Rockies beat Padres for NL wild card
October 2, 2007
DENVER ” The Blake Street Bombers gave way to Colorado’s Comeback Kids.
The NL wild card came down to a wild, 13-inning finish Monday night that put Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies into the playoffs and sent Trevor Hoffman and the San Diego Padres home weary and dazed.
Holliday raced home on Jamey Carroll’s shallow fly ball, capping a three-run rally against the all-time saves leader and giving the Rockies a 9-8 win in baseball’s longest one-game tiebreaker.
The Rockies, winners of 14 of 15, will open the playoffs at Philadelphia on Wednesday night in their first postseason appearance since the Blake Street Bombers lost to Atlanta in the first round in 1995.
Colorado trailed 8-6 when Kaz Matsui and Rookie of the Year favorite Troy Tulowitzki, who had four hits, lined back-to-back doubles off Hoffman. Then Holliday tripled off the wall in right to tie it.
After Todd Helton was intentionally walked, Carroll hit a low line drive to right fielder Brian Giles and Holliday took off before third base coach Mike Gallego could send him.
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“There wasn’t time for Gags to say anything. I didn’t have time to think what I was doing. I was just going to go for it,” Holliday said. “It’s the greatest part of the game.”
Giles’ throw home bounced in front of catcher Michael Barrett, who couldn’t hold on as Holliday swiped the plate, then lay face-down after cutting his chin with his headfirst slide. Umpire Tim McClelland made a delayed safe call, and replays were inconclusive on whether Holliday touched the plate with his left hand or was blocked by Barrett’s left foot.
Holliday said he wasn’t sure if he touched the plate.
“The ump said I was safe,” Holliday said. “I don’t remember. But I hit my chin pretty good.”
Said Padres manager Bud Black: “It looked to me like he did get it.”
Afterward, the champagne being sprayed all over the Rockies clubhouse kept spattering onto his strawberry chin.
“It’s a great sting,” he said, cringing.
Helton, the subject of trade rumors last winter, is heading to the postseason for the first time in his 11-year career. His 1,578 games in the majors are the third-most by any active player without a playoff appearance.
“Best shower ever. Crazy. Look at this. It’s what it’s all about right here,” said a drenched Helton, who homered in the third.
His teammates loved watching Helton celebrate.
“He deserves a chance to play in the postseason,” Holliday said.
The Rockies won the longest game at Coors Field this season behind Holliday, the MVP candidate who clinched the NL batting title at .340. His triple also gave him the league RBI crown with 137, one more than Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard.
His biggest contribution on this night came on the basepaths.
“It’s been an incredible run from game 1 to game 163,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “This is just a snapshot of what we’ve been through.”
After Scott Hairston’s two-run homer put the Padres ahead in the top of the 13th, Colorado came back against Hoffman (4-5), who could do little but walk off the mound with his head down. The closer, who has 524 career saves, blew his seventh chance in 49 tries this year.
On Saturday, Hoffman was one strike from clinching a playoff spot when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a tying triple for Milwaukee, which went on to win 4-3 in 11 innings.
“I’m having a hard time expressing myself right now,” Hoffman said. “I wish I could, but I can’t after what happened tonight.”
It was sweet atonement for Holliday, who misplayed Giles’ two-out flyball in the eighth inning into a tying RBI double.
“I’m glad we won or that might have haunted me for the rest of my life,” Holliday said. “It worked out, and luckily I don’t have to think about it.”
Ramon Ortiz (1-0) got the win. He was the Rockies’ 10th pitcher, taking over after Jorge Julio gave up Hairston’s homer.
After stranding runners at second in the 10th, 11th and 12th off Matt Herges, the Padres broke through against Julio. Giles drew a leadoff walk and Hairston homered into the bleachers in left-center.
The Rockies didn’t flinch.
“We were just telling each other it’s not over and we’ve got to battle,” Helton said. “Not try to do too much because he’s got such a good changeup.”
So, the key to the Rockies’ rally was hitting Hoffman early in the count.
“Your best bet is to try to get him before he can throw his changeup down in the dirt,” Holliday said. Colorado and San Diego were tied at 6 after nine innings in the first play-in game since the New York Mets beat Cincinnati 5-0 for the 1999 NL wild card.
Colorado went ahead 3-0 early only to watch Adrian Gonzalez erase the margin with his first career grand slam in a five-run third inning, which ace Jake Peavy ignited with a single.
The Rockies came back to tie on Helton’s 17th homer in the bottom half and Holliday’s RBI single in the fifth off Peavy, who looked little like the Cy Young Award candidate he’s been this season.
Peavy allowed six runs and 10 hits in 6 1-3 innings. He failed in his bid for his 20th win ” Boston’s Josh Beckett was the only pitcher this year to achieve the feat.
Rockies starter Josh Fogg gave up five runs and eight hits in four-plus innings.
The Rockies won a franchise-best 90 games and are owners of the second-best record in the majors since mid-May.
“That’s our word for the year, we’re just resilient,” Helton said. “We just never say die.”
The Rockies thought Garrett Atkins homered in the seventh, but umpire Tim Tschida ruled it hit the yellow railing and bounced back. It was the fourth time this year that Hurdle thought the Rockies had been robbed of a homer. He’s become a staunch proponent of instant replay helping decide such disputes.
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