Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dead End Street; Rockies Blow Two Run Lead In Ninth

Rocktober wasn’t supposed to be over before the middle of the month. The team that seemed to be carried by destiny for four months was suddenly staring at four months of off season. After carrying a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning, closer Huston Street faltered for the second time in as many days.

In a season full of irony, where twists and turns both in the games and in the standings were commonplace, it may have been fitting that the season finished with one of the most unexpected shifts.

Street, acquired in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the Oakland A’s eleven months ago to the day, had been the most steady member of the Rockies roster for the entire season. After struggling early, Street quickly found himself and once again became one of the top closers in baseball, converting in 35 out of 37 opportunities. He was so good that the Rockies lost just one game all year in which they led going into the ninth inning.

One night after failing to nail down the Phillies in the ninth inning, Street once again strolled to the mound, only this time with a two run lead.

The Rockies had rallied in the bottom half of the eighth inning, capped by yet another heroic hit off the bat of Yorvit Torrealba that plated two runs.

But Street could not finish the Phillies off. After striking out pinch hitter Greg Dobbs, Street had a lengthy at bat with Jimmy Rollins, who, just like the previous night, hit a ball up the middle for a base hit. After retiring Shane Victorino, Street ran into trouble. Instead of pounding the strike zone, he began to nibble with Chase Utley at the plate. The problem is that Utley has a Todd Helton-like sense of the strike zone. After being one strike away from heading back to Philadelphia, Street walked Utley, which brought Ryan Howard to the plate. Howard stroked a pitch to right field that landed on the warning track, good enough to tie the game and land him on second base. Jayson Werth, who punched his certified ticket as a Rockie-killer in this series, then blooped a ball in front of Dexter Fowler, scoring Howard and giving the lead back to the Phillies.

Despite a rally in the ninth inning, embattled Phillies closer and Denver native Brad Lidge got Troy Tulowitzki to strike out with the tying run at second base, putting the Phillies back in the NLCS to play the Dodgers for the second consecutive season.

The game was a roller coaster of emotions. After being dominated by Cliff Lee the Rockies found a way to command the game, then gave it right back and were forced to watch the Phillies celebrate.

While the season coming to an end comes with mixed emotions, it is easy to forget where this team came from. The loss is by no means what any fan was hoping for, but the fact that this Rockies team found its way to the playoffs defied all odds.

On June 3rd the Rockies were the second worst team in the league, sitting just two games ahead of the Washington Nationals. They had just fired their manager and were looking like a team ready to off load some salaries and cruise into a fourth place finish.

Instead, the Rockies put together an incredible run that included an 18 game stretch in which the Rockies won 17. Their starting pitching found itself, and a rebuilt bullpen was learning their rolls. What happened was the Colorado Rockies became a team. They learned to play with each other, fighting to accomplish one team goal. For two months they had been playing as if winning the game depended on each individual person. It was fun to watch and it was a lesson for anyone who paid attention.

The run in 2009 was the second history-defying run in team history, the first of course, coming in 2007. This time was different though. This was not a run that came so late that it required winning 14-out of -15 just to get in. This was a more sustained run. This run gave the franchise its first taste of a complete season. It was the first time that the Rockies had ever held a lead in the Wild Card race after June without it being the last day of the season.

Before Rockies fan’s eyes, players like Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez grew into dominant Major League Baseball players. Future Hall-of-Famer Todd Helton reached two more milestones in his incredible career, getting his 2000th hit and hitting his 500th career double.

It was a season that despite a stomach-churning loss to close the book, was a good story. It was a season that will have Rockies fans looking forward to what will be an exciting 2010, one in which they have proven they are talented enough to compete for their first ever National League West title.

For now, however, Rockies fans must endure the long, cold off season that accompanies being a baseball fan. Spring Training does not begin until the middle of February and the first pitch of the season will not be until early April. During that time Rockies fans will most likely say their goodbyes to Jason Marquis, Ryan Spilborghs, Brad Hawpe, Omar Quintanilla, and possibly Huston Street.

Players that fans have made lasting impacts are hard for fans to watch leave, but off seasons are consistent reminders of the fact that baseball is a business, and emotions must be left at the door. And when a fan-favorite does leave, another piece of the 2009 season will go with that player.

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