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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Rocktober Rocks On!

I was wrong.

As September dawned more and more co-workers, acquaintances, and family members posed the question to me as to whether the Rockies would make the playoffs. Being the realistic analyst type guy I am I assured them that given the unbalanced schedule and the number of teams that the Rockies would have to jump over, that it was virtually impossible. Even as September 15th dawned I distinctly recall a co-worker cornering me in the break room and with a hopeful expression, asking whether the Rockies could still pull it off. I said something about them having to win 10 of 11 or 11 of 12 just to have a shot while knowing that wasn't going to happen and feeling good about myself for letting him down easy.

As Nate Silver has written, when the Rockies stood at 77-72 their odds of reaching the playoffs using BP's post season odds report was in fact 1.82% or 54:1. That marked the third most unlikely comeback with 20 or fewer games to play in history behind only the 1964 Cardinals (1.26% with 13 games to play) and the 1934 Cardinals (1.16% with 15 to play). He also points out that their odds were at 1.46% when their record stood at 18-27 on May 21st and was only 4.4% after their loss to the Diamondbacks on September 28th (I wrote a retrospective on the Rockies season at BP you might want to check out). In fact, Silver notes that what's so impressive about the Rockies season is that "they were never, not for one day, greater than even-money to make the playoffs until they actually did."

In accord with that simulation, from a historical perspective, through 2006 there were 988 teams that found themselves with an 18-27 record or worse at some point in the season and only 13 of those (1.3%) had reached postseason play.

So given the long odds and history I don't feel too bad about trying to be realistic but next time I'll be a little more humble.

With all that in mind I headed to Coors Field as a fan to take in only the third home playoff game in Rockies history and the first postseason game I had ever attended. I arrived early and stood in line with the faithful outside of gate A waiting for the gates to open two hours prior to game time. It had been a warm and windy day in Denver and was still over 75 degrees with warms winds from the south west as we made our way into the ballpark.

The Phillies were on the field taking batting practice and so I made my way into the left field stands to watch the mad rush for homerun balls. With the wind gusting out to left center Jayson Werth put on a show hitting several balls onto the concourse and showing the fans in straight-away left with souvenirs. The Phillies starters including Cole Hamels had fun with the fans, teasing them by pretending to throw balls into the stands before actually giving them away. In one kind of funny scene several of them started to imitate the motion of throwing a pitch left-handed and then slamming their glove on the ground and I couldn't help thinking that they were reenacting Ted Lilly's reaction in game two against the Diamondbacks after he gave up a homerun to Chris Young in the second inning. During all of this a young boy standing a few feet from me, who was sporting a glove, got hit with a ball in the head and was rewarded for his lack of attention with another ball from a Phillies pitcher before being checked out by the medical staff.

Being in the vicinity I had to snap this picture of the row of seats behind the left field fence to provide some perspective on the ball that Garrett Atkins hit in the one-game playoff that likely hit one of the chairs and bounced back onto the field. Although it happened at an inopportune time from the Rockies perspective a ricochet like that is not unheard of and I believe it was the second or third time a homerun was in question this season.

In any case, after standing in a really long line for patty melt and a Coke I headed up to my seat in the mezzanine level of the right field stands to enjoy the pregame activities which included the introductions, the releasing of balloons, and the national anthem. While in line for the Coke I was reminded of how some "fans" have little actual knowledge of the game. One of the two men behind me turned to the other and expressed surprise that the Rockies had to win just one series in order to be in "the semifinals" while the other assured him that in baseball, unlike some other sports, teams are rewarded for their regular season record.

Shortly after I took my seat three or four loud and obnoxious Phillies fans ensconced themselves directly behind me. While at first they were rooting for their team, things quickly turned ugly in the second inning and the guy sitting next to me got into an altercation with one of them resulting in a shove. Predictably the police arrived in our section shortly thereafter and escorted one of the Philly faithful away. However, the Phils fan returned an inning later and all seemed to be squared away as the guy next to me bought him a beer (not a good idea as it turned out).

In the meantime the game had started and Ubaldo Jimenez had his electric stuff. In the midst of giving up a walk and hit in the top of the first he struck out the side. The last strikeout of Aaron Rowand consisted of three sliders thrown 86.4, 86.4 and 87.1 mph as shown below.

In the top of the second, after the first pitch to Chase Utley all of the banks of stadium lights went dark. The scoreboard was still operational and so there was plenty of light to see by. All told it took 14 minutes for the "computer glitch" to be resolved and the lights to fully come back on and play to resume.

