Commentary

Rockies keep streaking because of Corpas' perseverance

Originally Published: October 12, 2007
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Center fielder Ryan Spilborghs crossed the plate in the top of the 11th inning with the third run in the Colorado Rockies' 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, but the game was won an inning earlier when 24-year-old Rockies closer Manny Corpas kept his cool.

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With a 2-1 lead and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Corpas hung on to a slider a little too long and popped Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young in the lower back. "I just let go too late," he said afterwards. "It went wild." One flare single and an error by Colorado second baseman Kaz Matsui later, the game was tied and Corpas had blown a save for just the fourth time all year.

The towel-waving crowd at Chase Field was rocking, singing the songs of the saved, dancing the dances of the redeemed. They had hope. They had life. They had a rattled kid on the hill, ripe for the taking.

Or so they thought.

But Corpas didn't fold, didn't curse his bad luck, or get caught up in his head. He remembered the 19 saves he had in the regular season, and more importantly, the big three he logged against the Phillies in the National League Division Series, and he settled himself.

"I wasn't nervous. I've been in big situations before. I took a breath," he said. "And just tried to keep the ball down from there."

Call it a cleansing breath. Call it mission accomplished. Corpas induced an inning-ending grounder from Arizona first baseman Tony Clark to restore order in the ninth. And then he came out, as if the ninth never happened, and locked the Diamondbacks down in the 10th, getting Mark Reynolds to ground out to second, and striking out Justin Upton and Chris Snyder swinging.

"I was really surprised when he hit [Young]. He'd made some really nice pitches up until then," said reliever Brian Fuentes, who pitched a shutout inning, including two strikeouts, in the eighth. "But he came back. He held things right where they were and gave us a chance to score later. It was huge."

It looked all the bigger in the 11th inning as Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde, in his second inning of work, had the wheels come off, walking three batters, including Taveras with what turned out to be the winning run. Before Game 2, Valverde's heaviest work load was a 32-pitch effort on May 28. On Friday night he threw 42 pitches.

"You gotta keep him in there," said Arizona manager Bob Melvin of Valverde. "You gotta at least go with your best until they get a run."

Jose Valverde
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinDiamondbacks closer Jose Valverde suffered the loss in Game 2, while his Rockies counterpart, Manny Corpas, earned the win.
The Rockies' hitters have commanded much of the attention in the team's extraordinary 19-1 run these last few weeks, but they were relatively quiet in Game 2, collecting just seven hits over 11 innings, and stranding 11 runners on base.

With hitting in the background, the significance of the pitchers on this club, and the big-time job they've been doing during the hot streak, came to the fore. "We take a lot of pride as a staff," said Fuentes. "We know every night is on us as well as our hitters."

The Rockies' Game 2 starter, heatmeiser Ubaldo Jimenez, who was bringing some high-90s cheese early in the game, got into a couple scrapes in his five innings, allowing two runners on in the second and fourth, but like Corpas, he bent but didn't break.

"He's got great stuff," said Melvin of Jimenez. "He ended up getting a big strikeout or making a big pitch with the bases loaded. [He] ended up making one better pitch than our at-bat was."

"He made some big pitches and got out of stuff when he was in a little trouble," said Rockies backup infielder Jamey Carroll. "Our guys have been doing that all along."

Little-used Ryan Speier, who came in and picked up the save Corpas couldn't quite grasp, said when it was over that the Colorado pitchers are inspiring each other, game after game: "We're feeding off each other. It's a pretty good feeling."

"We're all just trying to do our job," said LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched a shutout inning in the seventh. "It's nothing out of the ordinary. We just go out there and do our job."

That's what it's come to for these Rockies. They're rolling so well, even the special stuff feels ordinary.

"We know there's still a lot of work to do," said Carroll. "But we do feel confident right now."

Eric Neel writes for Page 2 on ESPN.com.

Eric Neel | email

Page 2 columnist
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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