Rockies clinch playoff spot, NL West within reach
AP Sports Writer
DENVER, Colorado – It’s a Rocktober redux for the Colorado Rockies, who are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
Aaron Cook pitched four-hit ball over eight spectacular innings in his second start since missing a month with a sore shoulder, and Garrett Atkins drove in three runs for the Rockies in a 9-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
The Rockies’ fourth straight victory eliminated Atlanta, their final pursuer, from contention for the NL wild card. Colorado can still catch the Dodgers for the NL West title if the Rockies sweep a weekend series in Los Angeles.
“We’re in,” Troy Tulowitzki said. “Anything can happen once you’re in.”
The Dodgers, who have lost four straight, were off Thursday and watched their division lead over the Rockies get sliced to two games with three left.
As the Rockies rejoiced behind the mound after the final out, fans broke into a chant of “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!” while fireworks crackled through a cloudless sky.
“We’re celebrating right now. We’ll worry about that tomorrow,” Todd Helton said as his teammates sprayed him with beer and champagne.
On the other side of the clubhouse, manager Jim Tracy was getting soaked by players serenading him with “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas.
A bundled-up crowd of more than 38,000 sat through blustery winds on a 50-degree day to watch the record-setting win. At 91-58, the Rockies set a franchise mark for wins in a season and moved 23 games over .500 for the first time in their 17-year history.
Unlike two years ago, when they got hot at the right time, winning 21 of 22 on their way to their only World Series appearance, these Rockies simply got good.
After trading slugger Matt Holliday last fall for closer Huston Street and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies got off to a stumbling start. They were 18-28 on May 29 when Tracy took over after general manager Dan O’Dowd fired longtime manager Clint Hurdle.
When O’Dowd offered Tracy the job, he told him, “I just want to see them play better.”
Tracy asked for 60 minutes to mull the offer.
O’Dowd said he’d gladly give him an hour’s time to think about it but not a minute more because he needed a manager in the dugout that night after firing Hurdle following a stint of seven-plus seasons.
Tracy talked it over with his wife and told O’Dowd he thought the Rockies could indeed play better under his tutelage.
Have they ever.
Under Tracy, the Rockies are 73-40, and they took over sole possession of the lead in the wild-card race, which they trailed by 91/2 games at midsummer, on Sept. 1.
The Rockies, who were 12 games under .500 on June 3, turned their season around and rejoined the pennant race with sensational starting pitching (they’re the only team with five starters with double-digit wins), a brilliant bullpen, a mixture of clutch situational and power hitting and deft managerial and front office moves.
The Rockies reached the playoffs as the NL wild card in 1995 and 2007, when they went an unfathomable 21-1 during a stunning run-up to the World Series, where they were swept by Boston after a weeklong layoff.
“It’s not been as crazy a ride coming down the stretch but it’s been just as fun,” Cook said. “So, we’re going to enjoy it just as much.”
After whittling their magic number to one on Wednesday night, the Rockies took a quick 1-0 lead Thursday when Atkins’ first-inning blooper fell in front of left fielder Ryan Braun for a single, allowing Helton to score from second.
They chased left-hander Manny Parra (11-11) with a four-run third.
Atkins, who lost his starting third base job at midseason, followed Tulowitzki’s run-scoring single with an RBI double into the right-field corner, and Parra walked Cook and Dexter Fowler with two outs and the bases loaded to make it 5-0.
Seth McClung replaced Parra and struck out Ryan Spilborghs to end the inning. Parra allowed five runs and six hits in 2 2-3 innings.
Atkins added a run-scoring single off John Axford in the sixth after Braun hit his 31st homer in the top half. Cook then drew his second bases-loaded walk, making it 7-1.
“We had a lot of heroes this year. It was me today,” Atkins said.
After striking out his first four times up, Brad Hawpe hit his 22nd homer off Chris Smith in the eighth, his two-run shot making it 9-1.
Smith was struck in the face by pinch-hitter Eric Young’s one-hop comebacker later in the inning and had to leave the game.
Cook (11-6), who walked three times, allowed one run and four hits in his longest outing since June 28 at Oakland.
Franklin Morales gave up Mike Cameron’s RBI double in the ninth before getting Alcides Escobar looking at strike three for the final out.
“They do the things they need to do to win,” Cameron said. “They play good defense, they pitch well and they get timely hitting.”
NOTES: Colorado’s previous best mark was 90-73 in ’07, when it won a wild-card tiebreaker over San Diego in 13 innings exactly two years ago. … Brewers RF Corey Hart’s season is over after tests revealed possible compression fractures in the fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand, which he jammed going back to first base Tuesday night. … Brewers OF Frank Catalanotto returned home to attend a funeral and will miss Milwaukee’s final series at St. Louis. … The Rockies left 15 runners on base.