Wednesday, July 1, 2009

7/1/09 - COL 0, @ LA 1 - "Relief Rant"

OK, here’s the deal: forget about our bats apparently missing the team charter from Oakland and being shipped back to Denver four days early. The real issue with our team, and the glaring difference between the Rockies and the division-leading Dodgers, lies in the relief corps.

Examine the Dodger bullpen. Jon Broxton is awesome and would be on my Cy Young ballot if the season ended today. I don’t know how anybody has ever gotten a hit against him. Nobody had ever heard of Ronald Belisario before the season, and he throws a bowling-ball sinker in the mid-90s. Ramon Troncoso was similarly anonymous, and is similarly filthy. Brent Leach is a homegrown lefty who can get lefties out. James McDonald is a homegrown starting pitching prospect with a swing-and-miss changeup. Guillermo Mota sucks, but at least he still throws 95 with a good slider.
That’s a good bullpen. It’s a bullpen full of young power arms, guys that the Dodgers aren’t afraid to throw into high-leverage situation just because there aren’t many lines on the backs of their baseball cards.

The Rockies are terrified to do this, and have been ever since they went with a young bullpen to start the 2005 season and Scott Dohmann and Chin-Hui Tsao gave up like 20 home runs in the first week of the season. Which is why you end up with a bunch of famous people in the bullpen. Famous people like Alan Embree, who was a part of championship-caliber teams in Boston and New York fairly recently but now is the rare lefty who can’t get a lefty out. Famous people like Juan Rincon, a valued part of Minnesota’s bullpen earlier this decade whose arsenal consists of a little slider and a whole lot of prayer. Famous people like Randy Flores, who has a ring with St. Louis and also can’t get lefties out, which creates an interesting matchup dilemma when the Rockies are facing a lefty thumper in the late innings and can’t go get a lefty that they know will lock him down.

Yeah, I know, Taylor Buchholz is out for the year and help is on the way in Manny Corpas, and if Casey Weathers hadn’t needed Tommy John surgery he’d probably be in the mix too, but there’s just nothing to suggest that the current bullpen is capable of long term success. Huston Street has been All-Star caliber, Josh Fogg’s a pretty inoffensive long-relief option, and Joel Peralta is pitching above and beyond any reasonable expectation, but of the currently healthy members of the bullpen, those are the guys who are even remotely trustworthy… and that’s as of today. Would you bet on Fogg and Peralta continuing to keep their ERAs below 3? Below 4?

Buster Olney quoted a talent evaluator from the American League who said that the Rox are two middle relievers away from being the best team in the National League. The talent evaluator apparently hasn’t seen the Dodgers play, but if the Rockies can be second best in the West, they’ll be squarely in playoff consideration this season. I can dig it. And the notion that the Rockies need bullpen help is absolutely true. But bullpen help isn’t going to come in the form of Juan Rincon. It’s not even necessarily going to arrive in Corpas, who was pitching better before his injury but still doesn’t belong anywhere near a tight game late.

It’s time for the Rockies to gamble on some power arms within the system. Once AA starter Sam Deduno is fully healthy and back in the swing, he should be in Denver. Same goes for Franklin Morales, whose velocity could play up in shorter stints and who could actually give the Rox an advantage against a lefty hitter late. I know the reluctance to use guys who ‘haven’t done it at the big league level before’ is there, but Joe Torre doesn’t seem to care and his team is running away with the West.

The Rox left LA with only one win. I hope they leave with a lesson about the value of power arms in relief, even ones you never would have thought to utilize.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

6/28/09 - COL 3, @ OAK 1 - "Doin' Real Good"

Today, my landlord swung by my apartment to make a quick fix of a plumbing problem. It’s roughly the 15th plumbing problem I’ve had in 11 months of occupation, but the worst of them haven’t surfaced from some time now. Today, a screw had slipped behind my cold water handle in my shower, and it took Jim probably about 15 seconds to put it back in its proper place. Jim’s a good guy, a construction worker who knows his way around these old apartments. We’ve had casual conversations that didn’t involve what was broken in my bathroom before, but nothing substantial beyond a word or two about a football game I was watching.

On his way out, Jim saw I was watching the Rockies highlights on Baseball Tonight, and said, “I hear the Rockies are doin’ real good.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “They’re on fire.”

“Yeah, I was watchin ‘em the other night, which I don’t normally do,” Jim said in his well-worn Western accent. “They were on TV and I heard the announcers talkin’ about all the games they were winning.”

I started to confirm that information. “Yup. Twenty out of…”

Before I could say “twenty-three” Jim cut me off. “I didn’t realize it because I kinda thought they sucked.”

We chatted for a minute or so more about the hot Rox before he headed out. I felt good when he left, and not only because I can take a warm shower tomorrow. I felt good knowing that the most casual baseball observer, even 500 miles away from Coors Field, has taken notice of the Rox. They kinda sucked, but now they’re doin’ real good. Sometimes that’s all you really need to know.

***

It’s time for the first ‘big’ series of the season. Three games on the road with the Dodgers. The Rox are 7.5 back in the West, trailing San Francisco by half a game for second place. The Rockies will send their 2-3-4 starters to the mound (Jimenez, Marquis, Hammel) against LA’s 5-1-2 (Wolf, Billingsley, Kershaw). A Rockies series win means they’re a for-real contender. A Dodgers series win means the Rox still have a ways to go. A Dodgers sweep reasserts their dominance in the West. A Rockies sweep means we’ve got a brand new pennant race.

This is going to be a fun three days of baseball.

Friday, June 26, 2009

6/26/09 - COL 4, @ OAK 2 - "Missing Matt"

It was fitting that Matt Holliday’s first at bat as an opponent of the Colorado Rockies produced a quintessentially Matt Holliday-like result – a double to the opposite field gap. That was always what impressed me most about Holliday during his years in Denver – his ability, almost unmatched, to drive the ball the other way. I feel like every time I saw him hit a homer in person, it was a bullet that wound up in the Rockies bullpen in right-center field.

That was about the only thing fitting about seeing Matt face his former team. Even if the impact of his loss from a baseball standpoint has been greatly diminished, both by Holliday’s own struggles (he came into today hitting .269 with 8 homers) and the Rockies outfield depth, it’s hard to understate just how difficult it was to watch him today. Yeah, I’d seen him in an A’s uniform on TV before, but to see him competing against guys he competed with last year just didn’t seem right.

Baseball is a brutal, unsentimental game, though, and you’ve gotta roll with it, and gotta figure out how you can possibly encourage anybody to strike out the guy who scored the biggest run in Rockies history, or curse the guy who should have won an MVP in a Rockies uniform for ripping a double into the gap. As I’m writing this, Holliday is about to step to the plate as the tying run in the 8th inning of a three-run ballgame, and I would bet my life he hits one 450 feet to dead center. To spite us, and to remind us.

That, or he’ll roll over on the first pitch to second base. That was pretty quintessentially Matt Holliday-like, too.

(See? Brutal, and unsentimental.)

(He walked. Now watch the Rox lose this one at someone else’s hand, meaning we won’t be able to even secretly feel happy for one of the all-time franchise greats.)

(Oh, God bless you, Joel Peralta. My favorite thing about you is the complete lack of faith I have in you, and then the pleasant surprise I feel when you actually come through.)

(I’m never blogging during the game again. Isn’t this what Twitter is for?)

(Huston Street comes out of the bullpen at Coors Field to ‘Hate Me Now’ by P. Diddy and Nas. The color barrier for closer entrance music has been broken! Inspired choice, too, and it was almost the best use of hip-hop in Rockies player entrance history until Ian Stewart went to ‘Turn My Swag On’ by Soulja Boy.)

(Street shakes off a liner to the ribs and gets a 1-2-3 save. Damn, he’s good. Stay hot, Rox.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

6/22/09 - COL 11, @ LAA 1 - "A Milestone for Cookie"

Aaron Cook is now the winningest pitcher in Rockies franchise history, and it seems extra appropriate considering he’s exactly the type of pitcher that everybody said the Rockies had to develop if they wanted to build a pitching staff from within. The idea was that a pitcher who threw hard with a heavy sinkerball could keep the ball in the playing field at 20th and Blake and keep his ERA in the mid-fours at home.

The trouble was that prior to Cook, the Rockies hadn’t had that guy or even come close to developing that guy. And, of course, their misguided effort to find pitchers who could sink the baseball led to the Mike Hampton disaster. But even from the start of his big league career, Cook always had the bowling-ball sinker, and even though he’d gotten hit hard early on in his time with the Rockies, it really seemed like he was starting to put things all together before he had to leave a start against Cincinnati early on August 7, 2004.

It was no ordinary injury – Cook damn near died on the mound that day as blood clots attacked his lungs. It took him nearly a year to return to a big league mound, but once he did he picked up exactly as he left off, emerging down the stretch of a miserable 2005 season as the most reliable starter the Rockies had. You know the story from there – Cook ate innings and won ballgames the next couple of years, got a contract extension after 2007, and made an All-Star appearance last year once given officially the ‘ace’ mantle.

Ubaldo Jimenez is more electric, but if I had to pick either Cookie or U-Ball to start one game with the planet’s existence at stake, I’d take the redhead. He attacks hitters relentlessly, daring them to hack at his diving sinker because it’s damn hard to do anything but pound it at an infielder. He has thrown complete games of 74 and 79 pitches in his career, both of which came at Coors Field. He has survived at one of the toughest hitters parks of all time despite a career strikeout rate of 3.7 per nine. He is a perfect gentleman four days of the week before becoming the prototypical bulldog on his day on the mound. He takes the ball and gives the Rockies one hell of a chance to win, every single time, and has done so for the last four seasons.

They don’t make many pitchers like Aaron Cook – guys who can succeed without a swing and miss pitch because the swing and hit pitch in their arsenal splinters quality lumber like a Stihl chainsaw. But even though he might have more renown were he in the midst of what should be a rather lengthy prime in a larger market, Aaron Cook belongs in a Rockies uniform, the perfect pitcher with the perfect pitch for a largely imperfect set of circumstances. And nobody deserves to be the winningest pitcher in franchise history more than him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

6/19/09 - COL 7, PIT 3 - "Confidence"

Back in 2007, 14 out of 15 was where it ended, when Matt Holliday dove across home plate and Coors Field erupted with its loudest roar ever as the Rockies closed out their regular season with a win in Game 163.

In 2009, 14 out of 15 feels like just the beginning. I’ve now officially reached the point where I turn on the Rockies game expecting them to win, and win handily. I expect the starters to pitch deep into the game, the offense to get a lead early and pad it late, and the handshake line to form afterwards.

