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Rockies: Same ol' song, or not? 

click to enlarge Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins (27) will try to help the - Rockies avoid another summer slide out of contention. - GETTY IMAGES
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  • Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins (27) will try to help the Rockies avoid another summer slide out of contention.

Stop me if you've heard this before. Then again, don't. Obviously, it's a familiar script.

At baseball's All-Star break, the Colorado Rockies were playing .500 ball at 44-44, good enough to put them firmly in contention in the National League West. Their offense has been improved, and the pitching has shown good consistency after a slow start.

Then they came off the break at Milwaukee, outscored the Brewers in the opener then proceeded to drop two straight, both by a single run.

Granted, Milwaukee has been much better this year, leading the Chicago Cubs and defending World Series champion St. Louis in the NL Central. But those one-run losses hurt, especially at a precarious time in the season.

At the same time, the Los Angeles Dodgers came back from the break in focus, sweeping San Francisco on the road and building a six-game streak. San Diego, just a step behind, has this week at home before its next trip.

The message is clear: This is not the moment for the Rockies to exhale. They should be feeling pressure to continue hanging close to the Dodgers and Padres, not to mention Arizona, and treading water around .500 won't be good enough anymore in the weeks ahead.

Colorado did respond well by sweeping its series at Pittsburgh to start the week. But that's just one step. Another slump, and the Rockies could lose touch with the division race and become an afterthought in August.

It wouldn't be the first time. Just last year, the Rockies were 44-43 before the All-Star Game, then convulsed to a 76-86 finish (that's 32-43 after the break). Many fans might remember 2003, when Colorado entered the midseason siesta at 50-47 and promptly backslid to 74-88.

So many years have passed since the Rockies last enjoyed a true pennant race, their followers have forgotten with thousands of empty seats at Coors Field as Exhibit A. As anyone who has lived in other baseball cities can confirm, there is literally nothing like a tight race in September, with every game meaningful and every night a fresh chapter of drama.

Throughout many years of football road trips covering the Denver Broncos and Air Force, my favorite weekends were going to areas psyched up by baseball in September and October. It pushes early-season football to the side stage even, for example, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders at their zenith when the Giants or the A's were still in the hunt.

Colorado had that feeling in 1995, taking the division race to the wire before losing the title by one game to the Dodgers, then taking the NL wild card.

The great thing about baseball is, that same euphoria could return in an instant. But only if the Rockies can avoid another summertime swoon.

The immediate schedule continues to be helpful, starting with a weekend series at Washington. Next week, San Diego comes to Coors Field on Monday through Wednesday, followed by the Dodgers for a four-game weekend. After that, we should have a much better idea.

And by the way, before the Dodgers leave town, the Broncos will start training camp.

Surely you know the next line.

It could become football season in Colorado, very quickly.

Bits and pieces: Regardless of whether the Rockies can keep up the pace, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox are in the midst of their best season in years. Leading their division in late July, they're the result of the Rockies upgrading their farm system. And wherever the Sox are playing, every game is on the radio (KZNT-AM 1460). Check the schedule at skysox.com.

If you're a fan of college football, you could simply plan to watch TV on the season's first Saturday, Sept. 1. If you don't go to Denver for Colorado-Colorado State, it starts at 10 a.m. (FSN), and Air Force's first game under new coach Troy Calhoun will be against South Carolina State (noon, The Mountain). Among your other TV options are Alabama-Birmingham at Michigan State, 10 a.m., ESPN2; Virginia at Wyoming, noon, Versus; Wake Forest at Boston College, 1:30 p.m., ABC (but it's not national, and we'll probably get Nevada-Nebraska); Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m., NBC; Arizona at Brigham Young, 3:30 p.m., Versus; Baylor at TCU, 4 p.m., CSTV; Oklahoma State at Georgia, 4:45 p.m., ESPN2; Tennessee at California, 6 p.m., ABC; and Idaho at Southern Cal, 8:15 p.m., FSN.

College football will invade high school space more than ever this fall, which is a bad thing. Some of ESPN's Friday night games: Aug. 31, Washington at Syracuse; Sept. 7, Navy at Rutgers; Sept. 14, Oklahoma State at Troy; Sept. 21, Oklahoma at Tulsa; Sept. 28, West Virginia at South Florida, and Oct. 5, Utah at Louisville.

Organizers of the 2007 State Games of America still are aiming for 10,000 participants (the total is around 8,000 now) for the 29-sport extravaganza on Aug. 2-5. For those who aren't aware, this isn't just for elite athletes. It's for everyone, from league bowlers and lunchtime racquetballers to 80-year-old swimmers. Entrants are coming from more than 40 states, but registration is still open in most sports. Find out more at stategames.org or call the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. at 634-7333.

routon@csindy.com

SPORTS SHOT

Race to the Clouds Pikes Peak Hill Climb, 9:30 a.m., Saturday. Tollgate opens at 4 a.m.; tickets are $40 each. Or camp Friday night on the mountain, $100 a car. 685-4400.

Bronco buildup Denver's preseason opener will be Monday night, Aug. 13, at San Francisco, with ESPN televising nationally.

Miss the headline? Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, wants to buy the Chicago Cubs.

Wake up or stay up British Open golf on ABC, third round at 7 a.m. Saturday, final round at 6 a.m. Sunday.

Did you know? Colorado State University-Pueblo is bringing back NCAA Division II football after a 20-year absence, starting in 2008.

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