Commentary

Colorado shows rust in opener

Originally Published: October 24, 2007
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- On one hand, Rockies pitchers did avoid throwing any balls into the right-field corner.

But other than that, Colorado didn't do much better after its eight-day layoff from the National League Championship Series than the Detroit Tigers fared after their six-day layoff before last year's World Series. Not to say the untimely vacation had an effect on the Rockies, but their first three pitchers threw 154 pitches and 69 balls in 4 2/3 innings, giving up 13 runs on 16 hits, walking seven batters and driving a national television to seek more exciting entertainment on C-SPAN.

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"We were definitely a little rusty -- that's for sure," Colorado reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "Just looking at the way we threw the ball. Our timing was off a little bit. But I guarantee you it won't take long to get that timing back.'"

I sure hope so because this was just an awful game. It got to the point that baseball's PR department felt it worth noting that Stephen King was seen in the stands reading a copy of Newsweek. Reading a copy of Newsweek? This game was such a dull and long affair that I'm surprised King didn't sit down and write a sequel to "The Shining" during it.

All days off and no play make October a dull month.

All days off and no play make October a dull month.

All days off and no play make October a dull month.

All days off and no play make October a dull month.

Even Red Sox fans leaving the ballpark at the end looked dazed and exhausted. Seriously. Walking through the crowd to the clubhouse, I saw almost no one smiling. You would have thought the Red Sox had lost. Everyone just wanted to get home to bed.

Granted, facing Boston's lineup of what pitching coach Bob Apodaca referred to as "big hairy-chested guys who work the count'" is never pleasant (the phrase "men against boys" also came to mind several times during the game). Still, starting a game on 12 days' rest, as Colorado's Jeff Francis did Wednesday and as his teammates will do the next two games, doesn't make the challenge any easier. Hell, if a pitcher had this much time off during the regular season, the team might be tempted to send him to the minors for a rehab start.

"One thing I thought would suffer is timing, whether offensively or off the mound," Apodaca said. "The arms are fine. The arms got plenty of work during the eight days, but timing didn't. And timing is everything to a pitcher. It allows the body to get in the right position to make a pitch."

And you can take all the batting practice and play all the intrasquad games you want, but that isn't the same thing as hitting in a real game. "We did see some live pitching, but shoot, nothing [duplicates] a Josh Beckett fastball,'" Hawkins said.

One thing I thought would suffer is timing, whether offensively or off the mound. The arms are fine. The arms got plenty of work during the eight days, but timing didn't. And timing is everything to a pitcher. It allows the body to get in the right position to make a pitch.

--Bob Apodaca

When baseball extended the postseason for television programming purposes, there was a real possibility that the extra days off would influence play. And now we're seeing the reality. One of the hottest teams in baseball is given a week off, and their timing is so off it's as if it's the first day for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training.

Baseball can't control one team sweeping a LCS and the other team going seven games. But baseball can control how many days off there are during and in between series. The Rockies likely would have been rusty under the old format, just as the Tigers were last year. But at least they would have only had six days off, not eight. At least their starters wouldn't be pitching on nearly two weeks' rest.

And at least the Rockies wouldn't have had more days off this month (14) than the Colorado Avalanche (11).

Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think it's good for anyone -- the teams or the networks -- when baseball's premiere event too closely resembles the NHL.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com