Commentary

Rockies dominating on field, not on stat sheet

Originally Published: October 14, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

DENVER -- Saturday, for their latest trick, the Colorado Rockies went hitless -- and still didn't lose.

Oh, wait. They also didn't play.

NLCS

Rockies-Diamondbacks
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But the way these guys are going, they probably could win a no-hitter these days. Heck, they've won just about every other kind of way these past four weeks -- short of a penalty-kick shootout.

As they head into Game 3 of their National League Championship Series with the Diamondbacks on Sunday, the Rockies find themselves in a position teams never find themselves in this time of year.

They've lost one game in the past four weeks. That's just for starters. And if they win Sunday, you can make that one loss in the past month.

They've now won 19 of their last 20 games, a claim to fame no team has ever been able to make while it was in the middle of October baseball.

They've become the second National League team in history to open the postseason with five straight wins. Just the 1976 edition of the Big Red Machine can relate to that experience.

And, in the most relevant news of the day, they're up, 2 games to 0, in the NLCS and preparing to play Games 3, 4 and 5 at home (snow squalls permitting).

No team has ever won the first two games of a League Championship Series on the road and not gone on to win the series. (The previous nine teams to do it are 9-for-9.) So you might say Colorado has a few things going for it right now.

But some people are obviously tougher to impress than others. And we learned Saturday that one of those people is the Diamondbacks' human entertainment complex, Eric Byrnes.

"I'm sure you guys are all probably writing us off," Byrnes said Saturday, before the Diamondbacks worked out at Coors Field. "I don't blame you. We haven't done a whole lot to make you guys think we're going to win this series."

Troy Tulowitzki
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Rockies are riding high in the NLCS despite getting little offensive production thus far from Troy Tulowitzki (2 for 9 with no RBIs).
But it was right there that Byrnes uttered the words that rocked this series in a way it hadn't been rocked before, except possibly for Thursday's night's left-field plastic-bottle downpour.

"I also don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't," Byrnes said emphatically. "Not even close. They've had a little luck go their way. Definitely the ball has bounced in their direction. They've been the beneficiary of some calls. So when we look at that as a group, as we look back on those first two games, we have not been outplayed. If anything, I think it's the other way around."

Hmmm. Suddenly, we had ourselves a fascinating twist in a series that has been looking for a Clemens/Piazza-esque stir-it-up hook, or at least one that didn't involve an umpire.

To review the key phrases here, for your stir-it-up pleasure: "Not even close." ... "They've had a little luck." ... "If anything, I think it's the other way around."

Hmmm. So has it been even close? Has it been the other way around? Has that 2-games-to-zip Rockies lead been some kind of gross miscarriage of baseball justice? Hey, let's go to the stat sheet.

OK, did that. And here's what we found: That the Diamondbacks are outhitting the Rockies, .247 to .211. And that the Diamondbacks have more extra-base hits than the Rockies, 4-1. And that the Arizona's pitchers have a better strikeout ratio, 9.9 whiffs per nine innings to 8.1.

We could also mention, on the other hand, that the Rockies have scored many more runs (8-3), drawn almost twice as many walks (11-6), committed fewer errors (2-1) and allowed fewer baserunners (a 1.20 WHIP to 1.30). But since we want to let Byrnes make his case, we won't mention any of that.

So if you're careful, and you look only at the right columns on the old stat sheet, you could possibly make an argument that Eric Byrnes is absolutely right. Possibly. Well, at least you could make a decent enough argument that he didn't even get much of a rebuttal Saturday from Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

"Actually, the games have been pretty even," Tulowitzki said. "We've gotten a couple more key hits. We've made some good defensive plays. But it's not like we've outplayed them at all. But the biggest thing is, we're up, two-zero."

I also don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't. Not even close. They've had a little luck go their way. Definitely the ball has bounced in their direction.

--Diamondbacks left fielder Eric Byrnes

Yep. Things don't get much bigger than that two-zero thing this time of year. Good point.

Meanwhile, it's time for a quick irony alert: The Diamondbacks have been telling us for months now to ignore the stat sheet and just look at their record -- but now that the stat sheet looks better than the won-lost column, they say it's time to take a different tack.

All right, maybe we're the only ones who see the irony in this fact. But we thought we'd point that out, anyway.

And while we're at it, we also need to point out that regardless of what the stat sheet shows, these teams have to play again Sunday. The Diamondbacks will trot out Senor October, Livan Hernandez (7-2, 3.75 lifetime in 11 postseason trips to the mound). But those sneaky Rockies have their own secret weapon ready to go.

Uh, Josh Fogg?

Yes, that's the same Josh Fogg whose 4.90 career ERA is the sixth-highest among all active pitchers who have logged as many innings as he has. But don't let that mislead you.

The Josh Fogg who will start for the Rockies on Sunday has a whole new persona:

The Dragon Slayer.

Since Sept. 1, the Rockies have sent Fogg out to face Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, Jake Peavy and Chris Young in games of outrageous importance -- and won every one of those games. So Matt Holliday started calling Fogg "The Dragon Slayer."

And here's how we know that catchy little moniker has caught on: When Fogg arrived in the clubhouse Saturday, he found a monstrous oil painting leaning against the wall. And that painting portrayed him, Josh Fogg, conquering a creature we can only assume was a dragon (although it didn't resemble Jake Peavy particularly closely).

Josh Fogg
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJosh Fogg, the Rockies' starting pitcher in Game 3 on Sunday, was 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA in four starts against the Diamondbacks this season.
Fogg wandered over, sized up this masterpiece and announced: "Looks just like me."

So what has Fogg's secret been to whupping up on those dragons?

"I thought we were trying to let me fly under the radar," he said. "So maybe if the other team thought I was no good, they wouldn't try as hard."

Oops. Now that he has been immortalized on canvas, that ploy is history. So, faced with having to resort to Plan B, Fogg said he would just do his best to follow the lead of Game 2 starter Ubaldo Jimenez.

"Yeah, I'm going to try to go out there and throw 99-mile-an-hour fastballs," he deadpanned. "But if that doesn't happen, I'll probably try and just throw a bunch of changeups."

And at the rate the Colorado Rockies are going, he'll probably wind up striking out 19 or something. Or he'll strike out zero, give up 16 hits and still win. Or he'll get knocked out in the first inning, Arizona will take a 14-1 lead and then a seven-hour hail storm will hit and wash it all out.

Well, however it goes, we can't wait to see what madness unfolds Sunday night at Coors Field -- and determine for ourselves, once and for all, exactly who is outplaying whom.

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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