Perhaps now, at last, the Colorado Rockies finally can bury the sweet memories of September and October of 2007. Not that the most historic stretch in Rockies history has lost any luster. No franchise and its fans ever forget that first World Series.
But something about that 2007 finish had hung over Colorado ever since. It was so incredible, so perfect, that anything less felt empty by comparison. And as the Rockies struggled this spring, on the heels of an exasperating 2008, they no longer could silence the cynics who looked back on two years ago as a wondrous mirage, an amazing fluke, a harbinger of ... frustration.
Then came June 2009.
It began in turmoil, with Colorado having just fired manager Clint Hurdle. From 8-12 on May 1 to 20-29 on June 1, the Rockies looked like a pushover. Then, on June 4, they ended a bad series in Houston, avoiding a sweep with a nice 10-3 victory, moving them to 21-32.
From that day forward, the Rockies re-created 2007. Tuesday night, they wrapped up the month with the team's best pitching performance since, well, perhaps ever, as newcomer Jason Marquis shut down the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in a two-hit, no-walk, complete-game, 2-0 shutout, throwing just 86 pitches and giving the bullpen a much-needed night off. It also made Marquis the National League's first 10-game winner.
That upped Colorado to 41-36, having won 21 of 25. Think about that: 20 victories in the first two months, then 21 in less than four weeks. It's also a club record, because in September 2007, the Rockies won only 20.
New manager Jim Tracy gets much credit for stressing fundamentals and asking more of the pitchers.
That brings us to the real difference between the Rockies of April-May and June. The five starters — Marquis, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hammel and Jorge De La Rosa — pushed themselves deeper into games. Instead of five or six innings, those starters began lasting into the seventh or later. And the bullpen, with less of a burden and better-defined roles, became more consistent.
Here's the most telling stat: Colorado's starting pitchers, after going 9-14 the previous month, put together a record of 19-5. And the staff as a whole walked only 80 batters in June, second only to St. Louis in the NL.
These weren't the same guys simply reverting to what they did two years ago. Only Jimenez was part of that 2007 run. (Cook was on the shelf until returning for the final loss to Boston in the World Series.)
Lest we forget, too, Matt Holliday no longer is around to carry the load offensively. Instead, Brad Hawpe is having an All-Star season, and the balance has been more noticeable. No fewer than five Rockies hitters knocked in at least 15 runs for June: Todd Helton 20, Clint Barmes 19, Ian Stewart 19, Hawpe 17 and Troy Tulowitzki 15.
If this streak had been led by a few dominant players, one might expect a letdown soon. But this team depends on everybody, and when injuries or slumps inevitably come, depth is nearby with the still-hot Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Brandon Hynick became the first Sox pitcher to have a perfect game in his Tuesday night no-hitter, but he's just one of a handful worthy of promotions.
It all sounds too good to be true. And perhaps the Rockies' biggest enemy now is their front office, with rumors still swirling that the team is looking to trade Garrett Atkins, Ryan Spilborghs, closer Huston Street, Marquis and perhaps Hawpe for the right deal.
All that, despite the fact Colorado woke up July 1 just 1.5 games behind in the NL wild-card race — and with 49 home games remaining to just 35 on the road.
At least the Rockies can live in the present again — if the front office will just let them.
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