Commentary

Red Sox send Rockies crashing down to earth

Originally Published: October 24, 2007
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- The Red Sox welcomed the Rockies to town with a full-course beatdown menu Wednesday night. It began with a Boston schoolyard tradition -- the atomic wedgie -- followed by a noogie, a nose twist, and the obligatory forfeiture of lunch money and loss of dignity.

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All the feel-good vibes the Rockies generated during their recent 21-1 run were lost in a hail of Josh Beckett strikeouts, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz extra-base hits and bases-loaded walks. After Fenway favorite Carl Yastrzemski bounced the ceremonial first pitch to the plate, it was all uphill for the Red Sox.

Where this series goes from here depends upon your perspective. A mile-high optimist might say a humbling experience of this magnitude was inevitable, given that the Rockies had suffered one loss in the previous 38 days.

And a single blowout isn't necessarily a sign of things to come. The 1996 Yankees lost the World Series opener 12-1 to Atlanta, then dropped Game 2 in the Bronx before recovering to beat the Braves in six games. In 1960, Pittsburgh beat the Yankees in seven games despite suffering losses of 10-0, 12-0 and 16-3.

On the other hand, just about every scout or big-league talent evaluator you came across this season pronounced the American League worlds ahead of the National League. The "varsity vs. junior varsity'' line will appear routinely in newspaper columns across the country after Boston's 13-1 walkover in Game 1.

The Rockies, naturally, are taking the upbeat approach. The steady drizzle that fell throughout much of Game 1 washed off some of their magic dust, but not all of it.

"It's one loss. It's not two, it's not three and it's not the World Series,'' said Ryan Spilborghs, Colorado's designated hitter in the opener. "If one loss was going to bury us, we obviously wouldn't be in this situation at all. We're still super confident. Like Manny [Ramirez] says, it's not the end of the world for us.''

To their credit, the Rockies generally refrained from using their eight-day layoff since the end of the National League Championship Series as an excuse. But they sure looked like a team that was rusty, and a little bit overwhelmed by the surroundings.

No one had a tougher night than starter Jeff Francis, a 17-game winner who'd gone 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his first two playoff starts against Philadelphia and Arizona. He bore little resemblance to the Francis who pitched five shutout innings to beat Beckett and the Red Sox 7-1 at Fenway on June 14.

[+] EnlargeJeff Francis
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesJeff Francis was roughed up for six runs on 10 hits in four innings to suffer the loss in Game 1.
Pick a malady, and Francis suffered from it. He gave up a home run to Dustin Pedroia with his second pitch of the game. Twice he retired the first two batters of an inning only to allow the Red Sox to score. And when he showed an inability to command the inner half of the plate, the Boston hitters were content to look for pitches away and drive them to the opposite field with authority.

While radar guns can be deceiving, Francis' readings Wednesday night were telling. His fastball was routinely clocked at 85-86 mph, and his changeups were coming in at 78-80. That's not exactly optimal separation.

"There were some changeups I threw tonight that came out kind of hard,'' Francis said. "They didn't have a lot of downward movement on them like normally. I didn't have a good feel for that pitch, or my curveball to right-handers.''

Francis wasn't alone. Rookie Franklin Morales was touched for seven runs, and Ryan Speier walked three straight Boston hitters with the bases loaded. A Colorado staff that went 7-0 with a 2.08 ERA and allowed 15 earned runs in the National League playoffs gave up a World Series-record eight doubles.

The lesson here: Fenway can be a daunting place, and the view from the mound is a little different when Ortiz and Ramirez are stepping to the plate in the 3-4 spots instead of Eric Byrnes and Conor Jackson/Tony Clark. Young pitchers who try to be too fine usually wind up playing into the opposition's hands.

"There's a lot of factors -- the excitement, the crowd, the competition,'' said Colorado pitching coach Bob Apodaca. "That leads to guys thinking, 'I can't just throw strikes. I have to throw quality strikes.' I said before the game, 'If we try to avoid contact, we're in for a rude awakening. We're going to get into counts we can't afford to get into.' They forced us into a lot of mistakes, and they took advantage. Give them credit.''

So now the Rockies will try to be more aggressive and pound the strike zone and get ahead in the count. And if that doesn't work, ducking and covering might be advisable.

They're an offensive juggernaut. In a lot of people's minds, [the Red Sox are] the best team in the big leagues. You have to execute pitches on them, period, and a lot of times when you do, they still smoke it.

--Rockies reliever Matt Herges

"They're an offensive juggernaut,'' reliever Matt Herges said of the Red Sox. "In a lot of people's minds, they're the best team in the big leagues. You have to execute pitches on them, period, and a lot of times when you do, they still smoke it.''

The Rockies, who won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games and beat San Diego in a playoff to qualify for their first postseason berth since 1995, have grown accustomed to the notion that the extraordinary is possible as long as they stick together and keep the faith.

"We'll see what we're made of tomorrow,'' Herges said. "We have two options. The first is, 'OK, we're done.' Or we do what we've done the whole second half, and scratch and claw like we have to get where we are now. I'm pretty confident we'll bounce back and you'll see the team that won 21 of 22.''

For the sake of injecting some drama in this World Series, the Rockies better hope for a quick turnaround. In October, it's amazing how quickly yesterday's fairy tale can turn into today's roadkill.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer