Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd, one of baseball's more quotable executives, is like a gambler on a hot streak these days. He returns reporters' phone calls strictly out of courtesy and takes pains not to overanalyze his team's magical September run for fear of jinxing it.
Ask O'Dowd about Colorado's leading the major leagues in fielding percentage, or suddenly winning big games on the road, or preparing to send rookie Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound against Arizona with the season potentially on the line Sunday, and he gives the same sanitized reply.
"We really don't look past the day we're playing," O'Dowd said. "Nobody does, from the front office to the field. We've kind of figured this out going one day at a time."
The Rockies have figured it out, all right. With a 2-0 victory in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the team's day-to-day mantra has morphed into a 10-game win streak, and the perception that Colorado is a nice little team building for the future has been amended.
There's just way too much going on in the present.
If you were to pick a team to get wildfire hot down the stretch, Colorado would have ranked down the list. The Rockies haven't made the postseason since 1995. They were the only major league team without a win streak of at least five games in 2005 or 2006. And when Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh went down with injuries in August, that left Jeff Francis and Josh Fogg as the only April starters left in manager Clint Hurdle's rotation.
After a 10-2 loss to Florida on Sept. 15, the Rockies were fourth in the NL West, 6½ games behind the first-place Diamondbacks. But they beat the Marlins 13-0 behind rookie starter Franklin Morales in the series finale and proceeded to whip up on the Padres and the reeling Dodgers. Now they're one game out in the wild card and two behind Arizona in the division.
The Rockies lead the National League in September with a .294 team batting average and 145 runs scored. They've committed 65 errors this season, easily the fewest in the majors. And outfielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki continue to make strong cases for the NL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards, respectively. Tulowitzki, a monument to poise at age 22, is hitting .321 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs since the beginning of August.
D-backs vs. Rockies
"There were a lot of pieces in place, and he became the piece that pulled it all together," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle told the Denver Post. "He's brought a fire and a passion that is unique."
Tulowitzki sure has a flair for the dramatic. In a 9-7 win Tuesday night, his two-run homer was the difference. In the eighth inning Wednesday, in a game so tight that every out was precious, Tulowitzki ranged deep into the hole and pulled a Derek Jeter special to throw out the Dodgers' Delwyn Young. The play was so breathtaking, several players in the Rockies dugout looked as if they wanted to leap over the railing, run out and high-five Tulowitzki.
Colorado is 38-42 on the road this year, and that record would be better if erstwhile closer Brian Fuentes hadn't blown four straight saves during a 1-9 road trip before the All-Star break. The Rockies entered this season with a 427-677 record outside Denver, and they've historically had more problems on the road than Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man."
The Rockies have one more road game left, with Morales facing Esteban Loaiza on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. Then it's back to Coors Field for three games this weekend against Arizona.
"People aren't talking enough about this team," said a West Coast scout. "It's unbelievable what they've done."
Even the Rockies aren't saying a whole lot. They're just enjoying the ride, for as long as it lasts.
General manager Pat Gillick has taken some shots for transactions gone awry since his arrival in Philadelphia. Gillick got virtually nothing from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal, spent $25.5 million on Adam Eaton, mistakenly thought Wes Helms might be the answer at third base and traded two pitchers to the White Sox for 58 innings worth of Freddy Garcia. We haven't even gotten around to the Rod Barajas signing yet.
But Gillick never stops listening to his scouts or trolling for details, and he seems to have a flair for bargain shopping. It was never more evident or valuable than in Wednesday's 5-2 victory over Atlanta.
Kyle Lohse, acquired from Cincinnati for minor leaguer Matt Maloney at the trade deadline, threw seven effective innings and is now 3-0 for Philadelphia. Lohse, who drove the Twins and Reds batty with a failure to pitch to expectations, has pitched at least six innings in seven of his past 10 starts.
Reliever J.C. Romero, acquired from Boston via waivers in June, struck out Chipper Jones in the eighth and has now allowed just 14 hits in 32 2/3 innings with the Phillies. And Greg Dobbs, claimed off waivers from Seattle in January, contributed a big two-run single to give Philadelphia a 4-0 lead in the fourth.
Dobbs, who's making $385,000, did a nice job of filling in when Ryan Howard went down with a strained quadriceps in May. Dobbs has 55 RBIs in 315 at-bats.