Any hyperbole I’d want to apply to this hot streak was used up for good during Rocktober 2007, so I have none left for descriptive purposes. But the thing is that I’m not sure any hyperbole is necessary. 2007 was like watching a Disney movie unfold. 2009 is a different feeling. This feels more like a talented team that finally has all its ducks in a row and is starting to play the kind of kick-ass baseball we thought they were capable of from the beginning. To paraphrase Dennis Green, the Rockies are who we thought they were, and I’m comfortable crowning their asses as playoff contenders.

The part I’m having the most fun watching is the pitching. That’s the part of the game that’s nearest to my heart, the part I think I understand the best and therefore appreciate the most. And I can’t remember a Rockies starting rotation ever pitching as well as this current one has. Jim Tracy has shown a tremendous amount of confidence in his starters, and they have repaid him by working deep into games.
Ubaldo Jimenez’s last two starts, and Jason Marquis’ start tonight, have featured some high pitch counts. There’s always some wringing of the hands when pitch counts run into the 120s, like Jimenez against Seattle last Friday and Marquis tonight, and
I’ll admit to not being totally comfortable with it myself, but frankly, I like the fact that Tracy’s going to go with his guys until they lose effectiveness and grow tired, not until some pre-determined pitch count says they need to come out. I think it gives the pitchers more confidence and more toughness, physically and mentally. One thing’s for sure, the rotation members look like a different bunch, from Jimenez (throwing more strikes) to Jason Hammel (throwing the changeup more) to Marquis (throwing a heavier sinker). Add them to the rock-steady Aaron Cook and the epitome of fifth starter-hood, Jorge de la Rosa… and you’ve got a staff where you never feel like you don’t have a chance to win a game at the very start, and that has to be a confidence boost in turn to the lineup, as they don’t feel like they have to score 8 runs every night out.

The pitchers are also gaining confidence from the defense, which is as good as it’s been since 2007 thanks to Ian Stewart taking over at third and Carlos Gonzalez taking starts in left. The defense is gaining confidence from the pitchers, who are throwing more strikes and keeping them more involved. It all adds up, and snowballs, and just keeps rolling on towards .500 and beyond.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

6/14/09 - COL 7, SEA 1 - "Eleven"

FRIDAY NIGHT:

“Oh, they’ll probably lose tonight. Washburn’s the kind of lefty that always gives us trouble.”

“Jimenez doesn’t have it tonight.”

“NO NO NO DON’T SQUEEZE!”

“What is Tracy thinking, sending Ubaldo back to the mound with 104 pitches in the 8th? Doesn’t he trust his bullpen?”

“I mean, he’s gotta go get him now – U-Ball’s completely out of gas.”

Final score: Rockies 6, Mariners 4.

SATURDAY NIGHT:

“We scratched some off Washburn, but Bedard will shackle us for sure… what’s that? He’s not?”

“We can’t get a hit with a runner in scoring position. This has one-run loss written all over it.”

“@!#%$#@ Corpas.”

“Oh, geez, Street looks gassed, I don’t know if he can get out of this.”

Final score: Rockies 5, Mariners 3.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON:

“We’re going to win.”

Final score: Rockies 7, Mariners 1.

***

If there’s a lesson here beyond “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” it’s that winning streaks aren’t to be fretted over or overanalyzed. You just have to enjoy the ride while it lasts, and embrace the idea that your team is shaking hands after the final out every single time they take the field.

The last time the Rockies won this many games in a row… well, you know when it was and what it meant. This one’s different for a lot of reasons, but it feels every bit as good because it’s a validation of how good we think this team should be.

The off day Monday gives us a chance to reset. Lay back, and not think about the seeming impossibility of the streak or the desultory 20-32 start that preceded it. When the Rockies take the field on Tuesday, they’ll be 31-32, and how they got there doesn’t matter as much as where they go from here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

6/11/09 - COL 5, @ MIL 4 - "Eight"

As much as I enjoy listening to baseball on the radio, I have a tough time listening to the late innings of a close game while I’m driving. Thankfully, I wasn’t in my car during today’s seventh inning, when for the second time in two days, Joel Peralta nearly caused me to have a stroke.

With the bases loaded, two outs, and a two-run lead in the seventh, I waited for the inevitable bases-clearing double from Ryan Braun. I swore at Peralta when he fell behind in the count. If there’s one thing I know about the 2009 Rockies, it’s that eventually things are going to turn for the worse.

Except that over the past eight days, what I thought I knew about this team has gone almost completely out the window. The Rockies never won one-run games – they do now. The Rockies never came back to win games – they do now. The Rockies didn’t get the big hit or make the big pitch… they do now, and did today when Peralta blew a 91-mph fastball down and in past Braun to end the inning.

The best way I can describe the Rox right now? It’s like they were a beat up old car that had been through some bad weather, some mud and dirt… and then it went through a car wash and came out the other side looking shiny and new. There’s a newness to the team, almost like they’ve been able to push a RESET button on the entire season and start playing the kind of baseball they – and we – all thought they were capable of playing when they broke camp in April.

You get the sense that nobody’s concerned with the 28-32 record, or how far back they are in the West and Wild Card standings, or any of the rumors about players getting traded. They’re just showing up and playing ball, and it’s been a winning brand of ball.

It’s not as simple as just playing better. There’s a different attitude and a different confidence level that’s evident just watching the team on a daily basis. There’s a killer instinct late in games that hasn’t been there since… well, Rocktober. Which, not coincidentally, was the last time it’s been this good to be a Rockies fan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

6/8/09 - COL 5, @ STL 2 - "The Most Optimistic Fans in Baseball"

All the way back when I started this blog, I envisioned it being a season-long quest to determine what makes the Rockies fan experience unique. Sure, we’re a relatively nascent franchise with a scarce history to draw from, but I figured that through watching the games, reading other blogs, and following the team, I could determine what defines me as a Rockies fan.

Today, I figured it out.

The Rockies have won five straight games, playing their most inspired ball of the season. Clint Barmes looks like an All-Star, Jason Marquis leads the NL in wins, and Todd Helton’s in the midst of a great renaissance season. The Rox just rolled right through St. Louis and ripped a Cardinals team that was tied for the NL Central lead upon their arrival. Great starting pitching, timely hitting, and clean bullpen work. It’s the kind of baseball that we fans knew, or thought we knew, the Rox were capable of playing all along.

All this win streak has done is lift the Rockies from 12 games under .500 to seven games under, however. At 25-32, the Rox are still at the bottom of the NL West and near the bottom of the entire league. The Dodgers have ran away and hit in the West, leaving the Rockies 13 games behind. Five straight wins haven’t changed the mindset that the Rockies should look to be sellers this year, aggressively shopping players in the midst of career years like Marquis or Brad Hawpe and beginning to build around the Tulo-Iannetta-Stewart-Fowler core offensively.

And yet…

I checked the Wild Card standings today, and saw the Rockies are only 6 back of the Mets.

It’s patently absurd to do this, and I know it… and as I was doing it, I realized that only a Rockies fan would be doing something like this.

We all witnessed 2007. We, more than any other fan base, know that you aren’t eliminated from contention until the numbers say so. We watched a team with its back firmly against the wall, having to win pretty much every game in the season’s final two weeks and then hope for a few breaks, play their asses off, win pretty much every game, get a few breaks, and make the playoffs.

And then we watch this team over the last five days. We see them get hits with runners on and two outs. We see them build on leads. We see tremendous defense. And we wonder, well, if the 07 team could do it, why can’t this one?

So I think I’ve defined us, Rockies fans. I think we’re secretly the most optimistic fan base in baseball. Because better than anyone else, we know that the impossible really isn’t. And even in the bleakest moments, all it takes is a stretch of great baseball to get us all back on board.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

6/7/09 - COL 7, @ STL 2 - "Winning Streak"

I don’t recognize these Colorado Rockies, but I sure do like them. I like the way they sustain rallies with two outs and add to their leads in the late innings. I like the defense they’ve played as of late. I really like the starting pitchers working deep into games. If I were living in Colorado, I would really be enjoying four straight days of cheap Taco Bell tacos (the only remotely edible item on the Taco Bell menu).

The Rox have outscored their opponents 38-10 during this four game winning streak, thanks in large part of a lineup that suddenly looks potent 1 through 8 (with Paul Phillips doing his best Mike Piazza imitation today, going 4-for-5 with two ribbies and a jack). Early returns are good on the benefits of lineup stability for the Rockies, at least in one regard, as Clint Barmes’ average has jumped fifty points to .285 since being permanently installed in the two-hole.

What else has been established in the Jim Tracy Era? Well, thanks to Ian Stewart going legend in the first three games of this St. Louis series (including three homers, one of which threatened to land in Illinois) and Barmes’ steady production, the odd man out in the Rockies infield is the late Garrett Atkins, whose two-homer game on Thursday night in Houston may wind up being his last big game in a Rockies uniform. Stewart has finally grabbed the bull by the horns and earned his way into the everyday lineup, and with Atkins’s bat still invalid (the aforementioned two-homer game notwithstanding), Stewart has to be at third base every day. He’s at close to a 30-homer pace after his big weekend and, as his Saturday night Web Gem would suggest, can make plays at the hot corner than Atkins can only dream of making. He was the best option for the third base job at the beginning of the season, and he’s the best option now.

Once Iannetta returns, the Rockies will have a lineup that looks a little something like this:

Fowler CF
Barmes 2B
Helton 1B
Hawpe RF

And this is where it gets tricky. Stewart should be here, but three lefty sticks in a row is something most managers try and avoid. The left fielder du jour – either Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs, or Carlos Gonzalez, isn’t a great fit in the five hole, and besides, Smith and Gonzalez are lefties themselves. I suspect Tracy wants to keep Tulo in the seven hole. That leaves Iannetta as a choice for the five spot, and frankly, despite the low average, his power makes him a good fit. Let’s try it:

Iannetta C
Stewart 3B
Tulowitzki SS
Left fielder du jour LF

Alternately, on days when Spilborghs is in the lineup, he can bat fifth and flip-flop with Iannetta. Or, with Tulo just healing from a hand injury that’s been nagging him since mid-May, it might not be a bad plan to bat him eighth while he shakes off some rust.

The bottom line, however, is that if Barmes and Stewart can keep hitting (not like they have the last three days, but at a reasonable level) the Rockies all of a sudden have a very dangerous lineup provided Iannetta and Tulowitzki can get rolling. Now that both will be healthy, I think that’s very possible. And the result is a Rockies team that will be fun to watch, even with contention completely out of the question.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

6/2/09 - COL 2, @ HOU 3 - "Inevitability"

In extra innings tonight, handing the ball to Josh Fogg for long relief was the rough equivalent of handing someone a gun and telling him, “Kill me, and make it quick.” Of course, Fogg actually getting through an inning and a third before the most inevitable walk-off home run the Rockies will allow this season (I was kind of hoping it would be Carlos Lee for selfish, fantasy team-related reasons) was the equivalent of Fogg loading the gun incorrectly and then grazing you with his first bullets before finally putting it all to an end.

