Commentary

Webb falls flat against Rockies ... once again

Originally Published: October 11, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- They win on their own little Rocky Mountain top. They win alongside the cactus plants in the desert. They win against left-handers. They win against right-handers.

They win out west. They win back east. They won on the autumn solstice. They undoubtedly would have won on Columbus Day if they had just been allowed to play.

NLCS

Rockies-Diamondbacks
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And Thursday night in the desert, it was Brandon Webb's turn to get squashed by the Colorado Rockies' runaway steamroller.

He was the only man on earth who had beaten this team over the past 26 days and 18 games. But if you thought that meant Webb had some kind of magical secret to shutting off the Rockies' engine, uh, think again. If anything, it's the other way around (more on that in a minute).

So down went Webb and the Diamondbacks, 5-1, on Thursday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. If you're streak-watching at home, that makes the Rockies just the second National League team in the past 30 years to rip off an 18-1 blitz at any point in any year.

The other was the 1986 Mets. They started their streak in their sixth game of the season, on the way to 108 wins and a World Series parade that started at Bill Buckner's house.

The Rockies, on the other hand, kicked off their streak on Sept. 16, at a time when they figured the only way they would still be playing now was if they went undefeated. So they then proceeded to darned near go undefeated -- tumbling only at the hands of Webb, on Sept. 28.

But we know now that that game was an aberration in more ways than one. It isn't the Rockies who can't handle Brandon Webb. It's Brandon Webb who can't handle them.

"I don't think we have any secret," said Todd Helton, sounding as sincere as possible, after the Rockies had scorched Webb for four runs in six innings.

But he looked kind of cover-up-ish when he said it. And after checking the numbers again, we're ready to dispatch a CIA undercover unit to find that secret, wherever those sneaky Rockies are hiding it. Because clearly, this team knows something about dealing with Brandon Webb that no one else knows.

Brad Hawpe
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBrad Hawpe's two-run single in the third inning was the hit that put the Rockies in control of Game 1 of the NLCS.
Thursday marked the 11th time over the past two years that Webb has matched up with Colorado. He has won just two of those games. So he's now 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA against the Rockies. He's 32-14 with a 2.83 ERA against all the other teams in that time.

And how about this: Just this season, Webb has allowed four earned runs or more six times in seven starts against the Rockies -- and five times in 29 starts against everybody else.

So how do we explain that, huh?

"I think if we do have an advantage, it's that we see him so many times in the season and spring training," said Helton, who now has run up 69 career plate appearances against Webb -- not counting "B" games in Tucson in the second week of March. "We just see him so many times."

Now there's an explanation that sounds plausible enough. But hold on. The Diamondbacks, last time we looked, were not the only team in the NL West. (Feel free to look that up if you're dubious.)

The Giants, Dodgers and Padres face him plenty, too -- and they're a combined 15-22 against him all time, and 4-12 over the past two years. So there goes that theory, too.

The Rockies, however, are more patient than your average NL West lineup in general -- and especially disciplined against Webb. And that's an approach they used exceptionally well Thursday.

"We didn't want to fire [i.e., swing] early [in the count] unless we felt confident it was something we could square up," said manager Clint Hurdle. "We talked to [hitting coach] Alan Cockrell, and I thought one of the keys for us tonight would be the ability to hit with two strikes. We had to be comfortable hitting with two strikes. ... You know, patience -- not just in baseball, but in a lot of different areas -- usually has a tendency to work to your advantage."

So kids, remember that. Patience, patience, patience. Especially if Brandon Webb is in town.

And kids, here's one more tip: If Brandon Webb ever does show up on the nearest pitcher's mound, it would be a heck of an idea to see if you could sign Brad Hawpe to a Little League free-agent contract real quick.

The hitters of planet earth batted .239 against Webb this year. Hawpe, on the other hand, did slightly better than that -- like by about 400 points.

He mugged Webb for two more hits (plus a walk) in three trips Thursday. Which makes Hawpe 11 for 17 (.647) against Webb this year, with 13 RBIs. Nobody else in baseball had that many hits against Webb this season. And nobody else had more than four RBIs.

Being the intrepid reporters we are around here, we went digging for the real story on that, too.

"I don't know. You'll have to ask Brad Hawpe about that," said Helton (an eminently respectable 16 for 53, .302, against Webb). "Matter of fact, I'm probably going to go ask him."

