Rockies' emphasis on pitching pays off
Defense, homegrown talent also big factors for Colorado
DENVER -- There was a party on Blake Street late Monday night, and the former Blake Street Bombers were certainly invited to attend. But the celebration that ensued certainly wasn't a product of the constant power they used to display at Coors Field.
Instead, it was a product of the altered mind-set Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle chose to assume a few years ago. Instead of filling their roster with bashers like the Bombers of yesteryear, they began putting an emphasis on finding quality pitchers.
Now, because homegrown talents like Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and Manny Corpas have proven pitchers can be effective at Coors Field, the city of Denver finds itself preparing for the first World Series in franchise history.
After the Rockies punched their ticket into the Fall Classic with a 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks at Coors Field on Monday, an elated Hurdle soaked in champagne bubbly and the much-deserved satisfaction that derived from the fact that he and O'Dowd had truly constructed a model of success.
"Pitching and defense wins you championships," Hurdle said. "When you have an offensive club, you send a lot of guys to the All-Star Game. We've got a little bit of both."
It was Corpas who registered the final four outs to clinch this four-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, and Morales, who'd started the evening with four strong innings in which he surrendered only one run.
Together Corpas, Morales and Jimenez, who garnered the win in Game 2, represent the fruits of O'Dowd's decision to place more of a scouting emphasis in Latin American countries.
Now, instead of simply being a team known for its offense, Colorado finds itself as an organization proud to possess Matt Holliday's power and cognizant of the fact that his regular offensive contributions are regularly preserved by the commitment it's made to improving pitching and defense.
"Our starters pitched very well in this series, even Franklin with some of his jitters today," O'Dowd said. "He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."
Armed with a starting rotation that includes Francis, Jimenez, Morales and Josh Fogg, the Rockies aren't going to strike fear into opponents like the Atlanta rotations of yesteryear. But the steady contributions they've made are a large reason the Rockies now join the 1976 Reds as the only teams to win seven straight games to begin the postseason.
And, of course, without a solid rotation, the Rockies wouldn't be heading into the World Series in the midst of an unbelievable streak that has seen them win 21 times in 22 games.
During the NLCS, none of the starters provided a memorable gem. But none of them surrendered more than one run, and combined they compiled a 1.66 ERA during the four games. Through the first seven games of this postseason, Rockies starters have a 2.43 ERA.
"It wasn't just the starters," said Francis, who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings and got the win in Game 1. "Every facet of this ballclub was just getting the job done over and over again. How much fun is it to pitch with a four-run lead? It takes a bit of the pressure off."
Pressure is also relieved with the confidence of knowing guys like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and center fielder Willy Taveras are providing incredible defense up the middle.
Taveras made a lead-preserving diving catch in the seventh inning of Game 2, and Tulowitzki, another rookie homegrown talent, showed a national audience the flash that he can display up the middle. His leaping grab of Chris Young's liner saved at least one run in Game 4's third inning.
"Offensively, you can go a distance, but there's going to come a point where you're going to have to pitch it and catch it," Diamondbacks first baseman Tony Clark said. "They pitched it and caught it in the Philadelphia series, and they did the exact same thing in this series. "You have to realize that their offensive numbers are the first things that you're going to appreciate, but at this point of the year, you're going to have to pitch it and catch it, and that's exactly what they've been doing."
Hurdle was around during many of those years when the Rockies were simply known as an offensive group that took advantage of the altitude and expansive outfield offered at Coors Field.
But on this night, he found himself standing on this same ground once known as an offensive haven, realizing that pitching and defense are the ingredients to success in whatever altitude the game of baseball is played.
"This group has come together in a very special way, whether it be a starting pitcher, a bullpen guy, baserunner or defensive player," Hurdle said. "This is just a consummate ballclub. They deserve this moment."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.