***

The bottom line is this – we’re not wrong when we watch this Rockies team and think, “My God, this team can not catch a break.” We never get the benefit of a close two-strike pitch with two outs and runners on… it’s always strike three called. We never make the diving stab that saves the run late in the game – that’s always the other team, like when Matt freaking Kata robbed Dexter Fowler. Saturday night’s walk-off win was so much fun because that kind of thing just hasn’t happened to us – that blooper always gets caught, that ground ball never gets through, that comeback never materializes.

But the reason we aren’t wrong are because the Rockies aren’t any good, and a big part of not being any good is never getting those breaks when they count. It’s not a direct cause-effect relationship – if anything, it’s circular: the Rox can’t catch a break because they suck, because they can’t catch a break.

***

Was talking to my mom on the phone during tonight’s game when they showed the Rockies commercial about what players do to help out around the house. My mom commented that she’s not going to be letting Garrett Atkins hang any pictures in her home. I responded that that prop wall in the commercial was the only thing Atkins had hit hard all year. Yep, we zipped right past ‘pity’ on the How I Feel About Garrett Atkins Scale and have moved on to the stage where I’m calling him ‘the late Garrett Atkins’ in general conversation.

***

The frustration that is the Manny Corpas Experience continued tonight – he fanned Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman looking back to back to open the eighth with some of the nastiest stuff you can possibly throw. Then he got torched for back to back hits and had to battle to whiff Jason Michaels to end the inning. Manny, dude, you’re freaking GOOD when you’re trusting your stuff. Do it more often.

On a more positive bullpen note, Joel Peralta might not be terrible. That change-up looked fairly filthy tonight.

***

If Troy Tulowitzki has to go on the DL… I give up. You win, Angry Tulo-Hating Baseball Gods. I don’t know what the kid did to anger you so, but you’ve made your point.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

5/31/09 - COL 2, SD 5 - "Clint"

Figures that my last article is a piece about what a shame it is that the Rockies won’t fire Clint Hurdle, and then they do, only I can’t spare a moment to write about it until three games deep into the Jim Tracy Era.

There will be plenty to say about Tracy as a manager in the coming weeks and months, to be sure. The one that that will certainly be tested right away is the school of thought that a consistent everyday lineup is more conducive to success because it allows players to find a ‘comfort level’. Tracy’s lineup isn’t chiseled in stone, but he’s definitely writing in pen and not pencil – Clint Barmes is going to hit second, Troy Tulowitzki’s going to hit seventh, and Garrett Atkins is going to hit clean-up.

(Short aside: it’s a sad commentary on the way things have gone this season that Atkins’ 12-hopper through the middle to tie Saturday night’s game in the bottom of the ninth inning was perhaps the most ‘feel-good’ moment of the campaign, but damn if I couldn’t stop smiling and, well, feeling good for Atkins after the game had ended. He may be an offensive corpse, but he’s an offensive corpse in purple pinstripes, and for that, I want to see him hit as much as any player on the roster.)

We’ll see if Tracy’s laid back demeanor meshes better with this roster than Hurdle’s… laid back demeanor. We’ll see if Tracy’s tactical skills, which were frequently credited when he was managing in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, help get the Rockies out of their funk. A series win is a good place to start, but the Rox still need about nine more of them to get back to the .500 mark, so I’ll hold off on giving Tracy a Manager of the Year vote for now.

Like I said, there will be more on Tracy later. I want to write about the old boss first.

***

He sat in front of the media in a suit coat and tie, not the familiar pinstriped number 13, and said the same things he had said the past seven years: I will not back down from a challenge. I will never quit.

And it was Clint Hurdle’s refusal to do those things that resulted in this franchise’s finest hour, because if ever there was a challenge in the baseball managerial world, it was handling the Rockies teams of the mid-2000’s. They were teams with no designs on winning, the ultimate no-win situation for any manager, but Hurdle kept the ship steady. And eventually those Rockies grew up to win a pennant, and you can say what you will about 2007 in retrospect, but the fact remains that those players peaked in the crucible of a pennant chase, won 89 games, staged a phenomenal comeback in the greatest baseball game of this decade to make the playoffs, and roared through the National League postseason to earn a real, honest-to-God pennant that they’ll never take away no matter how far things have fallen in the aftermath.

But on the other hand, the list of active managers who have helmed a pennant winning team is longer than you might think: there’s Torre and Cox, Piniella and Maddon, LaRussa and Leyland, Francona and Guillen, Scioscia, Charlie Manuel, Bochy, Gaston, and Baker. Add Hurdle to the mix, and until Friday, 14 of the 30 MLB managers had won a pennant in their careers. It’s not the rarefied air you might have expected, meaning Hurdle was no more deserving of a free pass for the team’s underachievement since 2007 because of that shining season.

It’s hard to dance on Clint Hurdle’s grave, because he never went Jim Leyland on the Rockies and quit on them. He showed up and managed the way he always had. It delivered the expected results during the initial Gen-R years, and in 2007, it crested. But as we all expected the franchise to take the next step, it never happened, because Hurdle just wasn’t the personality, in the dugout or in the clubhouse, that would prove capable of steering the team over the next great hill.

So the emotions I felt as I watched the first three games of the Jim Tracy Era were not joyous. I couldn’t celebrate the firing of a good man, and Clint was and is most certainly that above all else. Mostly, there was this overwhelming feeling of unfamiliarity, not seeing Clint on the top step, chewing gum, wearing a stopwatch around his neck, bouncing a baseball up and down with the same nervous energy that I always have watching the Rockies play.

The disappointment of the last season and two months of Hurdle’s tenure is an unfair career eulogy for a man who gave 15 years to the organization. Eventually, when the Rockies have moved on down the road from the Hurdle years, I suspect I’ll only have one distinct memory of the fourth manager in Rockies history. I’ll remember him being interviewed after the final game of the 2007 World Series, after the Rocktober ride came to an end at the hands of a superior Red Sox squad. Then, as in his final press conference on Friday, Clint Hurdle straightened up in the face of hardship and heartache and told the world that he was proud of his team. That they never backed down from a challenge. That they never gave up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

5/28/09 - Off Day - "Malaise"

I woke up today convinced Clint Hurdle would be fired.

Went through my daily routine at work. Made the prediction on my morning sportscast. Headed to the golf course at 10, fully expecting a press conference to be underway by the time I walked off the final green.

Nothing. No press conference, no press release, no announcement, no managerial change. Still the same old status quo, where 18-28 and 14 games out of first place inspires nothing more than an ‘Oh, well, we’ll turn it around’.

And the sad part is that it’s not the least bit surprising, that the listlessness displayed by the Rockies organization during this train-wreck of a season doesn’t shock me in the least.

The organization seems to have no motivation to make things better, instead wishing that things will get better because there’s evidence that it can and will. In fairness, they aren’t completely wrong here – there are a lot of guys performing well below their career norms and/or potential, and I refuse to believe that this team is as bad as their current record suggests.

But this franchise has sat idly by while Garrett Atkins has gone 2-for-130 since April 10th and the bullpen has done enough damage late in games to be brought in front of a judge on arson charges and done the equivalent of wave a magic wand and hope things will become all better.

Want to know why I hadn’t posted on this blog for almost two weeks? Because malaise is contagious. It filters from the top down, from ownership who won’t fire their buddies in the front office and in the dugout, to the front office who hasn’t aggressively addressed any weaknesses since 2007, to a manager that keeps running out the same players and expecting different results in cases where that’s completely unwarranted, to a big league roster – and this is the saddest part – who can’t even be bothered to play proper fundamental baseball anymore and who lack the will to fight back in the face of adversity. And it’s even trickled down to this blogger.

The Rockies didn’t play yesterday, so they didn’t lose. But with every single day that this organization sends the message that their plan for success is to hope that 2007 magically happens all over again, we, the fan, lose every single day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

5/18/09 - COL 5, @ ATL 1 - "Grand Marquis"

Maybe I’m crazy, but you didn’t have to squint through purple-tinted glasses to see something resembling a good baseball team in the black vests tonight. The Rockies got great pitching and good defense. They practiced good situational hitting and manufactured runs. They ran the bases smartly. They got out to a lead, protected it, and added to it. They did those glorified ‘little things’ you have to do to win ballgames, and were rewarded appropriately.

But for God’s sake, it’s getting tired watching them play excellent baseball in game one of a series and thinking, “Hey, maybe this will get them on track to a winning streak, or maybe at least a win in the series,” and then watching them crap the bed the remainder of the series. And it’s already happened FIVE TIMES this season (twice in a two-game series, but still).

April 10-12: Win first game vs. PHI 10-4, lose next two 8-4 and 7-5 (bullpen melts down both games)
May 4-5: Win first game @ SD 9-6, lose the next day 2-1
May 6-7: Win first game v SF 11-1, lose the next day 8-3
May 12-14: Win first game v HOU 12-1, lose next two 15-11 and 5-3
May 15-17: Win first game @ PIT 3-1, lose next two 7-4 and 11-4

So forgive me if my hopes aren’t exactly skyrocketing right now. We’re well into the point of the season where the team is just bad until they prove otherwise.

***

Another trip on the Jason Marquis rollercoaster today, as after two bad starts, he induced four double plays tonight and held the Braves in check while the Rockies struggled to score runs in the first eight innings. A well-earned fifth win of the year for Marquis. Having Marquis pitching every five days is kinda like experiencing a Josh Fogg start, only with a little more confidence in a positive outcome and far worse facial hair. (Come on, who didn’t love the chops that Fogg rocked back in 06?)

***

Todd Helton got robbed of hit number 2,000 tonight, but I’d rather him get it with an absence of controversy. I’d like to see number 2,000 be a clean single between short and third or a booming double into the right-center field gap – something representative of the 1,999 hits that have come before it. When I try and think of reasons why I should continue watching this team on a nightly basis, watching Todd Helton hit is right up there with “Watching Troy Tulowitzki play shortstop” and “Because there’s nothing else to do in small-town Wyoming”.

***

I’m about a week and five more soft outs to the left side of the infield away from beginning to feel pity for Garrett Atkins.

***

I don’t mean to post only when the Rockies win. It’s just that there’s so little to say about this team’s losses anymore. I meant this blog to be an examination of what it was like to follow the Rockies, and I guess I’ve succeeded in the sense that losing just beats us down to the point where there’s nothing coherent to be said.

