Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It aint Over 'til it's Over

As the great and profound Yogi Berra once said of his 1973 Mets division run against the Cubs, on Monday night the Colorado Rockies truly proved that 'It aint over 'til its over'

Game 4 in a 4 game series against the San Francisco Giants, had an early 6:40 PM start. Holding a 3 game lead against San Francisco in the National League Wildcard race, and being only 3.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Rockies desperately needed a win to close out the series with 3 wins and send the Giants packing.

I have been waiting all season for an opportunity to go down to Denver and watch Jason Marquis pitch, so despite the rain, overcast sky and chilly August temperatures, my Dad, brother and I all went down and sat in the left field bleachers to watch the game.

The game started out rough with Marquis giving up a hit and a run to the Giants in the first inning. Going into the 5th still down 1-0, the Giants started to get sloppy, off a fielding error and a couple walks the Rockies finally got on the board to tie the game at 1-1. And thats where the score would stay for another 8 innings.

Pitch after pitch the Rockies or Giants just couldn't get the go-ahead run across the plate. In both the 8th, 9th and 10th innings the Rockies had runners in scoring position with 1 out. And each time they did what they seem to do best and hit into a double play or struck out.

Jason Marquis had been great through 8 innings. Giving up only 6 hits and 1 run, he had thrown 121 pitches, far above the red line for a pitcher these days, but having gone a fill 8 innings he would not get his 15th win for the season.

So Manager Jim Tracy had to go to the bullpen in the 9th. He pulled out Rafael Betancourt, Frankling Morales, Huston Street, Matt daley, Jason Beimel, and at the beginning of the 13th inning, in came Adam Eaton to relieve Beimel. With few or no remaining pitchers in the bullpen we all knew Eaton would be in for the win or loss.

As each extra inning went by and midnight approached the crowd of 27,000 dwindled to 15,000, then 10,000 and by the time the 14th inning had begun a crowd of about 5,000 people sat across the ballpark as we waited to see if Adam Eaton could continue his outstanding 13th inning performance. Eaton began strong, striking out batter 1. But the night was late and his pitch count was climbing. After all he is a bullpen pitcher he shouldn't be throwing 40 pitches. After that strike out he gave up a triple. It was still ok though, it was a tie ballgame, then Eaton walked the second batter. With runners on the corners and one out, we all began yelling for Eaton to get the next out. Unfortunately his curveball didn't curve enough and he gave up another triple scoring two runs in the top of the 14th for the Giants.

With a runner on third, down 3-1 hoping to force a double play, Jim Tracy calls for Eaton to intentionally walk the next batter for the Giants. The pitch came and the hit went straight to Barmes at second base. The base runner seemingly ran out of the base path (which is illegal) to dodge a tag from Barmes as the runner on third ran home giving the Giants a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the 14th inning.

With the crowd still booing and hissing at the bad call half an inning earlier Dexter Fowler stepped to the plate and on a 3-2 pitch fouled the ball of of his foot. But knowing the only player left on the bench was needed as a pinch hitter for the injured Gonzales later in the inning Fowler stood up and continued to bat. As he limped toward 1st base after being walked, the team stood on their feet in the dugout to join the already standing crowd. With one runner on Clint Barmes flied out to center field and the crowd began to lose hope. And down by 3 runs with one out the back-up catcher, Chris Iannetta stepped up to pinch hit for Carlos Gonzales, who should have been sitting on the bench due to a steak knife injury two nights earlier. (He was doing the dishes, tried to catch the steak knife as he dropped it out of the sink, sliced open his throwing hand). Iannetta and his .221 batting average drove a single into right field that put Gonzales to second.

Next up was the star of the team. Troy Tulowitzki. Representing the tying run, if there was anyone on the team to have at the plate in that moment it was Tulo. But the Giants had other plans, so Tulo walked. Next up was our pitcher Adam Eaton. Since becoming a Rockies player he hasn't held a bat in a game. And here he was with one out, the bases loaded down three runs in the 14th inning. And the bullpen for San Francisco walked him to drive in a run. It was now 4-2, bases still loaded, one out on the board.

The Giants manager made his walk to the mound and made the call to bring in a new pitcher. The crowd of 5,000 at Coors Field began cheering louder than a sell-out crowd. Ryan Spilborghs stepped to the plate. Sporting a .250 batting average and only 6 home runs on the season, Spilborghs is not necessarily the guy you would pick in this situation, but someone needed to be the hero and make this a game for the books.

As the first strike went by, Spilly wanted to get a feel for the new pitcher. He remembered grounding into a double play with runners in scoring position in the 10th inning, and he knew he was lucky to be getting a chance a redemption. So he tapped his bat to the plate, looked at pitcher Justin Miller as the ball was thrown toward him.

And on the second pitch of the night from Miller, down by 2 runs at the four hour, fifty-seven minute mark in the 14th inning of play, Ryan Spilborghs hit the baseball over the head of the center fielder and deep into the Rockies bullpen for a walk-off Grand Slam and a 6-4 Rockies win.

Now other than this being above and beyond the most exciting come from behind win I have ever seen, I had the chance to actually be there and watch that ball go over the fence in deep center field. This game gave the Rockies a 4 game lead over the Giants in the Wildcard race and gained half a game on the Dodgers in the divisional race.

If the Rockies end up winning the NL West Division Title this year, which I believe they will do, when people ask when it was that the team decided they were going to beat the Dodgers this year, I think you can go back to 11:37 PM on a cold Monday night in August when Ryan Spilborghs hit a Walk-Off Grand Slam to win 6-4 in the bottom of the 14th inning against the Giants.

For those that want to see a great clip of this exhilarating grand slam from Spilborghs here is a great clip of it from ESPN.

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