Rockies pull off the impossible, advance to World Series

DENVER -- This didn't just happen. Did it?

That couldn't have been Coors Field, shaking so hard Monday night that it must have knocked all the snow off the nearest Rocky Mountain tops.

That couldn't have been the Colorado Rockies, dancing beneath the fireworks, pulling on those National League Champions T-shirts, the only National League team still standing in the second week of October.

This can't be the Rockies -- the Rockies -- heading to their first World Series in franchise history. Can it?

If you watch enough baseball games and follow enough pennant races, you come to think after awhile that you have a grasp of what's possible and what isn't. And let's be candid here:

This isn't possible.

But on another magical autumn evening a mile above sea level, the impossible turned possible. The Colorado Rockies are going to the World Series. Just don't ask how.

"I'll be honest," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, after the 6-4 win over Arizona that sealed a four-game sweep and propelled these Rockies to their first World Series. "We haven't sat back once and said, 'How'd this happen?' We're just enjoying it."

And you know what? It's better that way. It's safer that way. It's more fun that way. Because there are no good answers. So just don't ask.

Don't ask how a team on life support can suddenly start winning and winning and winning some more -- until it looks up a month later, amidst the dripping Domaine Ste. Michelle, to find it has just won 21 of its last 22 games.

Don't ask how a team that was a mere four games over .500 on Sept. 15 could make it here from where this team came from.

From nine games under .500 (18-27) in May.

From six games out in the wild-card race in September.

From 4½ games back in that wild-card race with only nine games to play.

From two games behind with two games to play, and having to watch that Padres team they were trying to catch get within one strike of clinching.

From two runs behind in the 13th inning of the 163rd game of the year, a game they never should have had a chance to play in the first place.

Has any team ever overcome all of that to play in a World Series? Not a chance.

So what we have here is one of the most historic, most astonishing, most compelling stories in baseball history. We're not sure the other three time zones have comprehended that yet. But now's your chance, because this team is not done playing yet.

"It's a far-fetched story," said Ryan Spilborghs, the backup outfielder who is such a huge clubhouse presence on this team. "It sounds like the kind of bedtime story you'd tell your 5-year-old son when he wants to hear a fairy tale. But if you told that story to the guys in this clubhouse, you know what? They'd believe you. And there'd be no doubt in anybody's mind that that was a true story.

"This group of guys has always believed we could win. So if you'd told me we'd win 21 out of 22 games with this group of guys, I'd say, 'Yeah. I believe it.'"

Clearly, they had to believe, or they couldn't have done this, right?

Couldn't have become the fifth team in the last 70 years to go 21-1 in any stretch of any season.

Couldn't have become the first team to do that in the middle of one of these mad charges to, and through, October.

Couldn't have become the second team in history (along with the 1976 Big Red Machine) to sweep its first two postseason series in any given October.

Couldn't have become the fifth team of all time to make it from last place one year to the World Series the next.

Couldn't have become the sixth team in history to fall nine games under .500 and still climb out of that canyon to make it to the World Series.

And, finally, couldn't have become the first team ever to find itself two games out of a playoff spot with two games to play and somehow survive to scramble into the World Series.

That didn't really happen. Did it? That wasn't really possible. Was it?

"You know, it's easy to say now because it happened," laughed reliever LaTroy Hawkins. "So it is possible. But would I have thought of that before it happened? No."

But then again, how could anyone have thought of it? That was a whole month ago, before all the madness began.

Before Todd Helton's dramatic walk-off bomb off Takashi Saito. Before Josh Fogg turned into The Dragon Slayer. Before Matt Holliday's slide. Before Kaz Matsui's slam. Before Yorvit Torrealba turned into David Ortiz.

And then, finally, before this night -- the night their journey carried them to the top of the only mountain peak around that no Coloradan had ever climbed before.

For a while there, it almost looked as if this night might be different from all the other nights. On this night, the Rockies actually (gulp) trailed for an entire inning.

But for a whole nutty month now, somebody has always stepped forward, to grab onto the moment and turn it into another one of those here-they-go-again evenings. And sure enough, on this night, it was Seth Smith's turn.