Friday, May 15, 2009

5/15/09 - COL 3, @ PIT 2 - "Justice"

A few observations from a satisfying victory:

1. I don’t have any managerial experience or anything, but I do know this: if you feel the need to pinch-hit for your cleanup hitter to lead off the ninth inning in a one-run game, then the guy you have hitting cleanup shouldn’t be hitting there. Pinch-hitting for the rotting corpse of Garrett Atkins ended up being the right move, as Ian Stewart’s double set the stage for Brad Hawpe’s game-winning two-run homer. It was the obvious move for Clint Hurdle, as Atkins had been 0-for-3 with two outs made with runners in scoring position. What should have been more obvious is that the .195 Atkins just doesn’t belong in a big league lineup right now. Hell, even the Red Sox have benched David Ortiz. It’s time for Atkins to ride some pine. And I don’t mean for a single ‘work day’ – I mean for a while.

2. If pitching coaches could hang up the pitchers they’ve worked with like paintings in a gallery, Bob Apodaca would definitely hang Jorge De La Rosa right out front. De La Rosa was in danger of not having a big league career anymore when the Rockies acquired him last year. Now, he’s arguably been the best Rockies starting pitcher for the last four months of baseball (Aug-Sept 08, Apr-May 09). He’s fanned 22 batters over the last 15 innings, while walking just one. He’s not going to pitch like Cy Young every time out, but I think it’s time to stop waiting for a shoe to drop and just enjoy De La Rosa as one of the finer lefties in the National League. (I’m not putting him on the Hamels-Santana tier, but he’s only a rung or two below that.)

3. Right now, it feels like Troy Tulowitzki is just so locked in that he’s daring opposing pitchers to throw strikes. I sure am glad I didn’t jump on the ‘Tulo is a bust’ bandwagon after a month of play this season.

4. Tonight’s win was JUSTICE. Terrible call in the 8th on that woulda-been sac fly that should have scored Seth Smith with the winning run. Just a brutal display of umpiring, and if the Rox would have lost because of it, let’s just say this blog would have been far more hostile tonight. (Kudos to Fox Sports Rocky Mountain for doing everything they could to put together a definitive replay of the play, which showed that the call had been blown.)

5. Ryan Spilborghs saved three runs with his glove tonight. Two of the best catches you’ll see all year.

6. Watching the Rockies has become kind of a laconic experience for me this year. With the team playing so poorly, I don’t get excited about good things or bummed out about bad things. I’ve become a passive viewer. But when Hawpe went deep, I think I synchronized my fist pump with his as he rounded first base. Any team can get red-hot for a day and win 12-2, like the Rockies have done. But if you’re coming from behind in the late innings to get wins, it shows fight, it shows guts, and it shows that this team hasn’t quit on itself just yet.

***

I might be the only person outside of the Rockies clubhouse to be bummed out about Glendon Rusch being waived today. Rusch was certainly not a very good pitcher, but his popularity in the locker room belied that. Most fans won’t miss a guy like Rusch once he’s gone. But when I watched Glendon, I saw a guy that so loved pitching that he came back from a life-threatening blood clot in his lung in 2006 to resume his career, no small feat for a guy who had only two seasons with an ERA+ over 100 at that point in his career. At only 34, with not much steam on his fastball and no great secondary pitch, we may have seen the last of Glendon Rusch in a big league uniform. That we saw him at all was a minor miracle and a testament to perseverance, as well as the value of throwing with your left hand. Put those two things together and you can play in the major leagues for a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

5/12/09 - COL 12, HOU 1 - "That's More Like It"

Here’s the best analogy I can conceive for the Rockies right now: they’re the underachieving high school student, the one with a brain in their heads that they’d just rather use to do things like make inappropriate jokes during lectures or devise classroom pranks. They seem perfectly content with doing only the bare minimum and hand in C-plus work on a regular basis. But every now and then, that student will turn in a paper that’s inspired, or apply themselves towards studying for a test, and produce A work. And the teacher calls that student in after that day in class, hands the student that A work, and says, “Now why can’t you do this more often?”

That’s what I ask after seemingly every Rockies win this season (hey, that’s two straight now), particularly one like tonight’s, where the Rox blasted four home runs and got brilliant pitching from Ubaldo Jimenez in a 12-1 victory over Houston.

They should all be so easy and stress-free. You watch Ian Stewart on a night like tonight and wonder why he can’t swing aggressively instead of defensively more often, as the aggressive approach resulted in a solo homer and a grand slam. You watch Jimenez and wonder how he ever gives up a run with his 99 mph fastball seemingly allergic to ash and maple. You watch Brad Hawpe drive in five runs and wonder what kind of numbers he could post if he could ever avoid those awful slumps he runs into every season.

You watch the Rockies on a night like tonight and wonder how they’re 13-18. And you wonder if it’s out of the realm of possibility to get back to .500 by month’s end.

***

Clint Hurdle got the ‘vote of confidence’ from both owners today. If the players really like playing for him, we’re about to find out.

***

Things That Annoy Me About Drew Goodman: Part II of a multi-part series

Goodman called Chris Iannetta’s fourth inning fly ball “long gone if it’s fair” just moments before Carlos Lee made a leaping catch in front of the wall in left field. Drew, you gotta know what “long gone” looks like by now, especially before you call it as such. Nothing’s worse than calling something a home run (and essentially, that’s what Goodman did) before it ends up dying on the track or getting robbed. But hey, at least he didn’t say the ball was ‘tatered’.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

5/10/09 - COL 3, FLA 2 - "More on Hurdle"

I don’t like writing articles like the one I wrote yesterday. I don’t like suggesting that people need to lose their jobs, particularly people I respect. But after a year and 6 weeks of waiting for the Rockies to show any sort of sign that Rocktober 2007 wasn’t anything more than the happiest accident in franchise history, I’ve reached the point where I feel like changes are necessary.

The thing about Clint Hurdle is that he’s always on this even keel – never too high after wins, never too low after losses. And the more I think about it, that’s why he was a good fit for the ‘Gen-R’ teams of 2004-2006. A steady manager like Hurdle could reassure the young players that were part of those teams that they didn’t need to put any pressure on themselves, that they weren’t in any danger of losing their jobs, and as long as they kept plugging away, good things would happen for them. In effect, the Rockies were non-contenders the moment they took the field in those three seasons (though 2006 was interesting into August, at least), so there were no expectations, and Hurdle handled it well.

Then came 2007… and you know something, I don’t know that any other manager could have gotten the Rockies through that 20-1 run to the NL Pennant any better than Clint Hurdle. Just as the 04-06 Hurdle helped the young Rox stay positive through loss after loss, the 07 Hurdle helped keep the clubhouse from combusting in the excitement of the frantic stretch run.

Under Clint Hurdle, every game is business as usual. That works in a rebuilding process. It worked in an improbable pennant race. But in the last two seasons, there have been real-live expectations for this team, and as the team has limped out of the gate in 2008 and now in 2009, the prevailing emotion from the manager remains the same. “We’ll be alright.” “We’re coming around.” “We’re not far away.” There’s no chance Hurdle’s going to go Howard Beale in “Network” and “Get mad, damn it! Get mad!”

Maybe Clint Hurdle’s right, and maybe the Rockies will hit a stretch where they play some really excellent baseball. Hell, the probabilities of a 162-game season practically demand it. In 2008, over the season’s final 98 games, the Rox were four games over .500 at 51-47. That’s a .520 clip, roughly an 84-win pace if sustained over 162 games. Not terrible by any means, and if the Rox had managed 84 wins last year through all the injury difficulties, I think most fans would have taken it. But if you go 23-41 over the first 64 games of the season – a 58-win pace – that finishing ‘kick’ doesn’t do a whole lot of good.

Through 30 games this season, the Rox are 12-18 – a 65-win pace. It’s not acceptable, and not good enough. The Rockies organization has two options. They can wait for Clint Hurdle to be right, or they can acknowledge that even if he is, it’s not terribly likely to get this team to where its talent level, on paper, suggests it belongs.

There are no sure bets. The Rox could fire Hurdle and get hot. They could not fire him and get hot (they did win today, after all). They could fire him and finish like crap. They could keep him and I could hang myself by June 30th when the team is 15 games out of first place.

We’ll keep coming back every day to find out, though, because, as Joaquin Andujar said, “Youneverknow.”

***

To the commenter who suggested Grady Little as a potential future Rockies manager: NO.

***

Matt Daley in the seventh, Alan Embree in the eighth, and Huston Street to finish things off today. I can dig it. Are we done freaking out when Street comes in the game yet?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

5/8/09 - COL 3, FLA 8 - "It's Time For Change"

I’m not rich by any means, but if I were, and I could buy the Colorado Rockies tomorrow, here’s the first thing I’d do. I’d call a press conference, step up to the podium, and read this prepared statement…

“Two years ago, we celebrated the finest season in the history of the Colorado Rockies organization. A thrilling stretch run resulted in our second ever playoff appearance, and our first ever National League Championship and trip to the World Series. We reached those heights with a youthful, home-grown roster. 14 of the 25 players on our World Series roster had been originally drafted or signed by us.

“Since that time, while our minor league system remains strong and fruitful, the product at the major league level has not progressed. Rather, we have taken steps backward. We were not contenders in our division in 2008, and at this moment, we are in very real danger of no longer being division contenders in 2009 as well.

“So while I make this announcement with a certain level of regret and sadness, I have determined that it is time for a change in this organization. Therefore, as of today, manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Dan O’Dowd have been relieved of their duties.

“I believe that you will find no finer men than Clint and Dan. They are man of character and integrity, and represented this organization in a manner that all fans could be proud of. Without these two men, the 2007 NL Champions banner you see above the clock on the left field scoreboard at Coors Field would not be there. I sincerely thank them for their service and wish them the very best in their future endeavors, baseball or otherwise.

“However, our fans demand, and deserve, a commitment to success. We believe that the pieces are in place for long-term success. Our farm system has produced the core of our team the last three seasons, and many more highly regarded prospects are making their mark on our six minor league affiliate clubs. Nine members of our Opening Day roster are 26 years of age or younger, and all are counted on to be long-term contributors.

“On-field success has eluded us. We currently sit at 11-17, an unacceptable record for a team with the talent level I believe exists on the roster. We are 8.5 games out of first place in the National League West. Most damaging of all, we have been unable to pull ourselves out of this early season malaise. We have not achieved any sort of consistency.

“I can not guarantee that these personnel decisions will turn the franchise around. But at this point, it is a chance worth taking. It is a chance we must take. When the status quo is no longer good enough, changes have to be made.

“As to who will fill these vacancies, Jim Tracy will be our interim manager and Bill Geivett will serve as interim general manager. However, I intend to go outside the current organization to make long-term hires for both positions. It is time for new ideas, new philosophies, and a new attitude. The future of Rockies baseball can still be as bright as we imagined it to be two years ago if the right stewards are put in place.”

