Unbeatable Rockies find yet another way to win
Originally Published: October 12, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
PHOENIX -- The names go flying by them now, right out of a Hottest Teams of All-time newsreel.Boog Powell's 1970 Orioles ... Gabby Hartnett's 1935 Cubs ... . George Brett's 1977 Royals ... Mike Schmidt's 1977 Phillies ... Fred Merkle's 1916 Giants ...
And Friday, they even won when their closer blew a save with one out in the ninth inning. It's enough to make you wonder: Is there any way they haven't found to win a game over the past four weeks? "There's what -- a thousand ways to skin a cat? I'm sure there are tons more ways we can figure out to win a game," said Ryan Spilborghs, the latest in the Rockies' never-ending supply of daily heroes. "We're still waiting for a guy to throw a ball in the stands or something. And if they've got Hail Marys in baseball, we'll take one of those, too." Well, we don't believe there are any Hail Marys in baseball. But this was a pretty reasonable facsimile. Let's just say the game-winning, 11th-inning rally wasn't one that anybody will ever write a classic novel about -- seeing as how it consisted of a 63-foot infield squibber and three walks. But that's how it works when you morph into The Team That Never Loses. Whatever it takes, you do. Whatever has to happen, it happens. So here these Rockies are now, 19-1. And that just isn't possible. Is it? Not this time of year. Well, not to a baseball team, anyway. Let's try to give you some historical perspective on how insane this is: These Rockies have now become the first team in history to find itself in the middle of any postseason, riding a 19-1 streak that dates back into the regular season. The '27 Yankees never did that. The '36 Yankees never did that. The Big Red Machine never did that. The only team that even came close was the 1970 Orioles. But they never made it past 18-1 -- in part because they won the World Series before they got that chance. These Rockies have also become the first National League team in 30 years, and only the second in the past 44 years, to run off a 19-1 streak at any time of any year. Last to do it: the 1977 Phillies. But that's not all. These Rockies are now the first team in 30 years, the first National League team in 72 years and the fourth team ever to win 19 of 20 after Sept. 1. The last team to do it in the NL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: the 1935 Cubs. Last to do it, period: the 1977 Royals -- a team that called up a prospect named Clint Hurdle in the middle of that streak. The only other team in that late-season 19-1 Club: John McGraw's 1916 New York Giants.
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Rockies are becoming accustomed to these on-the-field handshakes because they've happened after 19 of their last 20 games.
None of those other teams extended that 19-1 run into the postseason, though. So this is historic, historic stuff. But as hard as we tried to spread that word, this is a team that's not in the mood to enroll in any history classes right now. Apparently, it has other priorities. "Look around this clubhouse," said Spilborghs, the man who scored the winning run Friday night. "You think it feels historic to us? Not at all. When it's historic will be sometime in November, when we're out of this clubhouse and we're not thinking about it. Right now, we're just playing good baseball. And every guy can't wait to get to the ballpark and do something special." You can only imagine that feeling. You can only dream of finding yourself riding a carpet this magical. "We find so many ways to win," Todd Helton said. "It doesn't matter to us how we do it. We just want to keep finding ways." Well, just when you thought they'd found pretty much every way possible, they came up with a new one in this game. Score just two runs (only one of them earned) in regulation, despite leaving baserunners everywhere except the Grand Canyon -- but still hand a 2-1 ninth-inning lead over to closer Manny Corpas. Then watch Corpas blow just his second save in 24 chances since becoming the closer. And then recover -- of course! -- to win anyway, against an Arizona bullpen that hadn't allowed an earned run in the entire postseason, covering 16 1/3 innings. But even the way they recovered, the way they won, was a subject more suitable for the SciFi Channel than for ESPNEWS.
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWilly Taveras' diving catch in center field helped prevent a run from scoring in the seventh.
"Somehow, some way, we always find a way to win," said Rockies legend Vinny Castilla, now a special assistant to the general manager. "It's something unbelievable, man. You can't explain it." True. But we'll try anyway. We have choice, really -- because, by the time the Rockies staged this game-winning rally, there might not have been anyone awake to see it east of, say, Colorado Springs. But anyone who did witness it has to believe, at this point, that something spooky is now officially going on here. The only hit in the entire inning came off the bat of Spilborghs. And let's just say you won't need to hire any physics majors to get out their Tale of the Tape charts to estimate how far it traveled -- because it dribbled along the infield grass and was halfway up the third-base line when it was put out of its misery by Arizona closer Jose Valverde. Asked if he'd once dreamed as a kid of getting a hit to start a ninth-inning October rally, Spilborghs replied: "Sure. But you always picture yourself hitting a home run. You never picture yourself hitting a swinging bunt." Yeah, good point. But 50 years from now, when he describes this moment to his grandchildren, Spilborghs revealed he plans to leave the swinging-bunt part of that story out of his own personal heroic bedtime tale. "It'll be a line drive in my book," he said. "I think the details always get a little fuzzy over time, don't they? And I'm hoping that there will be no TVs for my grandchildren to watch it on. I'll just show 'em the box score. That should be good enough." Hey, why not? Whatever kind of hit this was, it was good enough for the Rockies. And it was powerful enough to visibly unnerve Valverde, the man who led the major leagues in saves this year. He then proceeded to walk Brad Hawpe and Jamey Carroll to fill the bases. And even though Valverde was up to 38 pitches by then and looking thoroughly uncomfortable, manager Bob Melvin decided to leave him in there. Valverde then rewarded that faith with a four-pitch, game-winning walk to Willy Taveras. And those out-of-control Rockies were about to win another one -- once a reliever with zero career major league saves (Ryan Speier) had finished rectifying that glitch on his postseason stat sheet, that is. So how unlikely was this ending? Here come yet more amazing facts: No Rockies hitter had drawn a tie-breaking, bases-loaded, extra-inning walk in the regular season in 10 years (since Andres Galarraga did it on July 11, 1997, off Trevor Hoffman). Taveras had drawn only two bases-loaded walks in his regular-season career, which comprises 1,632 plate appearances. Before Valverde's little walkathon, the entire Arizona bullpen had walked just four hitters in the whole postseason. And there had been only two previous extra-inning, bases-loaded walks in postseason history -- both of them indelibly famous (Wade Boggs, off Steve Avery, in the '96 World Series; and Andruw Jones, off Kenny Rogers, in the final at-bat of the 1999 NLCS). So when something like this happens, people start thinking crazy thoughts. Talking crazy talk. Talk kind of like this: "I think it's destiny, man," said Castilla, a guy who played 16 years in the big leagues, was a member of the only previous Rockies playoff team (in 1995) and has seen an awful lot of stuff. "That's what I believe. I believe something big is going to happen."
AP Photo/Morry GashRockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez pitched five innings of five-hit ball.
World Series, man. I mean, think about it. We come here to Arizona and take two games. We beat their best pitcher, [Brandon] Webb. And then we beat [Jose] Valverde. That's unbelievable. So I'm telling you, man. Something big is going to happen.
--Former Rockies star Vinny Castilla
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