Rockies playing like October regulars
Originally Published: October 3, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The MVP of The Team That Never Loses brought a souvenir of Game 163 with him all the way to Philadelphia.You won't be able to purchase it at any postseason souvenir stands, though, because it's firmly attached to Matt Holliday's face. And it's not for sale. At any price. It's a nasty red welt that looks kind of like somebody glued a slice of pepperoni to Holliday's head. And you can find it where his chin whiskers used to be. It will probably be hanging around, glowing in the dark, for most of October, reminding Matt Holliday that the next time he slides into home plate with the biggest run of his life, he might want to give feet-first a try. As opposed to jaw-first.
But every time Holliday rubs that chin, he's also reminded of something else -- of just what it took for those unbeatable Colorado Rockies to make this journey to October. The blood. The sweat. The tears. Not to mention the pain, the jet lag and the insomnia. "I'm like a boxer who gets hit on the chin a few times," Holliday chuckled, after The Team That Never Loses had done it again, shutting down the Phillies, 4-2, on Wednesday in Game 1 of their National League Division Series. "Nobody will mess with me tonight on the streets of Philly -- unless they watched the game. And then they'll know I wasn't fighting. I was just playing baseball." Yeah, but just playing baseball is what Holliday and this unstoppable team of his do best these days, of course. You might have heard something about that. They've lost one game since Sept. 15. One. They're on a 15-1 run for the first time in the 15-season history of the franchise. They've now won games in five different cities, in three different time zones, against five different opponents, in that stretch. And now they've also won their first postseason game in 12 years -- and second in the long, glorious life of the Rockies. So clearly, they find themselves in one of those transcendental states of indomitability. (Yep, and they're hot, too.) But if that's what this is, they don't want to hear about it. They don't want to think about it. They don't want to know about it. And they don't want to define it. They just want to ride it -- all the way to a parade float. Anybody who tries to get the Rockies to explain how this happened or articulate what this feels like is fighting a losing battle -- just like all the baseball teams they've mowed down these last couple of weeks. "I've never been accused of being the smartest guy," Holliday claimed. "I don't spend a lot of time thinking, you know. I'm not a guy who sits around pondering and analyzing what's going on." We never knew that non-ponderitis was catching before this week. But it's clear from talking to Holliday and his pals in black and purple that it's become a regular epidemic on this team. "A lot of people have been calling," said right fielder Brad Hawpe. "Friends. Family. They want to talk about it. But me personally, I try to keep it out of my mind. And I think a lot of other guys are, too. It is special. It is amazing that we've been able to pull this off, and we're still doing it. But there's a lot of baseball still to be played." Well, there will be if the Rockies keep winning at this pace, anyway. Less than two weeks ago, they were 4½ games out of the wild-card lead. Now here they are, leading a postseason series for the first time ever. No wonder they're having a hard time explaining this. No one else can, either. How, after all, did they get here? They were two games behind the Padres with two to play -- and still scrambled their way into a tiebreaker game. They were two runs behind in the 13th inning Monday night -- and still got to shower in champagne. So no wonder that even an all-night flight to Philadelphia and the din of 45,000 red-shirted people making fun of Matt Holliday's chin didn't seem like much of a challenge Wednesday. This was the easy part, compared to where this team has come from. "The last two or three days are just par for the last two or three weeks for us," Hawpe said. "The last two or three weeks have been so stressful that today just felt more like a game. The last couple of weeks have been more like if you lose, that's pretty much your season. Today, we had the leeway of still having four more games scheduled. "I mean, don't get me wrong. It's stressful, and it's fun, and it's everything you ever imagined. But it wasn't like the last three days." Now think about this. How many teams do you think have ever started the postseason, thinking how relaxing this feels? "I don't know," Hawpe said. "But that's where we are right now -- fortunately for us."
AP Photo/Mel EvansMatt Holliday opened the playoffs just how he closed the regular season -- being a difference maker.
A lot of people have been calling. Friends. Family. They want to talk about it. But me personally, I try to keep it out of my mind. And I think a lot of other guys are, too. It is special. It is amazing that we've been able to pull this off, and we're still doing it. But there's a lot of baseball still to be played.
--Rockies RF Brad Hawpe on losing one game since Sept. 15
"I'm a little surprised people think that was so clear-cut," Holliday protested again Wednesday. "I don't think the evidence was that clear, personally. I thought I did touch the plate." But to that, we can only say: "Hey, let it go." All that matters is that Tim McClelland thought he touched it. And that run, and the game-tying double that preceded it, might just have been enough to nudge him past Rollins in this too-close-to-call MVP mano a mano. The ballots had all been cast by Wednesday, anyway. But that didn't stop the friendly fans of Philadelphia from booing Holliday vociferously all day. Or from chanting, during his first at-bat: "Over-rated." Asked if he found that chant at least slightly amusing, Holliday did what any good diplomat would do at a time like this -- claim emergency hearing loss. "I don't pay too much attention to that, to be honest with you," he said. "If I'm not focused on Cole Hamels, I've got no chance. Most of the crowds that you go play against tell you that you [stink] anyhow. So if I get caught up in listening to what the crowd says, I'll probably have a bad game anyway." But magically, Holliday's auditory skills seemed to improve when the reviews started pouring in on the photogenic qualities of his mashed-up chin. Asked about some of the "good-natured kidding" he'd heard about that chin, Holliday quipped: "Do they do good-natured kidding around here?" "Yeah, I've heard a little about the chin," he conceded. "I don't know why. Maybe it's because it's so visible. Or maybe it's because I'm such a good-looking guy anyway." Right. Or maybe, someone observed, it was because he now looks so "Rocky-esque." Which is a good look for the town he found himself playing in. "Yeah," said the MVP of The Team That Never Loses. "And I'm going to go climb the stairs later." Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
Eric Hartline/US PresswireSo much for pressure. Jeff Francis held the National League's highest-scoring team in check.