Fortune smiled on Rockies in 2007
Final three days of regular season was roller coaster ride
DENVER -- If ...The Colorado Rockies lived for two weeks under the threat of that single-edged word, and kept landing on the dull side. When it took two weeks of near-perfection just to make it to a postseason tiebreaker, you know they traveled a road with no shoulder for error. If Todd Helton doesn't hit a walk-off homer off Takashi Saito ... if Brad Hawpe doesn't connect for a first-pitch 14th-inning homer off Joe Thatcher ... if catcher Michael Barrett's left foot is positioned three inches to the left to better block off Matt Holliday's headfirst dive for the plate ... and if dozens of other "Ifs" land on the sharp edge ... The Rockies aren't here, chilling for the start of their first World Series. And we aren't talking about them, and about the amazing spell of a club that has now gone 35 calendar days with only one loss. But all the "Ifs" boil down to the last two days of September and the first day of October. The Three Days of the Conquest: Sept. 29 The Rockies actually lost yesterday. Their 11-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history, is over. So, too, is their dream, apparently. They wake up two games behind San Diego in the Wild Card race. Only two games remain, setting their Tragic Number at 1. Another loss by them or a win by the Padres, and the mad dash earns them only pats on the back. The Padres are playing the middle game of their series in Milwaukee, hitting the field 4 1/2 hours before the Rockies will again host Arizona at Coors Field. San Diego has been perfect against the Brewers this season, taking all five of their meetings, a huge reason why the Brew Crew's own title aspirations would fall two games shy of the Cubs. The Padres' Milwaukee mojo appears still intact when Adrian Gonzalez singles in the ninth to snap a 2-2 tie. In Coors Fields' home clubhouse, Todd Helton leaps off the couch and hurries out the door, taking coach Carney Lansford with him. "I couldn't watch any more," Helton recalled. "I was more nervous than I'd ever been in a game I was playing. So I went to the batting cage, and started hitting off Lansford."
Helton doesn't want to see the inevitable. He doesn't need to see Trevor Hoffman take the Miller Park mound, seeking his gazillionth save.Prince Fielder, the National League's home run king, strikes out on three pitches. Corey Hart, after fouling off a couple of nasty two-strike pitches, doubles. But Laynce Nix also fans on three pitches. Another pinch-hitter, Tony Gwynn Jr., settles in. Gwynn bats for Bill Hall, who has driven in 63 runs. Gwynn hasn't had an RBI since July 19. Obviously, Brewers manager Ned Yost likes ironic drama, so he trots out the 24-year-old outfielder whose father was the Padres for 20 years, and who two months earlier had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Tony Jr. takes a ball, then swings through a pitch for a strike. That sequence repeats. With his dad's team one strike from the playoffs, young Gwynn rips Hoffman's 2-and-2 pitch to deep right-center. Triple. Hart scores. Game, and dream, not yet over. Colorado left-hander Jeff Francis, watching in the clubhouse along with a horde of reporters, recalled that "it was such a big play, but there really wasn't an outbreak of cheering or any reaction at all. It was more like, we saw it, they tied it, and guys kinda went along their business of preparing for our game." Their game was already underway when the Rockies saw the outcome on the scoreboard along with 47,368 of their friends: Brewers 4, Padres 3, in 11 innings. The walk-off single is delivered by Vinny Rottino, his fourth Major League RBI on his fifth big league hit. But only after Tony Gwynn Jr. performed CPR. "We definitely owe him one," Helton said. "Crazy stuff, very ironic. When I saw Tony [Sr., part of the broadcast crew for TBS's coverage of the NLCS], I gave him a big hug and told him to pass it along to his son. "And we definitely owe all of the Brewers. It would have been easy for them to pack it up. It says something about their character, how they played the game." The Rockies' game, conversely, is a laugher, an 11-1 romp keyed by Troy Tulowitzki's grand slam. Yet it is not devoid of the daily miracle: Mark Redman, with one prior win during a season split between Atlanta and Colorado, starts and pitches five innings without allowing an earned run. Sept. 30 Still one game down, one game to go. "The Brewers had helped give us new life, and there was a different feeling coming to the park," Helton reflected. This time, all the dramatics unfolded west of the Mississippi in two games played virtually simultaneously. The D-backs, already secure as NL West champions, took the Rockies into the bottom of the eighth inning of a suffocating 1-1 game. Colorado erupted for three runs, two of them on a double by Brad Hawpe, and 46,375 fans rocked Coors Field, aware that the Brewers were well on their way to a rout of San Diego. Rockies closer Manuel (Habeas) Corpas takes the mound in the ninth, only to turn his 18th save into an adventure. He allows a pair of runs on an Augie Ojeda sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Alberto Callaspo, but strands the tying run on third base by getting Stephen Drew on a game-ending comebacker. Make it, season-ending. But after 162 games, the Padres, who lose to Milwaukee, 11-6, and the Rockies are tied. Only one way to resolve this situation ... Oct. 1 If ... the Rockies hadn't made the right call while that coin was flipping through the air on Sept. 7, the Wild Card tie-breaker would be taking place in PETCO Park, not in Coors Field. There wouldn't be the Purple Haze of suddenly frenzied Rockies fans. There wouldn't be a home-field advantage. There wouldn't be a bottom of the 13th. The Padres and Rockies, taking the overtime NL season down to a fitting end, engage in a brawny seesaw battle that recalls the disorderly days of Coors Field. Colorado chips away for an early 3-0 lead, but the Padres batter Josh Fogg for a five-spot in the third, most of it on Gonzalez's grand slam. In the bottom of the third, Helton's solo homer offers a quick rebuttal, and the Rockies add single runs in the fifth and sixth for a 6-5 lead that only survives until Brian Giles' RBI double with two outs in the eighth. The extra game goes into extra innings and remains 6-6 through three frames that tie stomachs into knots. The 13th silences Coors Field. Clint Hurdle has emptied his bullpen to stay alive. He is down to Jorge Julio, who needs only seven pitches to give up two runs, on Brian Giles' walk and Scott Hairston's home run. When Julio also serves up a single to the next hitter, Hurdle has to replace him and calls on Ramon Ortiz, who was acquired from Minnesota in mid-August and had last pitched on Sept. 15 -- the day before the Rockies' began their run. Ortiz gets three outs on nine pitches. Everyone simply shrugs, until ... Hoffman enters for the bottom of the 13th, but it quickly becomes apparent to gasping Southern California that his stuff did not accompany him. For San Diego, it is mercifully quick; for Denver, gloriously sudden. Kaz Matsui doubles, scores on another double by Tulowitzki, who scores on a triple by Holliday, who goes face-first into the dirt around home plate and next to Barrett's shin guards to score on a sacrifice fly by Jamey Carroll. It is Ortiz's only win for Colorado. And there is a happily ever after, even if the princes of the fable feel unworthy. "Nobody in here deserves this ... this magical ride," Helton said. Only the epilogue awaits in the World Series, where the Rockies can solidify their place in legend, if only ...
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.