Rockies pull off the impossible, advance to World Series
Originally Published: October 15, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
DENVER -- This didn't just happen. Did it?That couldn't have been Coors Field, shaking so hard Monday night that it must have knocked all the snow off the nearest Rocky Mountain tops.
From two games behind with two games to play, and having to watch that Padres team they were trying to catch get within one strike of clinching. From two runs behind in the 13th inning of the 163rd game of the year, a game they never should have had a chance to play in the first place. Has any team ever overcome all of that to play in a World Series? Not a chance. So what we have here is one of the most historic, most astonishing, most compelling stories in baseball history. We're not sure the other three time zones have comprehended that yet. But now's your chance, because this team is not done playing yet. "It's a far-fetched story," said Ryan Spilborghs, the backup outfielder who is such a huge clubhouse presence on this team. "It sounds like the kind of bedtime story you'd tell your 5-year-old son when he wants to hear a fairy tale. But if you told that story to the guys in this clubhouse, you know what? They'd believe you. And there'd be no doubt in anybody's mind that that was a true story. "This group of guys has always believed we could win. So if you'd told me we'd win 21 out of 22 games with this group of guys, I'd say, 'Yeah. I believe it.'" Clearly, they had to believe, or they couldn't have done this, right? Couldn't have become the fifth team in the last 70 years to go 21-1 in any stretch of any season. Couldn't have become the first team to do that in the middle of one of these mad charges to, and through, October. Couldn't have become the second team in history (along with the 1976 Big Red Machine) to sweep its first two postseason series in any given October. Couldn't have become the fifth team of all time to make it from last place one year to the World Series the next. Couldn't have become the sixth team in history to fall nine games under .500 and still climb out of that canyon to make it to the World Series. And, finally, couldn't have become the first team ever to find itself two games out of a playoff spot with two games to play and somehow survive to scramble into the World Series. That didn't really happen. Did it? That wasn't really possible. Was it? "You know, it's easy to say now because it happened," laughed reliever LaTroy Hawkins. "So it is possible. But would I have thought of that before it happened? No." But then again, how could anyone have thought of it? That was a whole month ago, before all the madness began.
Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Holliday's three-run homer capped off a six-run fourth inning for the Rockies in their NLCS-clinching win over the Diamondbacks.
Before Todd Helton's dramatic walk-off bomb off Takashi Saito. Before Josh Fogg turned into The Dragon Slayer. Before Matt Holliday's slide. Before Kaz Matsui's slam. Before Yorvit Torrealba turned into David Ortiz. And then, finally, before this night -- the night their journey carried them to the top of the only mountain peak around that no Coloradan had ever climbed before. For a while there, it almost looked as if this night might be different from all the other nights. On this night, the Rockies actually (gulp) trailed for an entire inning. But for a whole nutty month now, somebody has always stepped forward, to grab onto the moment and turn it into another one of those here-they-go-again evenings. And sure enough, on this night, it was Seth Smith's turn. Until now, he was probably better-known to some folks as Eli Manning's backup quarterback at Mississippi. He didn't even join this team until Sept. 16, when the Rockies brought him in from Colorado Springs. And he never started a single game -- not one. But would they be here without him? Heck, no. Wouldn't. Couldn't. In his 12 at-bats since he arrived, all Seth Smith has done is hit .583 -- .636 as a pinch hitter. So when game-breaking time arrived Monday -- with two on and two out in the fourth inning, Clint Hurdle pointed in his direction. And of course, Seth Smith got it done. With an ugly little inside-out, opposite-field bloop shot that plunked two feet inside the left-field line. But this was no beauty pageant. This was a game-turning two-run double in your box scores and your history books. If anyone ever asks him later about this mighty blast, Smith promised he would tell the truth and nothing but the truth -- that it "slammed off the wall." Or something like that. But this was just the latest, wildest chapter in the crazed, stranger-than-fiction story of the Rockies. Game 2 was saved by a pitcher with no big league saves (Ryan Speier). So why wouldn't Game 4 be altered irrevocably by a fellow whose first two career major league RBIs came in the game that sent his team to the World Series? "You know the funny thing?" said Smith, who joined the immortal Brian Doyle (1978) as the only players in history to drive in the first runs of their careers in a postseason game. "I didn't even realize it when I was on second base. Then I ended up scoring, and when I got back to the dugout, somebody said, 'Hey, we got that ball for you.' And I was like, 'Why?' They said, 'It was your first RBI.' And I said, 'Oh.' But in a game like this, you don't worry about that." Minutes later, there was even less to worry about. That was because Matt Holliday crunched a 452-foot three-run homer that flipped the scoreboard to 6-1, set off an eruption of fountains and fireworks, and launched a party that may not end for a week. OK, eventually, it got a little dicey. OK, eventually, Arizona carved that lead to two runs in the eighth. OK, eventually, a Chris Young double got the tying run to the plate in the ninth. But then Stephen Drew took a mind-boggling swing at a 3-and-0 pitch from closer Manny Corpas and popped it up for out No. 2. And then Eric Byrnes tapped the soft ground ball to the left side that might well become the most replayed final out in Rockies history. At first, it seemed as if the third baseman, Jamey Carroll, was going to slurp it up. But in the corner of his eye, Carroll saw the human Oreck, Tulowitzki, darting toward the hole and realized whose ball this had to be.
AP Photo/Eric GayYorvit Torrealba and Manny Corpas celebrate the Rockies' first-ever trip to the World Series.
I've never even seen a National League championship trophy. So when I saw that -- 'National League champions' -- and realized we were going to the World Series, that just sounds so good coming off the tongue it's ridiculous.
--Rockies first baseman