***

Oh, yeah, and if I were in charge, I have no idea who I’d want to manage, but my first phone call would definitely go to somebody who has worked with either the A’s or Twins – organizations that work under the same financial parameters the Rockies must work under and have experienced success. Someone like, oh, Paul DePodesta, for instance.

***

And I don’t know if anybody’s really going to get fired. I do know it’s going to continue to be hard to watch this ballclub until at least Clint Hurdle does.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

5/7/09 - COL 3, SF 8 - "That Other Thing That Happened Today"

I’m not sure why, exactly, the Rockies insist on following up strong all-around performances by coming out and looking like crap the game after. This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled this, and I’d bet on it not being the last. The Rox were sluggish at the plate and in the field, and Jason Marquis showed his ugly side for the first time since donning the purple and silver. The 8-3 loss only looked as respectable as it did because Ian “Master of the Meaningless Homer” Stewart hit a two-run jack with two out in the ninth.

Other than that, it was a brutal game, one I’m glad I skipped to go play golf after work (I heard the first three innings on the radio and decided that was enough). So let’s not talk about it. Anything else happen in baseball today?

Oh. Right.

***

My biggest problem with steroids – my only problem with them, really – is that they’re against the law and against the rules. If you violate baseball’s drug policy, you’ve broken the rules in search for an advantage. By definition, you’re a cheater. So for anyone who wants to hang that label on Manny Ramirez for the sake of demonizing the man and discrediting his career with that label… well, you aren’t wrong.

Just make sure you’re an equal opportunity labeler in this case. Because it’s when I found out that I wasn’t that I lost any real outrage I had about steroids.

I couldn’t justify feeling anger and disgust about the steroid use of Barry Bonds if I barely cared about Rafael Betancourt, Alex Sanchez, Jorge Piedra, Michael Morse, or any of the other players who were getting suspended for the same violations. And for that matter, I couldn’t muster indignation about steroid users at all if I couldn’t do it for guys like Brian Moehler, who doctored the ball, or Albert Belle, who corked his bat.

I couldn’t chant ‘STER-OIDS’ at the likes of A-Rod or Bonds if I wasn’t going to give the same treatment to Ryan Franklin. And I wasn’t, because since steroids didn’t turn Ryan Franklin into a perennial All-Star, how could they have had a dramatic effect on the true greats of the game?

Steroids aren’t some magic elixir. They didn’t make Manny Ramirez one of the most fearsome hitters of his generation.

So I’m mad at Manny for breaking the rule. I’m disappointed in his ignorance of the illegality of the substance he allegedly took at best, his naked desire to cheat at worst.

(Hypothetical here: hCG, the substance Manny is alleged to have tested positive for, can be used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. If Manny’s having a little trouble… er, ‘being Manny’ in the nighttime hours, isn’t it feasible that he might ask for something that isn’t Viagra or Cialis or Levitra in order to avoid potential embarrassment that would come with being associated with those remedies? If you don’t think anyone would possibly consider that, ask Michael “Ron Mexico” Vick about his Valtrex prescription.)

Do I think Manny’s entire career as a baseball player has been discredited? In the absence of any evidence that A) he was using steroids his entire career, and B) steroids have a pronounced affect on production… no, I don’t. I’ll still be terrified seeing him at the plate when he faces the Rockies this year after his suspension ends. There’s no pill in the world to make that swing what it was, and is.

I’m not sad to see Manny suspended. I’m happy to see that the testing program works and that it punishes stupidity/cheating. But save the moral high ground for something more worthy. That’s all I ask.

***

Five Rockies I Am 100% Sure Never Used Steroids

1. Brian Bohanon
2. Walt Weiss
3. Ray King
4. Juan Pierre
5. Armando Reynoso

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5/6/09 - COL 11, SF 1 - "With Ease"

When the Rockies win, they don’t mess around. They knock the ball all over the lot, litter the inning-by-inning scoreboard with crooked numbers, and coast through the final few frames. The Rox have won games 9-2, 10-3, 9-6, 10-4, 12-7, and tonight, 11-1. This evidence of the team’s offensive potency is the most encouraging thing about this season; however, the fact that they’re just as capable of getting shackled by the Josh Geers of the world as they are of lighting up the Randy Johnsons of the world is the most frustrating.

Tonight was easy, a game that would inspire confidence if the 11-15 record hadn’t put a clamp on such feelings. Yeah, fine, we know you can hit. Some nights, you can even pitch, too – Ubaldo Jimenez was splendid for seven plus and even Manny Corpas turned in an excellent, stress-free ninth inning. But it’s getting a little tiring waiting for the twain to meet more often. Now we’re starting to ask, and not politely, that the team live up to the expectations it spends nights like tonight showing it deserves.

All in all, a fun night to watch baseball, seeing the lesser-lights of the Rockies offense (Torrealba, Barmes, Murton) spark a blowout victory behind the return of a dominant Jimenez. A good friend of mine who had gone to the game with his fiancĂ©e called me well before the game just to catch up and brag about being about the game. I can’t lie, it made me jealous. I miss being at the yard.

***

Greatest Redheads In Rockies History:
1. Aaron Cook
2. John Thompson
3. Matt Murton

***

Does this season feel like a throwback to the early part of this decade to you? The pitching’s erratic, and the hitter who looks best at the plate, and it’s not even close, is Todd Helton. His last at-bat tonight was a thing of beauty, as he worked Osiris Matos for a 14 pitch at-bat, fouling off enough two strikes pitches that Matos finally gave in and tossed up a cockshot down the middle, saying in effect, “Fine, dude, have this one.” To which Helton replied, “Cool, dude, I’m going to put this in the bullpen if that’s alright.” Which he did, for his third homer of the year. Helton’s hitting .340 and showing pop. He looks 28 again. And man, is it ever fun to watch.

Friday, May 1, 2009

5/1/09 - COL 2, @ SF 3 - "(Annoyed Grunt)"

Another damned one-run loss tonight. That’s six of them now in 21 games, with nary a win of our own by the smallest margin. If we go 0-fer on one-run ballgames this season, I’ll have an ulcer by June, be bald by July, and be dead by August.

But try as I might to be sullen and grumpy after losses, I still see too many positives. Ubaldo Jimenez finally looked like his old self tonight, although the crappy weather in San Francisco contributed to some wildness that cost him a crucial run in the third inning. Chris Iannetta went deep again, and although he and Troy Tulowitzki only had one hit apiece, they continue to look more comfortable at the plate. Matt Daley, the rookie, turned in a clean 8th inning and looked like he might be a guy that starts to see some more chances.

If Randy Johnson doesn’t turn in a vintage Big Unit performance – seven innings, four hits, no walks, nine Ks – it’s a different ballgame. But he beat the Rox tonight, beat them like the Hall of Famer he is, and you gotta tip your cap to him.

That’s baseball, beautiful and frustrating, often all at once, where you’d love to appreciate a turn-back-the-clock pitching performance by one of the greatest lefties of all time if only it wasn’t your favorite team’s ass that he was breaking it off in.

***

The Best Lefty Pitchers of All Time:

1. Lefty Grove
2. Warren Spahn
3. Randy Johnson
4. Sandy Koufax
5. Steve Carlton

***

Matt Daley kinda looks like Craig Kilborn, doesn’t he?

***

Manny Corpas was the first guy to get savaged on this blog, and I don’t intend to do that very often, but if Garrett Atkins doesn’t start driving the ball to the gaps and soon, he’s going to be next. Can we at least get him out of the cleanup spot while he struggles to find the semblance of hitting ability he’s shown before?

But he does have one more homer than Matt Holliday does this season. So there’s that. Speaking of the former Rockie, how bad would Holliday’s 2009 have to be before he called Dan O’Dowd himself and begged for that four-year, $72 million offer the Rox made him last winter? Whatever the answer is, I sense he’s on pace for that kind of season. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

4/29/09 - COL 7, SD 5 - "Redemption For a Day"

First, a thank you to my new audience and especially those of you who have left a comment. I sure appreciate you all coming by.

***

Today we spelled redemption A-A-R-O-N. And T-R-O-Y and C-H-R-I-S and H-U-S-T-O-N, for that matter. (And, hell, M-E-L-O too, as the Nuggets escaped the first round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since Mike Harkey was a Rockie.)

When your team is 7-12 sometimes all you’ve got to hang your hat on is the hope that some of your important players are severely underperforming. Of course, it helps if that’s actually true. And Aaron Cook, Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Iannetta and Huston Street, four important cogs in Denver’s hopes for contention, have ranged from frustrating to disappointing to awful in April. Cook and Street had scuffled, and Iannetta and Tulo were below the Mendoza Line.

Not all of these things changed in one fell swoop today, but it began to look like they actually could. Sometimes a track record isn’t enough – you’ve gotta have tangible evidence that guys are going to start playing good baseball. Well, at the dish, Tulo’s got three hits the last two nights, Iannetta had two hits today, including a homer that just about took down the Tornadough stand on the concourse. And on the hill, Cook’s sinker worked to the tune of seven strong innings, and Street fanned the side in by far his best outing in black and silver.

Sometimes you just have to have faith in guys. Give them the chance to reward it. It makes a win like today’s all the more satisfying when you add the feeling of knowing the worm would turn all along.

8-12 is the record for April, and it’s not good. Earlier this month I said that any win total below 9 would be distressing. But considering the way this month closed – with a homestand that easily could have been 6-0, with the lower half of the order starting to find itself, with the ace of the staff finally looking like it – there’s more reason for optimism with an 8-12 mark than I thought there would be. More importantly, as today’s game began I knew we were going to win it, an odd feeling of confidence considering the way this April unfolded, but a feeling of calm nonetheless, one that not even Matt Belisle could shake.

***

If the Denver Nuggets were a baseball team, here’s the lineup I imagine they’d feature:

1. Dahntay Jones, CF – a pest, and as such the perfect leadoff man
2. Anthony Carter, 2B – the Clint Barmes of the Nuggets
3. Carmelo Anthony, SS – smooth footwork, killer instinct
4. Kenyon Martin, 1B – the Nuggets version of Todd Helton, crafty veteran leader
5. Chris Andersen, LF – because you gotta have the Birdman
6. JR Smith, RF – the streaky home-run threat, Brad Hawpe in a tanktop and shorts
7. Nene, 3B – plenty of power, but he’d kinda be a disaster defensively, huh?
8. Linas Kleiza, C – solid talent but frustrating to watch
9. Chauncey Billups, P – he’s the guy you want with the ball in his hand, a true ace

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

4/28/09 - COL 3, SD 4 - "In Which I Give Up On Manny Corpas"

I try not to overreact to any one game, particularly not one April game. I try to keep a level head, an even keel. That will generally be reflected on this blog. I’m not going to log on five minutes after a game and write a post eviscerating a player or a coach. That’s not how I operate.