This and that
• With Tony La Russa in the dugout, the Cardinals are never going to be irrelevant. During Wednesday's game, La Russa suckered Milwaukee into a beanball confrontation, and it cost the Brewers when Seth McClung plunked Albert Pujols with one out in the eighth inning and earned an automatic ejection. Derrick Turnbow and Brian Shouse came out of the 'pen to turn a 3-2 St. Louis lead into a 7-2 Cardinals advantage, and that was it for Milwaukee.
• After St. Louis starter Brad Thompson plunked Prince Fielder on the shoulder in apparent retaliation for the Brewers' buzzing Pujols on Tuesday, the Milwaukee dugout erupted. Observant lip readers might have noticed Brewers catcher Johnny Estrada shouting an epithet at La Russa that appeared to be word-for-word what suspended umpire Mike Winters is alleged to have called Milton Bradley.
• True, the Dodgers have been eliminated and are already looking ahead to 2008. But you wonder how the Padres, D-backs and Phillies must have felt when they watched manager Grady Little run out a lineup that included Chin-Lung Hu at shortstop, Wilson Valdez at second, Delwyn Young in left and Chad Moeller at catcher against Colorado. Then again, Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal are banged up and Russell Martin deserves a day off at least once a month, doesn't he?
• If Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, Moises Alou deserves to have a patent on September. Last year, Alou was so dinged up in San Francisco that he contemplated retirement in midsummer. Then he hit eight homers and posted a .727 slugging percentage in September, and it earned him a one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Mets. After missing much of this season with quadriceps and shoulder injuries, Alou is showing he can still crush a fastball at age 41. He's batting .427 in September, and his 30-game hitting streak is the longest by a New York-based player since Joe DiMaggio's record 56 in 1941.
• This is the time of year for pitchers with the big contracts, reputations and career portfolios to put their best foot forward. Pedro Martinez takes the mound Thursday night against St. Louis' Joel Pineiro in an attempt to break the Mets' three-game losing streak. Chicago's Carlos Zambrano will take on Reds ace Aaron Harang in a huge game Saturday in Cincinnati. And if the Padres need a win Sunday in Milwaukee to make the playoffs, Jake Peavy could return on three days' rest. That would give Peavy (19-6) a chance to become the National League's only 20-game winner this season.
• With comedian Bill Murray looking on anxiously, the Cubs dropped their ninth straight to the Marlins. Alfonso Soriano, who's having a huge final month, is 1-for-9 with five strikeouts in the series and is hitting .130 (3-for-23) against Florida this season.
• The broadcasting line of the night came from the great Vin Scully. After the portly Olmedo Saenz reached base on a 50-foot chopper against Rockies closer Manny Corpas and received congratulations in the dugout, Scully observed, "On a hit like that, you shouldn't get five. You should maybe get high-threes."
• The Mets' announcers certainly aren't sugarcoating the team's late collapse. With New York trailing the Nationals 7-6 at Shea Stadium, color man Ron Darling turned to Keith Hernandez in the booth and said, "I'm trying to gauge why it's so quiet here in a one-run game. I think it comes down to one word -- worry. Sheer worry."
• And Florida's broadcast crew took note of the preponderance of Cubs fans among the 19,051 in attendance at Dolphins Stadium. Color man Tommy Hutton wondered whether the overwhelmingly pro-Cubs representation shouldn't be "an embarrassment" to Marlins fans.
• The Mets' pitching is so bad, general manager Omar Minaya is ready to put out an all-points bulletin for Steve Trachsel. Since a three-game series with Philadelphia at Shea in mid-September, here are some Mets ERAs: Jorge Sosa (10.80), John Maine (10.61), Mike Pelfrey (7.59), Guillermo Mota (7.50), Billy Wagner (6.75), Tom Glavine (6.11) and Pedro Feliciano (5.68). Amazingly enough, New York's team ERA of 5.09 in September is still better than Philadelphia's 5.15 staff ERA this month. But Mets manager Willie Randolph sure looks a lot more stressed than Philadelphia counterpart Charlie Manuel these days.
• It was a big night for spoilers Wednesday. St. Louis, Washington, Pittsburgh and Florida, who have a combined record of 282-351 (for a winning percentage of .445), all beat contending clubs to make the overall picture just a little more interesting.