Commentary

Rockies ride Torrealba's blast to yet another victory

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

DENVER -- Another night. Another win.

Another night. Another collection of October heroes you wouldn't recognize if they sat next to you on a bus.

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Another night. Another entry in the history books for those unstoppable Colorado Rockies.

How do we explain this, huh? Exactly one month ago, these very same Rockies were four games over .500 for the season. They had a worse record than the Dodgers. They had a worse record than the Mariners. They had a worse record than the Braves.

And now they find themselves in sentences that include phrases like: "joined only the Big Red Machine … "

Joined the Big Red Machine in what, you ask? In becoming only the second National League team to win its first six games of any postseason. Of course.

Now, want to know who else these Rockies have joined on their Magical History Tour, thanks to their 4-1 thumping of Arizona on Sunday in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, a game that made them an incomprehensible 20-1 in their past 21 games?

How about the 2001 A's and 1977 Royals. Those are the only two other teams in the past 54 years to roar off on a 20-1 streak -- at any point of any season.

OK, like that group? Let's keep going. How about the 1947 and '53 Yankees. Those are the only other juggernauts since World War II to win 20 of 21 -- again, in any stretch of any season.

Hang on. It gets better. How about Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell and the 1936 Giants. That's the last National League team to understand what it feels like to ride one of these 20-1 tsunamis.

Now hold on one second. Think about this, friends. The 1936 Giants? That was 71 years ago. Heck, that was 57 years before the invention of the entity we know as the Colorado Rockies.

And no team in the National League, in all those years and all those decades, has done what this Rockies team has done? How do we explain this?

"You know what, man? It's crazy," said Sunday's hero du jour, Yorvit Torrealba, the man who shocked even himself with his game-winning three-run homer. "I don't really have words to say because it's been like this every night. I can probably say this to somebody in 70 years and they won't believe it.

Yorvit Torrealba
Tom DiPace for ESPN The MagazineYorvit Torrealba's tiebreaking three-run home run in the sixth inning put the Rockies within one win of their first trip to the World Series.
"Every night, it's been somebody else different. Either the starting pitcher, or the bullpen, or the hitters. It's amazing. I don't know what else you can say. No matter how hard you try to explain, you won't be able to explain."

And maybe that's the best explanation of all. At this point, they might have reached the surreal stage at which no explanation is even possible.

Because this isn't happening in April. It isn't happening in June. It isn't happening in August.

It's October. It's the time when legends are born, when reputations are carved, when stories are written that are retold for a lifetime.

And now the legend of the 2007 Rockies is one of those stories. Even they have a tough time comprehending that.

"We can't fathom it," outfielder Ryan Spilborghs said. "We're in the midst of it. We're in the eye of the storm right now. We don't notice anything around us."

Well, they did notice one thing -- that it was kind of moist out there at Coors Field on Sunday night. And kind of frigid, too, owing to those temperatures in the 30s and that glop falling out of the sky. So maybe "eye of the storm" wouldn't be the perfect expression to capture this particular feat.

"Yeah," Spilborghs conceded. "Tonight, we might have been in the actual storm."

But naturally, they conquered that, too. So in case you thought they'd definitely, absolutely, positively finally run out of new ways to win, eh, guess what? Nope.

"I guess," Spilborghs laughed, "we even win in blizzards."

But that just makes the legend even better. Doesn't it? When this series began in Phoenix, it was 99 degrees before Game 1. By Game 3, the temperature had dropped 60 degrees. Still, neither snow nor sleet nor Livan Hernandez could stop these Rockies from winning one more time.

This time, they arrived in the bottom of the sixth inning in a 1-1 game, the culmination of your basic October Josh Fogg-Livan Hernandez pitcher's duel. Not that it was exactly Smoltz versus Morris, given those 14 baserunners running around over the first 5 innings. But whatever.

Then Hernandez put two more runners on in the sixth, bringing him face to face with his old catcher in San Francisco, Torrealba, with two outs.

Josh Fogg
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJosh Fogg tossed six effective innings in the Rockies' victory in Game 3.
By this time, the muck pouring out of the heavens was relentless. The cold stung like a snowball. Every breath out of every mouth left a vapor trail. You couldn't ask for a more vintage October setting for a stirring seven-pitch battle between two old friends.

At 1 and 1, Hernandez locked Torrealba with a pitch he saves for his most special occasions -- a 58-mph eephus ball. Torrealba took it for strike two, basically because he had no choice because there wasn't a muscle in his body that would let him swing at this monstrosity.

"I could probably have swung three times at that ball and still not hit it," Torrealba chuckled.