But one of the side effects of this particular M.O. is that when I rip a guy, you’ll know he deserves it.

With that in mind: I’m done with Manny Corpas. Done hoping the 2007 form will come back. Done envisioning him as a back-of-the-bullpen stud. Done watching his narrow ass give up an automatic run every time he takes the mound. I’m f*$#ing DONE with Manny Corpas.

He’s utterly incapable of having an easy inning. If the fate of mankind depended on a pitcher getting a strikeout, and I got to pick the pitcher, I would choose Jamie Moyer before I chose Corpas. I would choose Bob Feller before I chose Corpas, and he’s 90 years old. I would choose Smokey Joe Wood before I chose Corpas, and he’s dead. He’s got no gameplan on the mound except to fire towards the heart of the plate and pray the hitter doesn’t barrel it. He falls behind on hitters and has to give in with a nothing 92mph fastball that even David Eckstein can crush.

Closers are strikeout pitchers. The Rox don’t have a classic K guy in their bullpen, but at least Huston Street is close. Manny Corpas is the Panamanian Danny Kolb – hope those hard-hit balls find gloves, hope it happens over the course of an entire season, and profit. Corpas sure has. How shortsighted does that extension Corpas got after 2007 look now? Generally teams aren’t looking to give long-term deals to seventh-inning pitchers.

I would rather eat Rocky Mountain Oysters than watch Manny Corpas pitch the ninth inning in another close game this season. There is no hope for success with him that isn’t pinned entirely on the luck of the bounce. That’s not what great relievers are made of.

Don’t make me change the name of this blog to The Manny Corpas Experience. Please.

***

The Rockies Bullpen Hierarchy According to Me:

Closer: Street
8th inning: Grilli
7th inning: Embree/Daley
Middle relief: Corpas, but for the love of God, not in a one-run ballgame.
Long relief: Rusch
Mop-up: Belisle

Monday, April 27, 2009

4/27/09 - COL 12, SD 7 - "Unfounded Panic"

I had planned on doing some major channel-flipping tonight with the Nuggets tipping off a playoff game at the same time as the Rockies getting started against the Padres. While I’m not a big NBA fan, I still watch the Nuggets regularly, and a playoff basketball game takes precedence over an April baseball game.

There was a point in time where it looked like the night was about to go completely sour. The Nuggets had built a massive first-half lead, but there was a brief spurt in which the Hornets forced a few turnovers, made a couple of free throws, got the crowd back into the game and threatened to cut the Nuggets lead into the teens. (Considering that the Nugs had blown a 16-point first half lead and lost in Game Three, tonight’s lead didn’t feel safe.) At the same time, a seemingly innocuous third inning was turning into a disaster for Jason Hammel and the Rockies, as the Padres scored four times to take a 4-2 lead.

This whole span only lasted about two or three minutes, and yet I was legitimately worried. Worried despite the fact that there were 6 and a half innings of baseball left, and worried despite the fact that the Nuggets still led by 20 freaking points. (They would win by 58 freaking points, and I spent more of the fourth quarter watching the Rox.)

I do not know why I am conditioned to expect the worst, particularly since in general I consider myself the optimistic sort. Perhaps this is a common Denver sports fan condition – after all, the list of the city’s painful losses is greatest than their list of triumphs. Denver’s not Cleveland or Buffalo when it comes to misery by any means, but let’s just say there’s not any expectation of great success except where the Broncos are involved, and even those expectations have been significantly lowered recently during possibly the worst offseason that any NFL team has ever had. (As a Seahawks fan, I’d like to personally thank Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders for giving us a top-5 pick next year. Thanks for Sam Bradford, guys!)

Maybe I expect the worst because usually, with the Rockies and the Nuggets in the playoffs, that’s exactly what I get. Maybe one day I’ll feel good about a 20-point first half lead, or feel confident that a Rockies team can come back from two runs down in the third inning.

Those three minutes soon passed, though. The Nuggets took a 24 point halftime lead and the Rockies answered the Padres rally with four runs of their own in the bottom of the third. Neither team trailed again. It was a good, good night to be a Denver sports fan.

***

Dexter Fowler kinda looks like Omar from ‘The Wire’, doesn’t he?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

4/26/09 - COL 10, LA 4 - "Feel Good Win"

The most frustrating thing about the Rockies 6-11 start is that there’s no real good reason for it. There’s not any one thing that consistently is costing the Rockies games. They’ve just been… we’ll, they’ve played like they deserve this record, what with shoddy starting pitching, a porous pen, and a lineup that always seems to do just enough to get beat.

The second most frustrating thing about this start is that there’s no one simple solution for it. There’s no cure-all that will shoot the Rox like a rocket up the standings. The easiest way to start winning is to play better, all the way around – get better starting pitching, better at bats with runners in scoring position, more shutdown relief work.

It’s been hard to watch a talented Rockies team – more talented than 6-11, certainly – look unable to play better. I mean, let’s make no mistake – they deserve the record they have. But that’s a small consolation. 17 games in and the top of the rotation is a mess, the lower half of the order isn’t hitting, and there’s not one member of the relief corps that has us breathing easy when they come into the game in a tight game. If this were PlayStation, we’d have pressed the reset button on this season even before this weekend’s series against the Dodgers.

The Rox didn’t just need a win to get out of this funk. They needed a feel good win, one where everybody contributes and you can coast for the final few frames. They got that today against a Manny-less Dodger lineup that Jason Marquis, the Rockies ace through the first three weeks, stifled into the 8th. They got big blasts from the bottom (Barmes) and top (Spilly) of the order. Every Rockie got on base and scored a run.

It sure felt like a monkey off the back today. We’ll see if it can carry over into the San Francisco series starting tomorrow night – if the Rox can take 2 out of 3, well, it won’t be a total PS3-style reset, but it will restore some equilibrium and hopefully get the Rockies back to taking things one day at a time. God knows that was getting harder to do from a fan’s perspective – two four-game losing streaks this early into the season really puts you into that ‘Will we ever win another game?’ mindset something awful.

***

Things That Bother Me About Rockies TV Voice Drew Goodman: Part I of a multi-part series

Use of the word ‘tater’ as a verb to describe any deep fly ball to the outfield. A ‘tater’ is an accepted, if rarely used, slang term for a home run. That’s fine. But ‘to tater’, as in “Atkins taters this one to left” or “This ball is tatered to center”… this doesn’t work. Especially because sometimes, those ‘taters’ aren’t ‘taters’ but a simple ‘F7’ in the scorebook.

“Tatered to left… and caught a step shy of the warning track by Spilborghs.” That’s
not a tater, by its very definition.

Also, ‘tater’ isn’t a verb in the first freaking place.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

4/23/09 - Off - "Hitting Music"

Off Day list inspired by this posting over at Purple Row: The 10 Best Walkup Music Choices in Rockies History:

10. R. Kelly, “I’m A Flirt” (Troy Tulowitzki) – My theory is that Tulo couldn’t give a damn what music plays before he gets up and hits, so he tries to choose something that his teammates will get a kick out of. That would explain his choice of Britney Spears last season, and it sure would explain this selection. Anyway, Tulo belligerently singing this song in the locker room on local TV after the Rox clinched the pennant means it makes the list.

9. Staind, “For You” (Brian Fuentes) – Never mind that the lyrics of the song clearly describe a subject who hates their parents. The opening riff meant the game was over, and we’d never had a cool closer entrance before this one.

8. Gwen Stefani, “Sweet Escape” (Ryan Spilborghs) – Every time I hear Akon squealing “Whoo-hoo… WHEE-hoo!” I’m immediately transported back to 2007. That was a good year.

7. Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” (Chris Iannetta) – A fun, out-of-nowhere pick that actually sounds pretty good.

6. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, “El Matador” (Vinny Castilla) – Best foreign language entry, edging Manny Corpas’s use of Daddy Yankee. Bonus points for including the player’s nickname in the song.

5. Kid Rock, “Bawitdaba” (Todd Helton) – Yeah, it’s a trashy, strip-club metal song, but for the best years of Helton’s career, this song was the soundtrack.

4. Foo Fighters, “My Hero” (Jeff Cirillo) – Great opening riff, but in the late innings, if Cirillo came up in a big spot, they’d play the chorus instead – “There goes my hero…” I know he wasn’t that good, but it’s a great song.

3. 8 Ball & MJD, “You Don’t Want Drama” (Preston Wilson) – Shame he was hurt all of 2004, because this was his hitting music that year, and it was awesome. The best rap selection of all time, edging the one time Jack Cust strode to the plate to “Oh Boy” by Cam’ron.

2. Ozzy Osborne, “Crazy Train” (Larry Walker) – Need I say more? The only reason it isn’t number one is because…

1. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” (Dante Bichette) - …I LOVE Peter Gabriel, and I’m such a Bichette fan that I still own and wear a #10 home jersey. This was the perfect music for Bichette in his prime.

***

Here’s a scary thought I’ve been battling lately: what if Troy Tulowitzki’s already as good as he’s going to be?

This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I’ll still take his defensive skills over any shortstop in the National League. But as a hitter, I’m wondering if that .291/.359/.479/24/99 he threw up as a rookie was his peak, rather than a sign of things to come. Tulo’s out to a good start power-wise, with three homers in the first two weeks, but he’s striking out a ton (he and everyone else) and hitting just .196. He looks lost against sliders and still isn’t laying off the high fastball.

I think Tulo’s a hard enough worker that if there are correctable flaws in his game, he’ll correct them. His reputation as a baseball rat has preceded him since he was drafted. But over the last two seasons – the injury marred 2008 and this one so far – his approach at the plate has been concerning. And I think I tend to worry about Tulo because I believe this franchise is fated to go as he goes. The minute he stepped on the scene as a rookie, he had the feel of a Jeter-esque force of nature that could lead a team and put up All Star seasons. And I’ve hitched my hopes for the future of Rockies baseball to Tulo’s wagon, praying that the wagon wasn’t so flawed as to collapse under its weight.

At the very worst, Tulo’s an .750+ OPS hitter with Gold Glove caliber defense. That’s a good, valuable player. But for the Rockies to provide us with more Rocktober memories in years to come, Tulo’s got to be great. And like Tulo needs to lay off that hard slider from time to time, maybe I too have to show some patience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

4/21/09 - COL 9, @ ARI 6 - "Oh, What A Relief"

Maybe it was only a four game losing streak, but tally up the misery of Friday night’s blown lead, the agony of the weekend games, and the frustration of Monday night and, well, let’s just say it felt much longer. And when Franklin Morales walked off the mound before his third inning of work with an arm injury, and Glendon Rusch promptly gave back a 3-2 lead in a three-batter span, you could just feel that fifth straight loss coming. By the time it had gotten to 6-3… um, I had watched last night’s episode of 24 and was looking for something else on my DVR.

