That picture of Nolan Arenado on Father’s Day — roaring as the cut above his eye still bled — encapsulated the 2017 Colorado Rockies.
Through blood, sweat and tears, they believed that they were great. To lose with the passion and belief that the Rockies’ hitters displayed in the Wild Card game was nothing short of spectacular.
That picture of Arenado could be the cover of a boxing movie. He takes the hit and keeps on swinging. His homer in the eighth inning Wednesday night — along with the one by the next batter, Trevor Story — brought the Rockies to within a single run when they looked down for the count.
Of course, even in the movies, the heroes don’t always win.
To Arizona, the Rockies will be known, in future retellings of this game, as the hydra who kept growing heads after having each one was bitten off by a snake. “Then, our pitcher, Archie Bradley, hit the first triple in postseason history by a relief pitcher. His hit scored two runs, giving us a three-run lead. What did the Rockies do to lead off the next inning? Hit back-to-back home runs against Bradley. We couldn’t run away from them. They haunted us to the very end.”
This is the kind of game that will live on in Arizona baseball history forever. Honestly, it should also live on in Colorado, because this team deserves to be remembered.
I wrote earlier this summer that suffering as a Rockies fan was what made you a Coloradan. This season, and even this game, consisted of a much different kind of suffering.
Yes, it was the pitching that again snared the Rockies, just as it did in 2009 with Huston Street and during the ‘Blake Street Bombers’ era. However, it was a different kind of pitching.
It was pitching built in spring training by new manager Bud Black. He provided the fun and honesty the Rockies needed to start again. Black knew there was talent, and he knew he could teach people to pitch at altitude. In the end, they had the pitchers, just not always the right pitches.
Pitching With Altitude
The pitching performances that stood out in 2017:
- Rookie Antonio Senzatela became the second pitcher in the majors after the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to reach nine wins.
- Colorado native Kyle Freeland not only won the Rockies’ home opener, but also took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in another game in front of his hometown crowd.
- German Marquez surpassed both of those rookies with his success, starting with eight innings of shutout pitching against the Cubs in early May.
- Chad Bettis beat cancer for the second time and threw six shutout innings in his first start. Bettis also secured the Rockies’ final victory of the season against the Dodgers.
- Greg Holland set a Rockies record by saving 23 games in a row to start the season after returning from ‘Tommy John’ surgery.
- Chris Rusin saved the Rockies’ season by quick-pitching against Justin Turner on the way to a four-game sweep of the Dodgers in L.A in mid-September.
- Then there were flashes of greatness from starters Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, and Jeff Hoffman.
The Cast of Characters
The players in the field to remember:
- Charlie Blackmon was a legitimate MVP candidate and became well-known nationally for his beard and quirky personality. Blackmon passed up the opportunity at a cycle in one game, because trying to take the extra base wasn’t needed to help the team win. He ended up winning the National League batting title at .331 and drove in the most runs (103) from the lead-off spot in MLB history.
- Nolan Arenado, another MVP candidate, completed a cycle with a walk-off home run, and is expected to win his fifth straight third-base National League Gold Glove Award.
- DJ LeMahieu, only a year after winning the batting title, was questioned by some observers for being selected to the 2017 All-Star game. He answered these questions by batting .310 for the season.
- Mark Reynolds, signed as a backup option at first base, kept the Rockies afloat early in the year with his hitting. Reynolds had help from Gerardo Parra, who rebounded well after a bad year in 2016.
- Honorable Mention: Former Rockie Ryan Spilborghs, whose antics as an announcer and sideline reporter made the Rockies an even more fun team. Whether he was taunting opposing outfielders or bragging about his awards, no one makes baseball more fun than ‘Spilly’.
The 2017 Clincher
This game will stick with me. It was Sep. 30, a cloudy Saturday filled with expectation. Before the Rockies’ game, Milwaukee blew a lead against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning. Former Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio recorded the save for the Cardinals, clinching a spot in the Wild Card game for the Rockies.
I was in the same spot that day as I was ten years earlier, when I watched the Rockies clinch the play-in game berth in 2007. Back then, it was in seats where my Dad and brother and I watched Game 162. In 2017, that area is now a bar — The Rooftop, on what’s called the party deck — where once I celebrated another playoff berth with friends.
The Rooftop is right above where I watched Carlos Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run for the cycle in 2010. Seven years later, on Sep. 30, 2017, “CarGo” hit a homer off of Clayton Kershaw in what might be his last start at Coors Field for the Rockies.
In a year where CarGo struggled, he fixed his swing to help the Rockies one more time late in the season. In my mind, it cements him as one of the greatest Rockies of all-time. He became the connective thread from Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki to Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Jon Gray. As CarGo rounded the bases, I tried not to cry. CarGo is the Rockies to me — and I don’t want to see him go.
On this night, as I finished up my job at the ballpark, I saw the players take the mound after all of the fans left. They were taking a picture. Suddenly, some of them started yelling. They ran towards my location near the Rockies’ center-field fountains. They proceed to jump in and splash each other. It was the perfect celebration
No One Believes
No one thought during spring training that this season would end with fountain-jumping.
Yes, the Rockies started off strong — winning a lot of road series early before crashing in the middle of the season. Yet, they never completely lost it. They were in a playoff spot every day this season — something they’d never done. The playoffs just turned out to be short-lived.
For every glory-filled 2007 play-in game for a team, there are these letdowns. There were the two blown saves in 2009 by Huston Street and the 2010 collapse to miss the playoffs. Now, the 2017 Wild Card game defeat is added to that list.
The boys of summer have left Denver as fall begins, but the 2017 season deserves to live on. It was special for a different reason than a championship season. It was special because Colorado got to live baseball, day-in and day-out, for the first time in team history.
Perhaps they will return to the playoffs again next year. We thought that would happen after 2007 and 2009, only to have our hopes dashed. If this is the pinnacle of this current team’s success, it still deserves to be celebrated.
Because on Oct. 5, 2017, these Rockies believed they could win a game in which they were down 6-0 and 8-5 and 11-7. They believed in spring training that they could bring ‘Rocktober’ back to Denver. In the process, they left us with a new appreciation for the Colorado Rockies. Unlike the last seven years, we are suffering this year… because we didn’t want the season to come to an end.