Jimenez would work six and a third innings, give up three hits and four walks. His fastest pitch of the night was recorded at 98.3 miles per hour to Ryan Howard in the first inning, a pitch Howard was jammed on but would fight off for a bloop single to right. PITCHf/x recorded 95 of his pitches, 57 fastballs averaging 94.5 mph, five changeups averaging 85 mph, 15 curveballs at 73.5 mph, and 18 sliders at 84.9 mph. His only mistake was an 82 mile per hour changeup (correction: Yorvit Torrealba says it was a slider which points out the difficulty in pitch classification on occasion using PITCHf/x) he left out and over the plate to Shane Victorino (shown below from the hitter's perspective) with one out in the top of the seventh. Victorino got ahold of it and hit it into the right field stands just below the section in which I was sitting.

The weather was also a factor as about 10 minutes before game time the wind shifted, now blowing in from left-center, with a distinct chill in the air. Although the game time temperature was reported at 73 degrees, by game time it was probably already in the mid 60s and dropping. In the bottom of the second (by then 56 degrees with the wind howling) Atkins got a hold of a Jamie Moyer curveball that was down and in and lifted a high fly to left field. Forty-five minutes earlier, or even on a typical night, that ball would have been several rows deep in the stands. As it was Pat Burrell was able to catch it on the warning track. From there the temps dropped and the wind continued to gust from 15 to 20 miles per hour through most of the first five innings or so. Later in the game the winds died down and temps stabilized.

Throughout the game the Phils fans behind me kept up their cheering but things turned uglier in the seventh. Having obviously had too much beer and prodded on by some obnoxious Rockies rooters sitting somewhere behind them throwing peanut shells, more words were exchanged complete with foul-mouthed name calling. Once again the police were summoned and this time two of the Phils fans were escorted out not to return. As if this weren't enough there was an additional flare up and the final fan (a woman no less who I would expect would be more civilized) was also escorted out. Having cleansed the section, the Rockies fans seem somewhat pleased and the remainder of the game was uneventful from that perspective.

It's a shame that the family sitting behind me with two boys aged four or five had to endure this silliness. As all of this unfolded I remembered just why it was that I stopped sitting in the outfield stands at Kauffman Stadium with my daughters in tow. It almost never fails that one or more fans ruins the experience through excess drinking. It's not politically correct but in my experience that kind of behavior is rare in the more expensive seats and it's worth it to me to pay $10 or $15 extra bucks to have a positive family experience.

This too reminded me of the only game I ever attended at old Tiger Stadium. It was in the early 1980s with the White Sox in town and my brother and father and me sat in the left field stands. The liquored-up fans in the center field bleachers had quite a time hitting beach balls, throwing food and beer, and trying to pelt White Sox centerfield Rudy Law with objects forcing him to run into the dugout and emerge with a batting helmet. After several fights the police were called and ended up arresting quite a number of people. Our family was on vacation and I recall my mother feigning concern when we returned to the hotel that we weren't some of the many being held in the clink.

Of course, the crucial moments of a game that was tense from start to finish occurred in the bottom of the eighth when with two outs Atkins singled on a line drive to left field and Brad Hawpe hit a ball between Howard and Chase Utley, which Utley knocked down, but that scooted away for a hit sending Atkins to third. Both hits were off LOOGY J.C. Romero and after a conference on the mound, surprisingly Charlie Manual chose to stick with the lefty against pinch hitter Jeff Baker when he had righty Brett Myers in the pen. Seemingly, Myers was the obvious choice given Baker's .205/.267/.289 line against right-handers as opposed to .246/.333/.426 against southpaws. But Manuel didn't make the move and with the white towels given out before the game waving madly, Baker hit a 91.5 mph fastball through the hole between first and second to deliver the biggest hit in Rockies history.

Despite Clint Hurdle using Brian Fuentes, in my opinion needlessly on Thursday afternoon, he came in and pitched a perfect eighth inning striking out Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell before Manny Corpas came on and closed the game in the ninth.

When Victorino grounded to Kaz Matsui (whose triple past Burrell on a Moyer curveball in the fifth inning plated the first run) for the final out pandemonium is the only way to describe it. Fireworks, chanting, and high-fives all around went on for quite some time with several players emerging from the clubhouse to shower the fans with champagne. After about 30 minutes I slipped out with the celebration still in full swing and headed home. A well-played game, an exciting game, and a night to remember for Rockies fans. As for me, besides being at Wrigley Field for a clinching game (alas I heard the listened to the end of the sweep completed just before game time on the radio I brought), I can't think of any better outcome for my first postseason experience.


Anonymous said...

Great recounting of the game, Dan. We've been rooting for the Rox from here in KC.

Too bad the Cubbies couldn't hold up their end of the bargain!

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