I wish I could say I went back to the game out of a strong faith in the Rox, but really I went back because I just happened to see Omar Quintanilla’s double in the sixth that set the Rockies up for what would eventually be the four-run inning that put them ahead for good. Yes, 12 games in and I’m already in ‘gotta see it to believe it’ territory with this team.

Well, I saw enough tonight to believe in. I saw Todd Helton get three hits, including a two-run BOMB off Jon Rauch that provided much-welcomed insurance in the 8th.

(When my dad and I discuss the Rockies, invariably we talk about Helton – long story short, I think he’s all set to hook up to the Juvenation Machine (TM Bill Simmons), and my dad thinks he’s toast. ‘His bat is sooo slowwww,” my dad will say. I plan on asking him how quick Todd’s stick looked on that homer – looked pretty damn quick to me. Anyway, in his last six games he’s 9-for-24 with two doubles and that homer. Spring training wasn’t a fluke. No way he doesn’t hit .300 this year.)

I saw Huston Street and Manny Corpas look like they haven’t collectively looked since the second game of this season. All Street did was move to the opposite side of the rubber, and it made him look unhittable. Corpas worked a fairly smooth ninth, with a two-out single by Mark Reynolds the lone blemish, and picked up his first save of the season.

Again – we Rockies fans KNOW this team’s talent level, or at least we like to think we do. But after stumbling out of the gates so bad, I’m back to the point where I need some proof. I did, after all, curl up into a ball when Alan Embree’s first pitch to Tony Clark went to the back stop and moved two runners into scoring position with one out in the 8th. Literally. I’m not kidding.

But Embree struck out Clark, got out of the jam without ceding any of the three-run lead. He did his job – the same job he’s done hundreds of times in his big league career, the same kind of steady work Corpas can do, that Street can do, that even Matt Belisle can do with his D-III caliber stuff.

And as soon as they re-prove to us those capabilities, we as fans will go back to wondering why they can’t do that every time out.

***

My Colorado Rockies Franken-pitcher (one attribute per pitcher):
1. Aaron Cook’s fastball
2. Jason Grilli’s slider
3. Ubaldo Jimenez’s changeup
4. Franklin Morales’s curve
5. Jason Marquis’ bat
6. Glendon Rusch’s disturbing lack of facial hair (some people NEED goatees. Rusch is one of them)

***

No TV tomorrow. This will drive me nuts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

4/20/09 - COL 3, @ ARI 6 - "At Least This One Was Close"

There’s 150 games left to discover what could be, but for now all we’ve got is what is: this team is horseshit.

***

Things I’d Rather Do Than Watch The Rockies Tomorrow Night, or Any Night When They’re In the Midst of a Streak Like This:

1. Watch any other baseball game
2. Watch the NBA Playoffs
3. Watch the NHL Playoffs
4. Watch an old Rockies game on my iTunes (I have all the playoff clinchers)
5. Play golf
6. Play pickup baseball (not that anybody ever does that anymore)
7. Play pickup hoops
8. Play PS3
9. Play Colecovision
10. Read a book
11. Write a book
12. Vacuum
13. Take a walk
14. Solve chemical equations, just for the hell of it (note: I hated Chemistry)
15. Pry my eyeballs out with a corkscrew

***

Things I’m Actually Going To Do Tomorrow Night:

1. Watch the Rockies game

Sunday, April 19, 2009

4/19/09 - COL 2, @ LA 14 - "Hey, At Least The Nuggets Won"

We’re going to be OK. I keep telling myself this.

Chris Iannetta’s not going to hit below .100 all year. Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins won’t hit their weight all year. Huston Street won’t give up a home run every single time he takes the mound. Aaron Cook’s sinker won’t be flat in every one of his starts. Matt Belisle’s not going to be on the team all season (actually, he should be gone by tomorrow night pending the recall of Franklin Morales).

More importantly, eventually the Rockies are going to play some teams that aren’t better than they are. They’ve been dealt a horrendous 11-game hand to start the year – eight games against last year’s dvision winners. The Dodgers are a better team than the Rockies by any objective measure, and they’re red-hot, and both of those things were evident this weekend. Eventually the Rox will get a chance to take a crack at the San Francisco’s and San Diego’s of the world, get a few wins, get some confidence back, and start playing like we all think they can play.

They’re going to be OK. I have to keep telling myself this, but there’s only so long I’ll actually believe it. Because even the most optimistic Rox fan – and I might be just that – can’t pretend they didn’t play like dog crap this weekend.

***

The Worst Pitchers I Have Ever Seen In a Rockies Uniform:
1. Denny Stark (somehow went 11-4 in his rookie year. I have no idea how this happened for a pitcher with a fastball that couldn’t get a speeding ticket on I-25 and no breaking stuff that was even remotely above average)
2. Scott Elarton (shame his arm had exploded by the time he got to Denver, because he had nothing on his fastball and actually looked afraid to throw strikes)
3. Matt Belisle (I saw two dozen guys at the Division III level during my time at DePauw University who had better stuff)
4. Zach Day (had one pitch, an 86 mph sinker that only occasionally sunk)
5. Greg Harris (you have to be a special kind of crappy to post a 6.60 ERA in 203.1 innings)
6. Mark Redman (he’d be higher on the list if not for his Rocktober ties – he got the win in Game 161, and pitched well to boot)
7. Livan Hernandez (he would have been better off just placing the ball on a tee for the hitters and setting up in a defensive position)
8. Mike Munoz (just could not throw a strike. My dad and I used to joke he should have come out of the bullpen to that “I’m Gonna Be (1000 Miles) song by The Proclaimers, only with different lyrics: “I would walk 500 guys and I will walk 500 more…”)
9. Mark Knudson (a 22.24 ERA in 5.2 innings deserves some mention, doesn’t it?)
10. Scott Karl (more like Hot Karl. I am extremely sorry I made that reference)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

4/17/07 - COL 3, @ LA 4 "Blame Game"

It’s little things that cost you baseball games. The tip of the webbing of the glove that deflects the grounder in the hole instead of stopping it dead. The half-step that decides a play at first base. The fraction off an inch off the plate that the 3-2 pitch hits.

And that’s why this game is so damn frustrating, and why every loss hurts so bad. Because, damn it, Mark Loretta had no business blooping that Jason Grilli slider into left field that scored the winning run, and that run had no business being on base in the first place if Clint Barmes is two steps to his left to field that grounder by Manny Ramirez earlier in the inning and turns it into the routine 4-6-3 double play it looked like off the bat.

One more centimeter of good wood, and Troy Tulowitzki rips Jonathan Broxton’s first pitch of the night into the gap and the Rockies get the lead back in the 8th.

An inch higher and ball four to Orlando Hudson is strike three, and maybe Matt Belisle is breathing a little easier in that seventh inning.

We can play the blame game all night if we want. But once a decision’s made, it’s made, and whether it’s a right one or not has nothing to do with the thought process and everything to do with the execution, and you can be made or broken on the margins. Tonight, the Rox broke.

And it absolutely sucks, and the panic button gets pulled out in earnest for the first time this season after another bullpen disaster (at least Huston Street looked good in the 8th), and it feels like you have to blame somebody – the pitchers, the manager, the offense – somebody, just to put a face on the defeat. Because it hurts too much to simply blame the game, because above all else that’s what you give your unconditional love to despite overwhelming evidence that it has no interest in loving you back.

The former Cy Young Award winning Dodger reliever Mike Marshall wrote a paper while in college titled “Baseball Is An Ass.” Isn’t it, though?

***

Players That Look Worse Than Clint Barmes At The Plate On A Consistent Basis:

1.

***

Even after all that above – the point of which, in case you’re unclear, is that sometimes you get unlucky in the game and there’s no sense in blaming those who the bum luck happens to – I still have absolutely no idea why Matt Belisle was the seventh-inning guy tonight, and I sincerely hope to never see that again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

4/15/09 - COL 5, @ CHI 2 - "Rockies 1, Limbaugh 0"

I’m a superstitious sort, as those of you who followed any of my old blogging already know and those of you who plan to follow this blog will find out. One of my superstitions is that if I happen to wear any Rockies gear – hat, shirt, jersey, whatever – and the team loses, I will make a point not to wear it until they win again. I wore my Troy Tulowitzki t-shirt jersey last Saturday, and the Rox got beat. So I’d gone without any purple and silver in the wardrobe since that day.

Today, I got home from work as the Rockies were leading the Cubs 5-1 in the 8th inning. I changed out of work clothes and threw on an old purple Rox t-shirt. As I went back to sit on my couch, I watched in horror as Huston Street gave up a home run, a walk, and a single in succession. (George Frazier theorized that he may have not been loose, or worse, that he may be injured.)

And that’s how it came to pass that I watched Jason Grilli record the final three outs of the game shirtless. (No, lady readers, that’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds.)

It was a good win, Street’s difficulties notwithstanding, as the Rockies got to Rich Harden early and got a big insurance run off a pinch-hit double by Dexter Fowler (who, I must confess, I’ve developed such a man-crush on that it’s slowly approaching ‘love that dare not speak its name’ territory. I’m that big a fan. I can’t wait to watch him for the next 10 years in the center garden at Coors.) Jason Marquis stuck it up the ass of every Cub fan that booed the guy for the crime of… I don’t know, not throwing a no-hitter every time he pitched? He’s not only been the Rox best starter thus far, but he’s got three hits and three RBI. Maybe he ought to start at second base on his off days.

***

Five Pitchers I Don’t Know How Anyone Gets A Hit Off Of, Ever:

1. Rich Harden
2. Roy Oswalt
3. Ubaldo Jimenez
4. Matt Cain
5. Felix Hernandez

***

Took a call on Tuesday afternoon at the office that really brightened my day. I work for a company that owns two radio stations in Worland, Wyoming. The AM station is our news/talk/sports station. When we aren’t airing sporting events – local high school, UW Cowboys, Denver Broncos and the Rockies – we carry talk programming, most of it politically oriented. As you can imagine in a state that’s as capital-r Red as Wyoming, all of that political talk is slanted rather to the right.

So in the afternoon – 10 to 1 local time – we carry Rush Limbaugh. Now I’m not writing this blog to talk politics, but even leaving those aside I’m not sure how anybody finds Limbaugh entertaining. His parody songs and advertisements are generally unfunny and always overplayed – for God’s sake, he runs one that makes fun of Ron Artest’s rap career. What is this, 2007?

But hey, the guy’s got a following. And one of his loyal fans (by the tone of his voice I’m guessing mid-40s, owns some farmland, and probably thinks President Obama isn’t from the United States) was surprised on Tuesday to hear Jeff Kingery and Jack Corrigan as the noon hour approached instead of his beloved Rush. (Not sure where the guy’s outrage was when we cut off the last half hour of Rush last Monday and Wednesday.) So he called the radio station. I picked up.

