do resiliency as well as the Rockies.

Of course, the Rockies, manager Clint Hurdle reminded everyone after Thursday night's loss, were "one strike'' away from not reaching the playoffs. That's what managers do -- find optimism in the tiniest corners.

But the Red Sox were one game away from being eliminated from the playoffs three times in a row. So they have experience, lots of it, with potential farewell scenarios.

"Well, we've done a lot of things that people haven't expected us to do all year," Hurdle said.

[+] EnlargeColorado Rockies
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireTwo runs in two games? The Rockies have not had much to celebrate in their first World Series trip.
Holliday getting picked off at first with Helton at the plate was one of them. It not only killed the tiny, would-be rally, but it meant Helton would start the ninth inning with nobody on base.

"Probably go down as one of the biggest outs in my career so far," Papelbon said.

The Rockies couldn't have hit Papelbon's fastball with the guitar Boston native James Taylor used to sing the national anthem. Actually, they couldn't hit much of anything Thursday night. One run in the first inning, five singles overall (four belonging to Holliday).

"We scored two runs in 18 innings in this ballpark,'' Hurdle said. "That makes it tough to win. And the guys on the bubble gum cards are pretty good, too."

But so far, not good enough. The Rockies now are "hitting" .180 as a team, and their ERA is a bloated 8.44. The Red Sox are at .333 and 1.00, respectively. Sure, it's only two games, but it's not exactly tracking the way Hurdle expected. Entering the game, they were batting .235 in the postseason.

The body language of this Series is all Red Sox. There was Red Sox owner John Henry plugging his ears as the Fenway Park noise echoed through the ancient stadium in the top of the ninth. There was Henry saying a simple, "Wow," at game's end. There was Boston general manager Theo Epstein pumping his right fist.

Meanwhile, Helton draped his arms over the padded dugout railing and watched as the Red Sox once again shared congratulatory handshakes. The last place the Rockies wanted to be -- thought they would be -- is exactly where they find themselves: in an 0-2 hole, in trouble.

Several hours before Game 2, Hurdle made his mandatory media appearance. He was asked about the lingering effects of the first-game blowout.

"We know exactly where we are," he said. "We know exactly what happened. ... We lived it, we wore it and we've showered it off."

The Rockies need a new bar of soap, because this one didn't work. Maybe Coors Field and a view of the mountains will be the difference. Maybe a hometown crowd witnessing its first-ever World Series game will recharge a team in need of a very large Delco battery.

"We want to put a good product on the field, get this thing headed back in our direction, get some people making some noise for us, get our offense kick-started and see if we can win a ballgame," Hurdle said. "Game 3 is what this whole thing is about for us right now."

So many wishes. So little time.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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