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Rockies just may defy all the odds


In a perfect world, somebody would come forward any moment now with the definitive video clip, showing Colorado star Matt Holliday actually touching home plate Monday night to wrap up the Rockies' epic tiebreaker victory over San Diego.

As much as that 9-8 game warranted the label of "instant classic," it certainly deserved a more clear-cut ending. Not an umpire's tentative, apparently incorrect call of "safe" after Holliday flew head-first by home plate after Jamey Carroll's short fly to right.

Then again, part of the beauty of baseball is that it isn't always flawless, but almost always delivers poetic justice in the end.

That's how Colorado and its fans have to classify what happened Monday at Coors Field. Because, again in a perfect world, Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins' shot to left in the seventh inning should have been ruled a home run for a 7-5 lead not a double that left the game at 6-5 and set up the 13-inning marathon.

Most likely, that blown call begins to explain why San Diego wasn't making a huge fuss about umpire Tim McClelland's bad decision on the game-ending play. Also, it's not like McClelland was out of place; he was standing there, all 6-foot-6 of him, just a few feet away, looking down on the plate. The 55-year-old also has worked numerous World Series and All-Star games, not to mention others such as the infamous "pine tar" game involving Kansas City superstar George Brett in 1983 and the one featuring Sammy Sosa's corked bat in 2003.

Clearly, after what happened Monday, the Padres were being respectful of McClelland's history. But just imagine how more dramatic it could have been if the ump had made the right call, leaving the Rockies with two outs, the score 8-8 and the winning run Todd Helton, by the way still at second base with Brad Hawpe coming to the plate for Colorado.

Perhaps Hawpe would have delivered the game-winning hit. Perhaps not. But it would've been a better ending, and the replays clearly would have vindicated McClelland if he had called Holliday out.

It doesn't matter now, of course. One way or another, the Rockies were meant to win, continuing their astounding, historic, season-ending ride. They went from a frustrating, underachieving 76-72 in mid-September to 90-73.

Because of that, the nation's baseball fans will be learning much more about these Rockies over this weekend during their divisional series against Philadelphia. Not at first, with the opening two games at Philly in the afternoon, but that's OK.

Colorado stood up to the Phillies from the start Wednesday. If that can continue, this crazy story will capture America's attention very soon. Our country loves an underdog coming from nowhere though, of course, that's exactly what Philadelphia just did, thanks to the New York Mets' shocking collapse in the National League East.

There's so much to like about the Phils-Rockies matchup, starting with both managers having ties to Colorado Springs. Clint Hurdle spent time here on his way up through the Rockies organization. Philly's Charlie Manuel managed the Sky Sox to their first Pacific Coast League title in 1992.

It also adds to the local appeal, seeing so many Sky Sox alumni making a difference for these Rockies starting with Helton, who tore up the PCL here before making it to the show in 1997. There are others such as outfielder Seth Smith, who only landed on Colorado's roster two weeks ago, then banged a pinch-hit triple and later scored to make it 6-5 on Monday night.

That's what makes having a minor-league franchise so special, and it's reaffirmed every year when more players and, yes, managers who came through Colorado Springs make names for themselves in the majors.

One last point, which would've been more than a footnote had the Padres won: Scott Hairston, who hit the two-run homer that put San Diego ahead 8-6 in the 13th, comes from a baseball heritage with a Springs branch. Hairston's grandfather, Sam Hairston, was arguably the best player for the original Class A Sky Sox franchise that called Memorial Park home in the 1950s. Sam Hairston is even enshrined in the Sky Sox Hall of Fame.

Someday, you can be sure, several of these Rockies will join him. First, though, they have more work to do.

And if they can avoid the natural letdown from expending all their energy and luck just making the playoffs, this magic carpet ride might last all the way to Halloween.

Contest winners

The trivia experts have been motivated into action. This week, five entrants nailed all seven questions in the "Ralph's Back" contest: Steve Brown, Ralph Dotterrer, Tracy Dotterrer, Kirk Sullivan and Mike Welch. We have two pairs of tickets for a Broncos game and three pairs for Colorado College hockey, first-come, first-served. Contact Lori Green at 577-4545, and be ready to prove identity. After this, one more week remains in the contest.

Sports Shot

Ready to skate: Colorado College plays a hockey exhibition Saturday against the University of Calgary (7 p.m., World Arena), which then visits Air Force on Monday night.

Sports overload: NBA training camps opened Wednesday, beginning the only time of the year when all four major pro sports are in operation.

See the standings? Denver, Kansas City and Oakland are tied for first in the AFC Worst at 2-2; San Diego is 1-3.

One of many: Ex-Sky Sox are sprinkled throughout baseball's playoffs, including Boston manager Terry Francona, a first baseman for the Springs in 1988.

Busy Saturday: Lots of great TV choices topped by Kansas at Kansas State, 10 a.m., FSN; TCU at Wyoming, noon, The Mtn.; Georgia at Tennessee, 1:30 p.m., CBS; and Florida at LSU, 6 p.m., CBS.

Ralph's picks

The streak now has reached five weeks with at least one upset coming through (and others very close), even without last Saturday's stunner, Colorado over Oklahoma. Week 6:

Upset specials

Florida (taking 8) at Louisiana State

Purdue (taking 6.5) vs. Ohio State

Washington State (taking 9) vs. Arizona State

Against the spread

Baylor (taking 10) vs. Colorado

UNLV (taking 6) at Air Force

Notre Dame (taking 21) at UCLA

North Carolina (taking 7.5) vs. Miami

Alabama-Birmingham (taking 16.5) at Miss. State

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