“Yeah, hi, who am I speaking to?”

“This is Dan. How can I help you?”

“Yeah, I wanna know what happened to the Rush program?”

I’m already excited about this conversation.

“We are carrying Rockies baseball this afternoon!” I say, as chipper as I can possibly be.

“Are you kidding me?” He says this as though I’ve taken his car away, not his favorite talk show.

“No sir, I’m not.”

“You mean to tell me more people in Worland care about some baseball game (imagine contempt dripping from his voice as though baseball were a thoroughly unworthy pursuit) than care about Rush?”

I bite my lip to keep from laughing. You see, I know this to be true. Whenever we have satellite trouble and lose the Rockies broadcast feed, we get MULTIPLE calls wondering where the game is. When we carry an early-season Broncos game in lieu of the Rockies – again, multiple calls. The only time I’ve heard of anyone calling to complain about Limbaugh being preempted was during the high school basketball regional tournament, when an afternoon Worland Warrior basketball game prompted a caller to tell us “I don’t think high school sports are as important as what Rush has to say.” (That guy is lucky I didn’t take his call. Lucky anybody in town didn’t take that call, either – Warrior athletics are a BIG deal.)

But, not wanting to sound like a total jackass, I just say, “Well, sir, you’re the only call of complaint we’ve had. We have aired Rockies baseball for quite some time on our air and we’re excited to carry all 162 games this season!” Again, really laying on the enthusiasm as thick as I can.

The caller mutters, “Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Well, thanks for nothing.”

“Enjoy the game!” I said as he hung up.

So, to conclude – even in Worland, a town that might be unable to field a Legion baseball team this year due to lack of interest, baseball takes precedence over punditry. Makes me proud to be an American, where at least I know the game is on the air.

Monday, April 13, 2009

4/13/09 - COL 0, @ CHI 4 - "Nick, Harry, and The Bird"

The Rockies stunk today, so there’s not a whole lot about the game I really care to talk about. It’s embarrassing to get one-hit, and the Rox were extremely lucky that wasn’t a 10-0 loss with all the runners the Cubs left stranded. But again, as with the Phillies series this past weekend, the Rox are playing against a better team and have to play really good baseball to win. Throwing away an inning-ending double play ball, walking nine hitters, and only getting one goddamned hit (with a tip of the cap to Harry Doyle)? Not good baseball.

Tomorrow’s an off day, and already it seems the Rox could use it – a mental health day of sorts, to get their bats back on the right track. After what happened today – and what’s happened this past week – it seems all of baseball could use a mental health day. Regardless of what your team’s done on the field, this baseball season has been blackened by off-field tragedy.

***

I didn’t know what to say about the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart when it happened. I’m always affected far more than I feel like I should be when a professional athlete dies in the midst of their career. The fact that Adenhart was coming off the best outing of his young career made it all the sadder – it only highlighted just how special a talent he was. When talent like that is struck down, it’s all of baseball’s loss.

But then I noticed his birthdate on his Baseball-Reference player page: August 24, 1986. I was born just under one month later.

Nick Adenhart and I, I’d imagine, didn’t have a great deal in common – not a hometown, certainly not a fastball. But it’s not hard to look at Adenhart – and other players of his age and mine coming through the big leagues – and see a part of myself, growing up at the same time and dreaming the same dreams, wanting nothing more than to play baseball my whole life.

Nothing confronts me with mortality more aggressively than the death of a young athlete – the ones who carry the torch for me and a thousand other dreamers, the ones who seem untouchable. If they – the chosen few, the luckiest – can see their life ended far before their times, then…

***

In college I would amuse my friends in the sports department at the radio station with the only two broadcaster impressions I could do. One was Howard Cosell. The other was Harry Kalas.

I mean… how could you not love Kalas, the voice of the Phillies, NFL Films, the Puppy Bowl, Chunky Soup, and many other things that were enriched by his one-of-a-kind voice? Voices like his are the ones that constantly fill me with both the self-doubt that I’ll ever be even a fraction as good and the inspiration to strive for those heights in the business.

Harry Kalas died in the broadcast booth before a game today. Shane Victorino pointed to the booth in his honor after hitting a home run in the fourth inning. Maybe it’s insensitive to say it, but that’s certainly a way I’d want to leave this Earth, and a more humbling tribute from your beloved team I could not imagine. Every broadcaster should be so lucky.

***

I wasn’t alive in 1976, but had I been, I have to think I would have LOVED Mark Fidrych. I certainly loved to read about him, and hear stories about how he was so beloved at Tiger Stadium that he couldn’t leave the ballpark without doing laps around the field to acknowledge the screaming masses. Every Fidrych start was a Jonas Brothers concert on a diamond, transforming Detroit baseball fans to giddy pre-teens.

There was a certain tragedy about Fidrych’s career, of course – after that supernova of a season in 1976, he battled injuries and was never the same, leaving the bigs for good after 1980. But by all accounts, ‘The Bird’ was the least affected by the premature end to his career. He took the ride as long as he could and got every last drop of joy that he could from the game. When it was over, it was over.

By all accounts, Nick Adenhart, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych were great men, period, not just great baseball men. Baseball needs all the people like them that they can get, and in a five day span baseball lost all three. It’s the sort of cruel injustice that trivializes things like the size of the strike zone in this afternoon’s Rockies game.

I hope by Wednesday I’m ready to get back to caring how the Rockies do. Today, I can’t say I did.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

4/12/09 - COL 5, PHI 7 - "Even Keel"

I had just begun decelerating as the stretch of Wyoming highway became the main street of my town when Matt Stairs turned on a low fastball from Huston Street and hit it halfway to Broomfield, completing a Phillies comeback that sent the Rockies to a heartbreaking 7-5 loss. Listening to it on the radio, I reacted as I imagine most of you did – a few choice words directed at the Rockies new closer. They’re the first, but they surely won’t be the last if the amount of verbal abuse I directed at the on-screen image of Brian Fuentes for the previous four seasons is any indication.

Once I got out of my car, I got a text. It was a very good friend of mine: “Color me concerned about the Rockies bullpen.”

And here’s where this very strange instinct I have as a fan kicks in. I don’t mind being upset about a loss, or angry at the players who caused it (and make no mistake, this loss is on Manny Corpas and Street for giving up the tying and losing gopher balls). But when other people are upset, I have a tendency to try and talk them down off the ledge a little bit. If baseball’s taught me anything, it’s to never get too high on a single success or too low on a single failure.

My response to my buddy’s text: “After six games?” Were the 162-game grind expressed as one single game, we’re still in the top of the first. There’s a lot of ballgame left, so to speak.

My buddy’s reply was to ask, “Does Street look like a closer to you?”

Well, he sure looked like one with the A’s, and before that at the University of Texas. And he damn sure looked like one in the second game of this season, in which he picked up his first Rockies save. But that doesn’t all fit in a text window, and it’s a pretty smart-assed reply besides.

Street, and Corpas for that matter, have never fit the profile of the ideal closer. When you think great closers, you think swaggering flamethrowers with well over a strikeout per inning. The aforementioned Fuentes is about as close as the Rockies have ever been to having one of those guys at the back end of the bullpen. Street does have a career K/9 ratio of 9.1, far beyond Corpas’s 6.4. This is one of the biggest reasons I prefer Street at the back of the pen. In the ninth inning of a one-run game, you don’t want the other team to even pick up the scent of a possible rally. The best way to keep guys off the bases is to keep them from putting it in play entirely, and all things being equal, Street is going to do that more often than Corpas will, although still not often enough to provide the comfort that a Papelbon or Lidge provide in the final frame.

That doesn’t fit in a text window, either. So I replied “Neither Street or Corpas are big K guys. When they get beat, it’ll be ugly. But Street has a track record. He’ll be fine.”

This seemed to satiate my friend, as I didn’t hear back. Well, that or he thought I was full of crap.

The Rox lost two of three to a better team. It could have been the other way around with a little better relief pitching (well, that and a little offense past the early innings), but at this early juncture of the season you shake it off and go try and get the Cubbies at Wrigley. Lot of ballgame left, after all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

4/12/09 - COL 4, PHI 8 - "In Absentia"

There are 162 Rockies games in a season, and it’s unreasonable to expect to get to watch them all live. Life intervenes, after all. Sometimes, other things take precedence. But there’s still a certain helplessness that I feel every time the Rox are on and I’m otherwise occupied. I think it’s because the Rockies are a part of my daily routine from April through September/October, and I’m always uneasy whenever my routine is shaken.

When I had internet on my phone, I would check a score roughly 137 times each game, the number only varying based on how appropriate it was to use a phone at the time. But now that I don’t have that option, when in a social setting I have to do my best to fight the temptation to text “Got a Rox score?” to a friend or walk through the bar area of a restaurant to try and see the score on ESPN’s bottom line.

Tonight was one of those nights – in a strange town, at a house that wasn’t receiving the game (thanks, Bresnan Cable!), at a restaurant that wasn’t showing the game. MLB’s Gameday took me through the first four innings, but as Jorge de la Rosa imploded in the fifth inning and the Rockies bullpen made things worse drip by drip in what would become an 8-4 loss, I tried to pretend it wasn’t bothering me that the only chance I had to see a score was to squint at the TV every five minutes.

After yesterday’s home opening thumping of reigning World Series MVP Cole Hamels and the Phillies, optimism abounded, and had I had an internet connection I’d have joined the chorus of voices telling all of you readers, “Hey, the Rockies are going to be good.” And they are. Maybe not great, maybe not a playoff team, but a good team, one who will win more than they lose as long as they get passable starting pitching and execute as they have thus far with runners in scoring position.

Today’s loss shouldn’t dampen that enthusiasm for the 09 Rox in the slightest, just like yesterday’s win really shouldn’t have increased it as much as it seemed to. The Rockies could only manage four hits, although three of them were long balls, including another one from Troy Tulowitzki, who really seems bound and determined to eclipse the 24 jacks he hit in his rookie season.

But pitching doomed the Rockies on this night. Jorge de la Rosa was cruising until Garrett Atkins couldn’t make a throw on a hot smash by Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the third inning. This is where de la Rosa frustrates – faced with adversity, he has an unfortunate tendency to shrink from the occasion rather than rise to it. Three batters later, Ryan Howard was clearing the bases with a mammoth double to center. De la Rosa had similar trouble getting out of an inning in the fifth, and gave up a two-run triple that ended up providing Philly’s winning run.

Many of the stories surrounding the 09 Rockies are dealing with a renewed mental toughness. If de la Rosa ever gets that memo, he could be a very important part of the rotation.