Commentary

Marquis flourishing in hitters' haven

Righty having a career-best year as Rockies follow his lead in surge to playoffs

Originally Published: August 28, 2009
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

The remarkable Colorado Rockies are making their push to the playoffs, which should come as no surprise because, after all, Jason Marquis is on the team. This is his 10th major league season, for his fourth major league team, and the clubs he's been on have made the playoffs every year.

"I knew that,'' he said. "I had that in the back of my mind.''

[+] EnlargeJason Marquis
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJason Marquis has a 3.00 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break.

If the Rockies pull off this extraordinary comeback to make the postseason, Marquis will become the first player in major league history whose teams have made the playoffs in each of his first 10 seasons, playing for at least three teams. David Justice (1991-2002) and Mike Stanton (1991-2002) made the playoffs 11 consecutive years for at least three teams (they made it with four), but their streak didn't start in their first seasons. Marquis will if the Rockies advance to the postseason.

So, is it skill or luck?

"I think it's a combination of both,'' Marquis said. "I firmly believe that pitching is all about winning. I've averaged 14 wins a year for six years, so I was contributing. And I learned some valuable lessons as a young guy playing on some great teams in Atlanta with [Greg] Maddux, [Tom] Glavine and [John] Smoltz. It's nice to have a 2.00 ERA, win Cy Young Awards, strike out a lot of hitters and make All-Star teams, but the idea is to win games. And it doesn't matter how you do it. I am a baseball player who can pitch.''

Marquis knows how to win. He is one of six active pitchers who have won in double figures in each of the past six years, joining Javier Vazquez (10 straight years), CC Sabathia (nine), Mark Buehrle (nine), Derek Lowe (eight) and Johan Santana (seven). The best year of Marquis' career -- 14-8, 3.47 ERA and a berth on the 2009 National League All-Star team -- wasn't supposed to come while he was with the Rockies, who play their home games in the greatest hitter's ballpark of all time.

Marquis, 31, was acquired by the Rockies in January from the Chicago Cubs for reliever Luis Vizcaino, who was designated for assignment by the Cubs in April, signed by the Cleveland Indians in May and then released in July. Marquis came to Colorado with a 79-70 record and a 4.55 ERA (in 2006 with St. Louis, his ERA was 6.02), but his 3.47 ERA this season is a career low. He has a chance to set the Rockies' club record for wins in a season with 17, held by Kevin Ritz, Pedro Astacio and Jeff Francis, and he has a shot to set the club record for the lowest ERA in a season, held by Joe Kennedy (3.66) in 2004.

Colorado is normally a place where pitchers go, and their ERA goes up, not down. Marquis surely will join Bruce Ruffin (1993) as the only pitchers ever to go to Colorado with at least 100 decisions, then post a better ERA with the Rockies than his career average. Ruffin's ERA dropped by .44 runs, Marquis' has dropped by 1.08 runs, an enormous fall in any season, in any park.

"I'm a big believer in mechanics, and when they're right, a lot of good things can happen,'' Marquis said. "When I got here, I tweaked my delivery -- nothing crazy, nothing huge. But it allowed me to throw the ball more on a downhill plane. I can get the ball to the spot I want more often. I have been more consistent.

"My stuff has always been good, but I'd have three good starts, then two bad starts. I just go about my business, I'm a behind-the-scenes guy. I've been working this way since I was 16 years old, the same intensity. I don't try to prove the doubters wrong, I want to prove all the believers were right.''

Few people believed he could do what he has done this year, especially pitching in the thin air in Denver. But now he is one of the top pitchers on a team that has become the seventh in league history to go from 12 games under .500 to 15 games over .500 in the same season. Marquis says he isn't surprised that his team has played this well in the past three months "because, internally, we knew we had a good club. We just got off to a bad start. We have talent on this team. But now that talent is turning into baseball players.''

It has been an amazing year for the Rockies, and for Marquis. He became the only Rockies pitcher in their 17-year history to have the major league lead in victories on any day after the first day of any season. Now he might help them get to the playoffs -- and maybe win the division -- during a season in which they were 15½ games out of first place on June 2. And if they do reach the postseason, it likely will complete Marquis' best season in the major leagues, and give him the unprecedented feat of reaching the playoffs in each of his first 10 seasons for four teams.

"When you combine competitiveness with good mechanics,'' Marquis said, "the sky is the limit.''

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.