But he kept fighting. To 2 and 2. To 3 and 2. Then Hernandez did it again, spinning off a second eephus attack, this one at 60 mph. But this time, Torrealba managed to foul it off. Somehow.

"That one, at least I saw it," he said. "I just tried to fight it off, and I did. But I thought, in the back of my head, 'It's 3 and 2. He might throw it again.'"

So he made up his mind to look for something soft, something slow. He knew Hernandez was going to come back with something soft, something slow, he said.

"And I was wrong," Torrealba would say later, incredibly happy to be so wrong.

Instead, Hernandez tried to bury him with a fastball in on the hands, got it just a little low and watched in disbelief as Torrealba whacked it into the seats in left.

Right. Of course he did.

He guessed breaking ball. He set up to try to punch that breaking ball the other way. Then he pulled a fastball for a game-winning home run.

Of course he did. He's a Rockie.

"He's Mr. Rock-tober," Spilborghs said.

To hit a home run in the playoffs to win the game and carry my team one step closer to the World Series, it's like a dream come true.

--Yorvit Torrealba

And Mr. Rock-tober then went roaring around the bases, his arms flying, his grin shining in the raucous October night, his place in October history secure.

"A dream come true," Torrealba gushed afterward. "First of all, I wasn't even the everyday catcher in the beginning of the season. I started the season as a backup. And now, to hit a home run in the playoffs to win the game and carry my team one step closer to the World Series, it's like a dream come true. That's all I can say."

He has played in the big leagues for seven years now, never getting more than a couple of hundred at-bats in any season before this one. He had hit 30 previous home runs over those seven seasons, even a few big home runs, but never one like this.

In all those years, Torrealba had hit a grand total of one previous home run that had untied a game in the sixth inning or later (that one was in 2004, in Philadelphia). And then, on a stormy night in October, he hit one that untied a game he'll never forget.

He was a guy who batted .201 with runners in scoring position this season, the second-lowest average (above only Florida's Dan Uggla) among all NL hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. And then, in the biggest RISP at-bat of his season and his career, he delivered a hit that dreams are made of.

"My teammates are always making comments," Torrealba said, "that from leadoff to the seventh hitter, we've got a really tough lineup. They like to forget about No. 8."

But they wouldn't forget this, would they? They wouldn't forget their No. 8 hitter on this night, even though that No. 8 hitter has never been a really strong candidate to be voted Most Likely to Grind Out a Seven-Pitch At-Bat with a Playoff Game on the Line. That, Torrealba conceded, "is no secret. I got, like, 34 walks in 400 at-bats this year. Do the math."

He ended the at-bat with the swing of a lifetime. Of course he did. He's a Rockie.

This is how it's been going for a month. Dial up a situation. Pick a hero. Then watch him deliver. All the way to 20 of 21. All the way to 6-0 in October.

These teams they're being associated with aren't just any old teams, either, you understand. Sheez, these are teams like the Big Red Machine.

"I know all about the Big Red Machine," Spilborghs said. "Joe Morgan. Dave Concepcion. Johnny Bench. All those guys. It's amazing. Any time you're [being talked about] with a legendary team -- I mean, they have a name, the Big Red Machine, so you know they're legendary."

Yeah, and if this team is now just as hot, it's enough to make you ponder a critical question: Have the 2007 Rockies reached the stage where they need a name like that?

Rockies
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireIt's now 20 wins in the past 21 games for the Rockies.
Spilborghs already has tossed out one suggestion. After the Diamondbacks forced the Rockies to switch from their black uniforms to gray in Game 2, whereupon they won anyway, he quipped: "Maybe we should call ourselves the Gray and Black Machine."

But that one doesn't quite work, if only because it leaves out this team's most famous color -- purple.

"Yeah, well, I think Purple People Eaters has already been taken," Spilborghs said.

So the great Rockies nickname hunt goes on. But in the meantime, The Team That Never Loses has other stuff on its agenda.

The Rockies lead this NLCS, 3 games to 0. So they need to win one more game to make it to the first World Series in franchise history.

But of the 29 previous teams to take a 3-nada lead in a best-of-seven baseball series, only one (repeat after us: the 2004 Yankees) managed to blow that lead. So it's tough to think that a team that has lost one game in a month is going to lose four in a row.

And if they get to the World Series, and if they keep this avalanche rolling, the whole world can join their name game.

"Right now, we're not even thinking about that stuff," Spilborghs said. "But come November and December, if you guys want to start giving us names, I'll tell you this: They'll be gladly accepted."

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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