Rockies go home with fate in their own hands
PHOENIX — The Rockies return to Coors Field on Tuesday night to open a nine-game homestand against the Padres in control of the National League’s Wild Card race. By virtue of back-to-back Chase Field victories over the D-backs while the the Giants lost consecutive games to the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday, the Rox lead the Lads by 4 1/2 games with 12 left to play.
It’s not time to pop any corks yet. “There’s nothing finished,” said Rox interim manager Jim Tracy. “We have to keep plowing forward.”
But if the Rox hold their own at Coors against the Padres, Cardinals and Brewers, a second trip to the postseason in three years will be theirs. Like 2007, when they were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series, the Rockies will win the NL Wild Card berth. This time it should happen without the drama of a one-game playoff. Two years ago, they had to come from behind in the 13th inning to beat Trevor Hoffman and the Padres.
It still is up to question whether Matt Holliday actually touched the plate when he scored the winning run that October night. “Do you think I did?” Holliday asked somewhat rhetorically when I asked him about it again earlier this season. I covered that game and my answer was “no” then and it remains the same today. Holliday just gave me that little glint of a smile, leaving the question open for all eternity. The plate ump called him safe and that’s all that counts.
This time, the club has ridden Tracy’s managerial expertise. The Rox are 67-37 since Tracy took over for the deposed Clint Hurdle on May 29. And someday soon one suspects that GM Dan O’Dowd is going to remove the interim tag from his title with a nice, fat contract extension.
Tracy was a good manager with a Dodgers team that he managed into the 2004 postseason, but he’s even better now, riding the percentages and his own intuition to make effective moves. On Saturday night, he pinch-hit Ryan Spilborghs in the seventh inning against Clay Zavada. Spilborghs contribued an RBI-double and remained in the game to add another in the ninth. In that final inning, Tracy sent up Jason Giambi as a pinch-hitter and the former Yankee and Oakland star smashed a three-run homer.
On Sunday, both Spilborghs and Giambi were in the starting lineup. Spilborghs replaced the slumping Brad Hawpe with the added incentive of being 9-for-21 lifetime against D-backs starter Dan Haren. Tracy wanted to give Giambi some work at first base while resting Todd Helton. Spliborghs had a big single off Haren in a three-run seventh inning that put the Rox ahead to stay. Giambi went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer.
Giambi’s simply 6-for-15 with a double, two homers and 11 RBIs since he was taken off the scrap heap by the Rockies after his release by the A’s.
“I wasn’t healthy there,” Giambi said about the end of the line in Oakland. “But I’m excited to be here. It’s great to be in the race. I talked to a lot of people about Tracy and he’s a big reason why I came over. I’m glad I’m here.”
The Giants come into Chase on Monday night to open a three-game series against the 85-loss D-backs with the season on the line. They’ve lost three out of their last four at the season’s crucial time and can’t afford to lose any more. Still, if the Rockies hold their own it won’t much matter anymore what the Giants do.
“We’re at the great point in the season where we hold our fate in our own hands,” Tracy said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be playing meaningful games in October. If we don’t we won’t have anyone to blame, but ourselves. There will be no excuses.”