Rockies’ incredible run nears pennant |

Rockies’ incredible run nears pennant

Arnie Stapleton
Vail, CO Colorado
David J. Phillip/APYorvit Torrealba hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning Sunday to put the Rockies within a win of the pennant and a spot in the World Series.

DENVER ” The Colorado Rockies have been playing like there’s no tomorrow ” and two weeks ago, there almost wasn’t.

Glued to the big screen TV in the clubhouse, they groaned as the San Diego Padres moved within a strike of eliminating them from the wild-card race. Then, Milwaukee’s Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a tying, two-out, two-strike triple off Trevor Hoffman that gave the Rockies a chance.

“That’s my new favorite player,” whooped rookie Ian Stewart.

The next day, Colorado caught the Padres. The night after that, the Rockies beat San Diego in a 13-inning, NL wild-card tiebreaker.

Since then, the Rockies have been unbeatable, rolling right along through one of the greatest stretches in major league history ” 20 wins in 21 games.

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With a cold rain falling, Josh Fogg shut down Arizona’s bats in his first postseason start and Yorvit Torrealba hit a tiebreaking three-run homer to fuel the Rockies’ 4-1 victory Sunday night in Game 3 of the NL championship series.

MVP hopeful Matt Holliday, the heart of a team that’s gone from the precipice of oblivion to the cusp of history, also homered.

Arizona, which has scored just four runs in the series so far, must now win four straight times against a Rockies team that is the first since the 1935 Chicago Cubs to win at least 20 of 21 games after Sept. 1, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

So, it seemed odd when Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was asked afterward if he felt a win Monday night was imperative.

“It is for us,” Hurdle said, quieting the chuckles. “It’s been that way for five weeks. All of our focus is on winning the game tomorrow. If we don’t win the game tomorrow, all our focus will be on winning the next one. That’s just the way we’ve gone about our business.”

The Rockies have lost just once since Sept. 16, and this win at Coors Field was their ninth straight victory overall.

Franklin Morales faces Arizona’s Micah Owings in Game 4 in a matchup of rookies who have never faced each other’s teams.

Colorado can join the 1976 Cincinnati Reds as the only NL squads to open the postseason with seven straight wins. The “Big Red Machine” swept the Phillies and Yankees for their second straight title that year.

What is this team? The Purple Haze?

The Diamondbacks will try to join the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to overcome a 3-0 hole to win a best-of-seven postseason series. Boston did it in the ALCS against the Yankees.

The Rockies, who this season set a major league record for fielding percentage, turned three demoralizing double plays in the first three innings Sunday night.

“They’ve been great all year,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. “We hit some balls hard tonight. Seemed like every ball we hit hard someone ended up making a good play. Whether it’s in the outfield or infield. It’s different than the Rockies you’ve seen in the past defensively.”

So is their pitching, which has compiled a 1.76 ERA in the postseason while holding opponents to a .212 batting average. The Rockies bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 24 innings for a 0.75 ERA.

This from a team that before this year was known only for its big bats ” and most of that reputation came during the “Blake Street Bombers” era of the 1990s.

“They’re as good as anyone in baseball,” Melvin said. “And it’s shown up all series.”

Torrealba connected in the sixth inning, three pitches after watching one of Livan Hernandez’s trademark “eephus” offerings poke across the plate for a strike ” so slow it didn’t register on the stadium scoreboard radar.

“You’re hoping for any kind of hit, a bleeder infield hit, anything that scores a run there,” Fogg said.

Instead, Hernandez came inside with his heater.

“It really surprised me that he tried to sneak a fastball inside,” said Torrealba, who deposited it 402 feet away, his three-run shot breaking a 1-all tie.

Torrealba, who is 8-for-21 in the playoffs with seven RBIs, nearly had a home run in the third when he doubled off the center-field wall. The stadium’s pyrotechnics operator thought it was gone and set off some fireworks as Torrealba pulled into second base.

The real fireworks came three innings later from Torrealba, who had just eight home runs in the regular season.

“One pitch, one bad pitch all night,” lamented D-backs catcher Miguel Montero.

Holliday’s homer in the first inning was the first by either team in this series. Hernandez fell to 7-3 lifetime in the playoffs, allowing four earned runs on eight hits in 5 2-3 innings.

Fogg, who won Game 2 of the division series over Philadelphia in relief of Morales, scattered seven hits, including rookie Mark Reynolds’ solo home run in the fourth, in six stellar innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three.

With the gametime temperature hovering at 43 degrees ” and quickly dipping into the 30s ” and a light drizzle falling, it was only fitting that the Rockies sent a pitcher named Fogg to the mound to deal with the elements in the first NLCS game in Denver in franchise history.

Holliday put Colorado ahead 1-0 in the first inning with a high drive. Left fielder Eric Byrnes crashed into the wall chasing the ball, much to the delight of the crowd that razzed him every chance they got.

Forty-eight hours earlier, Byrnes suggested the Rockies were a lucky bunch who had actually been outplayed by the Diamondbacks in this series.

Although that drew the ire of the fans, Rockies rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said there was some truth to Byrnes’ comments “and they can outplay us all four games. If we end up winning the series, I’ll be fine with that.”

Torrealba raced around the bases on his home run in the sixth, pumping his fists and hooting and hollering.

“I was so happy,” Torrealba said. “I was thinking, ‘Is this real?'”

Many a baseball fan are watching the Rockies right now and asking the exact same thing.

Before the Rockies, the last team to put together a 19-1 run was the 1977 Kansas City Royals, and Hurdle made his major league debut for the Royals during that stretch. … Jeff Cirillo, 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter so far, will start at second base Monday night.

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