Until now, he was probably better-known to some folks as Eli Manning's backup quarterback at Mississippi. He didn't even join this team until Sept. 16, when the Rockies brought him in from Colorado Springs. And he never started a single game -- not one. But would they be here without him? Heck, no. Wouldn't. Couldn't.

In his 12 at-bats since he arrived, all Seth Smith has done is hit .583 -- .636 as a pinch hitter. So when game-breaking time arrived Monday -- with two on and two out in the fourth inning, Clint Hurdle pointed in his direction.

And of course, Seth Smith got it done. With an ugly little inside-out, opposite-field bloop shot that plunked two feet inside the left-field line. But this was no beauty pageant. This was a game-turning two-run double in your box scores and your history books.

If anyone ever asks him later about this mighty blast, Smith promised he would tell the truth and nothing but the truth -- that it "slammed off the wall." Or something like that.

But this was just the latest, wildest chapter in the crazed, stranger-than-fiction story of the Rockies. Game 2 was saved by a pitcher with no big league saves (Ryan Speier). So why wouldn't Game 4 be altered irrevocably by a fellow whose first two career major league RBIs came in the game that sent his team to the World Series?

"You know the funny thing?" said Smith, who joined the immortal Brian Doyle (1978) as the only players in history to drive in the first runs of their careers in a postseason game. "I didn't even realize it when I was on second base. Then I ended up scoring, and when I got back to the dugout, somebody said, 'Hey, we got that ball for you.' And I was like, 'Why?' They said, 'It was your first RBI.' And I said, 'Oh.' But in a game like this, you don't worry about that."

Minutes later, there was even less to worry about. That was because Matt Holliday crunched a 452-foot three-run homer that flipped the scoreboard to 6-1, set off an eruption of fountains and fireworks, and launched a party that may not end for a week.

OK, eventually, it got a little dicey. OK, eventually, Arizona carved that lead to two runs in the eighth. OK, eventually, a Chris Young double got the tying run to the plate in the ninth.

But then Stephen Drew took a mind-boggling swing at a 3-and-0 pitch from closer Manny Corpas and popped it up for out No. 2. And then Eric Byrnes tapped the soft ground ball to the left side that might well become the most replayed final out in Rockies history.

At first, it seemed as if the third baseman, Jamey Carroll, was going to slurp it up. But in the corner of his eye, Carroll saw the human Oreck, Tulowitzki, darting toward the hole and realized whose ball this had to be.

I've never even seen a National League championship trophy. So when I saw that -- 'National League champions' -- and realized we were going to the World Series, that just sounds so good coming off the tongue it's ridiculous.

--Rockies first baseman
Todd Helton

"He's made that play 100 times," Carroll said. "I felt him back there. I knew he was back there. As soon as I let it go by, I didn't even give it a second thought. I looked straight at first base."

"I wanted that ball hit to me," Tulowitzki said. "I always wanted to make the last out of a World Series. But an NLCS works, too."

What he really wanted, though -- what they all wanted -- was for the final out to wind up in the glove of Helton, their Lion King, the guy who had suffered through 11 frustrating seasons and nearly 1,600 games on the way up this mountain peak.

"When that ball was hit to 'Tulo,' I knew," Helton said. "I knew where that throw was going -- right at my chest."

And when that ball arrived, and his team was heading for the World Series, Helton said he could feel all those years of frustration -- culminating in these four consuming heart-thumping weeks of pressure-packed miracle-making -- just disappear. Poof. Just like that.

"I'm not an emotional guy," Helton would say later, his eyes glazing, his voice cracking. "But this is emotional. I think it was just being in the game, and being so focused and so intense and wrapped up in the game. And then just the release, when it's over … wow.

"That," Todd Helton said, "is a drug you can't buy in stores."

He was wearing his NL Champions shirt, soaking in more than the moment. But what a moment.

"I've never even seen a National League championship trophy," he said. "So when I saw that -- 'National League champions' -- and realized we were going to the World Series, that just sounds so good coming off the tongue it's ridiculous."

Oh, it was ridiculous, all right. A month ago -- just a month -- it was an idea that was literally ridiculous.

But 22 games and 21 wins later, here they are, the Colorado Rockies, World Series bound.

C'mon. That didn't really happen. Did it?

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.