Commentary

Rockies need to start swinging the bats better

Originally Published: October 25, 2007
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Never has a one-run lead seemed so insurmountable.

The Colorado Rockies, stomped to mush in Game 1 by the Red Sox, said they knew what they had to do to win Game 2.

WORLD SERIES

Rockies-Red Sox
series page
Their manager, Clint Hurdle, called his team a "no-excuse ballclub." He said he needed his pitchers to make pitches.

Check. After a night when Dustin Pedroia led off the game with a homer, Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez scored three times, David Ortiz banged two doubles and the Red Sox knocked out 17 hits -- the Rockies held the top four hitters in the order to a 2-for-14 clip with no extra-base hits and no RBIs on Thursday night.

Hurdle said he was looking for a performance from his big players.

Check. Matt Holliday went 4-for-4, and though his starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, couldn't get out of the fifth inning, he didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning and escaped the kind of difficult spots that buried Jeff Francis, the Rockies' opening starter.

In Game 1, the Red Sox scored 13 runs, and 11 of them came with two outs. That, Hurdle said, had to change.

Check. On Thursday, the Red Sox scored just one run with two out.

[+] EnlargeMatt Holliday
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesMatt Holliday is batting .500 in the World Series, but the rest of the Rockies are hitting just .132.
The Rockies said a key to their game was to jump out first, to get an early lead.

Check. The Rockies put runners on first and third with one out in the first. Willy Taveras scored the first run of the game one batter later to go up 1-0 while many Boston diehards hadn't gotten comfortable in their seats.

The Rockies did all the things Hurdle said he thought his team needed to do. And after getting what he wanted, Hurdle and his band of overachievers go back home down two games to love, begging for something they would have never dreamed would be desirable: playing another game at Fenway Park.

If they don't win at least two games in Colorado -- and force a return trip to Boston -- their season and the magical ride it has been will be over.

The reason the Rockies lost 2-1 and are down two games in the World Series is a simple one: They have not hit. In 18 innings at Fenway Park, the Rockies have scored two runs.

They rapped out five hits Thursday night, and no, this is not a misprint because yes, Holliday did go 4-for-4. That means only one other player hit safely. That would be right fielder Brad Hawpe, who led off the second with a single off Curt Schilling. He was rewarded for starting a rally by having it killed when Troy Tulowitzki struck out and Yorvit Torrealba hit into a 6-3 double play to end the inning.

Holliday was not perfect because he was picked off first by Jonathan Papelbon with two outs in the eighth representing the tying run. (Getting picked off by Papelbon -- who essentially allows runners to steal at will -- is as common as watching Alfonso Soriano take a four-pitch walk.)

Still, without Holliday, Rockies hitters went 1-for-25 on the night. As a team, the Rockies led the National League in batting with a .280 average and were second in runs with 860 -- only seven less than the Red Sox. But they are hitting .180 in the World Series. In two games, they have 11 hits and 22 strikeouts.

All five hits on Thursday were singles.

And so after two games of the 103rd Fall Classic, the most suspenseful moment was anticipating whether Ryan Spilborghs would take the bat off his shoulder (he didn't) or get called out on strikes in each of his three at-bats on the night (he did).

ROCKIES HITTING
2007 WORLD SERIES
  Game 1 Game 2
Runs 1 1
Hits 6 *5
XBH 4 0
K-BB 12-1 9-2
* -- Matt Holliday: 4 of 5 hits

When he played for Oakland, Jason Giambi used to refer to hitters taking a called third strike as being nothing but "a pair of shoes" in the batter's box. The Rockies looked more like Nine West than a baseball team, striking out looking five times.

Certainly, there is a balance at work. The Rockies can't hit, but their problems also can be attributable to the Red Sox's pitchers, who are at top of their game. Josh Beckett now owns the lowest batting average against in World Series history at .159, and Hideki Okajima finished his perfect evening of relief by striking out the final three batters he faced.

"It's been effective," Hurdle said of Boston's pitching staff. "We scored two runs in 18 innings in this ballpark. That makes it tough, and the guys on the bubble gum cards are pretty good, too. They had some pitches to hit, didn't square it up, and Schilling got us in some good routines. He's a competitor. He got the better of us."

There were moments of opportunity against Schilling, but he was tougher when he needed to be.

Maybe these words are used by managers to give themselves hope and a manageable blueprint for the next game. It would not benefit a manager -- at least one that cares to remain gainfully employed -- to conclude after a game that his players have no chance. After Beckett was masterful in Game 5 of the ALCS against Cleveland, manager Eric Wedge expressed deep disappointment that his team wasn't aggressive against Beckett, that Beckett's success was at least half the fault of his own players. Kenny Lofton, the Indians' outfielder, said he "couldn't wait" for Game 6 in Boston. The Indians were beaten, but seemed to swagger. They knew what needed to be done.

We've been down to one strike. We've been down to one strike going home. Game 3 is the most important game for us. All we need to do is win.

--Rockies manager Clint Hurdle

What they did for the final two games of the LCS was score three runs.

The Rockies now find themselves in a similar situation. The Red Sox are streaking toward a title, 2004 style. They've won five straight games. They've pounded the ball. They've won close games. They've gotten great starting performances, and now have won a bullpen game. They've ridden the two big dogs, Ramirez and Ortiz, and have coasted on the sudden coattails of Pedroia, Youkilis and J.D. Drew.

Hurdle is undeterred.

"We've been down to one strike," he said. "We've been down to one strike going home. Game 3 is the most important game for us. All we need to do is win."

This is true. The Rockies have seen death -- and survived. The manager, though, doesn't want this series to come to that sort of desperation. If they don't swing the bat in Denver, facing that last strike is just around the corner.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.

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