Brandon Webb
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBrandon Webb was roughed up by the Rockies, allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings.
"I have to talk to him about that," said Matt Holliday (11 for 44 lifetime against Webb). "Maybe I can try to bat left-handed against him next time."

"You know," said Garrett Atkins (.194 against Webb), upon hearing that brainstorm, "maybe a few of us who don't have any success should try that -- and go up there and try to take his sinker the other way or something, because the numbers against righties aren't that good."

After hearing the amazed tone in their voices, we sought out Hawpe with a brilliant money-making idea.

Does he have any idea, we wondered, how much money he could make if he ever released a How to Hit Brandon Webb video?

But obviously Brad Hawpe is on the cover-up, too, because he showed no interest in signing up for that video on our dotted line.

"Aw, he's tough," Hawpe deadpanned. "And it's just a small handful of at-bats. It's not like it's 500 ABs or something."

But 11 for 17 was a healthy enough sample for the Rockies this year. And Hawpe's 2 for 2, with a walk, on Thursday turned out to be a much bigger reason the Rockies won this game than, say, any runner's-interference calls.

In the second inning, Hawpe stepped in against Webb for the first time, with two men on. And Webb danced around him so carefully, the next thing he knew, he'd issued a bases-loading walk that set the stage for Colorado's first run.

Then, an inning later, the Rockies blew this game open with a stunning three-run inning. And Hawpe was in the middle of that eruption, too.

Not that there weren't other highlights: A looping single, stolen base and run scored by Willy Taveras, back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 8. A soft RBI single by the ridiculously hot Kaz Matsui. And a nubber by Holliday that conveniently rolled up the third-base line and plunked off the third-base bag for an infield hit.

"Hey," Holliday chuckled, "you've got to move 'em in before you hit it over their heads."

At that point, the Rockies had five hits off Webb, and a 2-1 lead, and they still hadn't even hit a ball hard yet. But Hawpe took care of that, smoking a two-run single to right that broke this game open for good.

If you forgot to add all that up, that's known as a three-run inning. Which is notable because it was the first three-run inning against Webb since Sept. 2 -- 48 innings ago. The team that sprung the last one on him: Who else? The Rockies.

We've had some success against [Brandon Webb], and we've beaten him before. So we knew we were capable of doing it. But to be honest, at this point, we don't care who we beat. We just know we need three more to win this series.

--Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins

It was also notable because it meant Webb had already allowed four runs -- and he'd gone just 1-9 this year when he gave up four or more.

On the other hand, delivering a 4-1 lead to Rockies ace Jeff Francis these days is like stuffing your cash inside a Brinks truck. To way too little acclaim, Francis is 18-5 since May 12. And he proved again Thursday that that's no fluke, shutting down the Diamondbacks for 6 2/3 innings of terrific one-run baseball.

Francis is now 5-0 in his career at Chase Field, or whatever else they were calling it on all the days he pitched there. And that's the most wins, without a loss, by any visiting pitcher in the not-so-long, but-occasionally-glorious history of the park.

"Jeff is about as composed as any pitcher I've ever been around," said Holliday. "He goes out, pitches his game and doesn't try to do things he can't do. When he has command of all his pitches, it's going to be a long day for the hitter."

The last time Francis faced the Diamondbacks, though, it was a long day for him. He happened to be the losing pitcher (to Webb) in the one game the Rockies lost over the last three weeks. But he couldn't have returned that favor at a better time.

Winning Game 1 on the road against anybody is a huge deal -- especially when you consider that all six previous teams to win Game 1 of the NLCS on the road since 1990 went on to win the series. But beating Brandon Webb in Game 1 makes it an even huger deal.

"We've had some success against him, and we've beaten him before," said Atkins. "So we knew we were capable of doing it. But to be honest, at this point, we don't care who we beat. We just know we need three more to win this series."

But heck, what's another three more to a team on an 18-1 roll? Now repeat after us: 18 and one? Nobody goes 18-1, do they? Unless they've got Peyton Manning at quarterback.

Well, this team doesn't have Peyton Manning. But it does have the guy who used to be the backup quarterback behind Manning in college.

"You know if Peyton played first base," laughed Todd Helton, "he'd be my backup."

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.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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