Baseball is fun! I mean it is really fun. It not only gives you 162 new days for new outcomes that are their own great potential memories, but even when you have a bad season, come the end of the World Series, everything starts brand new. You get Hot Stove, and Winter Meetings, building your team, then Pitchers and Catchers report days, spring training, and a whole new gift of 162 separate potential gems. Baseball is great. Even as Rockies fans who have faced some tough times since 2010. But each year, we get that same fantastic gift of 162 new games. And this year…it just seems like the collection of players that we are in for a particular fun year, with a great group of players who just might do some amazing things this year. We have already seen some of them. This is a great team to enjoy…and they just might be a pretty good one, as they tried to hit the 20% mark of the season 19-13.
On the pre-pre-game radio show on KOA before Saturday night’s game, Jack Corrigan was reminding the listeners that Walt Weiss said he would gladly take 25 guys who would work their tails off every game and head north from spring training with them against any other group of guys. Walt was tying into something that many Rockies fans have started to notice about this Rockies team – they do not quite, fighting all 27 outs (or more), and making you beat them rather than beating themselves. This has shown by the fact that heading into the 32 game, the 20% mark of the season, they had only lost two games by more than 3 runs. There are no easy wins against the Rockies, and teams had better know that. And no more so than at home. So as the Rockies sent out Franklin Morales, he of the 3-1, 4.40 ERA against Jenrry Mejia (3-0, 3.49 ERA) for what should have been a nice normal game.
It was…a nice normal Coors Field, 25 man effort, 25 outs game. Like the night before the Mets stated hot against a Rockies’s lefty, this time unlike Jorge De La Rosa, Franklin couldn’t get out of the inning. He got the first out and then: triple, double, walk, hard fly out, single, single (and a non-overturned call costing Walt Weiss his one challenge) and only got out of the inning when he struck out short-stop Ruben Tejada. The score was 3-0, but it felt much worse. Morales wasn’t just not sharp, he was getting hammered in most cases. It took 24 pitches to show that Morales did not have his A game (or B game or….). The Rox the night before had immediately came-back against the Mets starter. But Mejia was sharp, allowing only a walk that was erased when Drew Stubbs forgot to retreat properly to first and was therefore doubled-off. That summed up the Rockies first four innings – the previously tenacious, hard playing, smart baseball team looked lost. While Morales escaped the 2nd inning with a nice 1-2-3 inning, the Rockies were also dispatched 1-2-3. Then came the third inning, making the first inning look like good baseball. Single, steal, single, wild pitch, double, ground out, error by Arenado (yes ,you read that right) scoring run, ground out. In three short innings the Rockies looked completely out of sync, and the pitching of Mejia kept them in that same state. Even when it looked like a threat started in the third, with men on 2nd and 1st, a strike-out on a bunt by Morales was followed by a line-out double-play.
Threat over, 6-0, and things got worse in the next inning, as Morales added another error on a pick-off play trying to get David Wright, which fortunately did not end in a run. The Mets came into the series having had every one of their starting pitchers throw through at least the 5th inning. That streak ended when they knocked first Bartolo Colon on Thursday night and then Zach Wheeler out after 4 on Friday night. But entering the 5th Jenrry Mejia was crusing, allowing just 3 hits and one walk, and the Rockies looked completely lost. And that is why baseball is so great…because what came before has no meaning to what comes next. The weekend had already seen the Rockies make several roster changes. Due to a viral infection Josh Rutledge was placed on the 15DL, causing the Rockies to call up Ryan Wheeler to take his place (and he was given the start tonight for Justin Morneau who had been playing without a break since Micheal Cuddyer went on the DL). Then due to an illness to Wilin Rosario, they sent down Chad Bettis and brought up Mike McKenry, the backup catcher. In addition Brandon Barnes was facing a bad cold, which is why Drew Stubbs got the start tonight in center.
Wheeler, getting his first start since the call-up opened up the 5th with a line-drive homer to right field. Mets 6 Rockies 1. Maybe what came before does change what comes next: Pacheco singles, DJ walks, Brandon Barnes pinch-hitting for Morales grounded the ball to short, but beat out the double-play relay when 1B Duda dropped the throw. So, runners on 3rd and 1st, 1 one, still 6-1. Next batter Charlie Blackmon flares a soft single to center, Mets 6-2, runners still 3rd and 1st. Next batter Drew Stubbs, facing the righty, Stubbs lines a single to left, making it 6-3, runners on 2nd and 1st. Still, no reason to panic, all Mejia needs is another double-play ball. He made a good pitch to CarGo who hits the ball just past the 2nd baseman, Mets 6-4, runners again on 3rd and 1st. Next batter Tule – Mejia hits him right on the elbow, loading them up. Up next, Nolan Arenado, 22 game hit streak becomes 23 as the balls sails into the left-field stands, grand slam, Rockies 8 Mets 6.
The entire game preceding the start of the 5th inning disappeared in a period of about 15 minutes and 19 pitches. Amazingly, the Blackmon hit came on the 2nd pitch and after that each of the next 4 events happened on the first pitch of the AB. That quick, Jenrry Mejia went from in-control throwing a shut-out to being the third straight Mets pitcher to fail to escape the 5th inning. That is why baseball, especially baseball at Coors Field, and especially as played by this Rockies team is so great – hard work, good ABs, hustle and a little luck can change everything that came before. Mejia was gone and DiceK Matsuzaka came in and got Wheeler with a K and Pacheco with a fly-out but the damage was done. Surprisingly, at this point Franklin Morales, who had managed to stick around for 5 innings and 95 pitches was actually in line to go 4-1 though with a much elevated 5.05 ERA. But it was not going to be one of those games.
Fans who have watched the Rockies squander leads on great offensive days to the Phillies and Giants were quick to experience flashbacks, as the 6th inning began. Chris Martin relieved Morales (Tommy Kahnle had been in the pen ready to go when Morales was pinch-hit for, but after the lead went to the Rockies, the move was made to Martin, who had a perfect ERA coming into the game). Martin got the first man swinging on a 96mph 4 seamer, but then a double by Murphy on a nice job of hitting and a ground out by David Wright was followed by a Chris Young double to centerfield, as Young not for the first or last time in the evening, would victimize Rockies pitching. Martin gave way to Rex Brothers to face the lefty Curtis Granderson but, after once again falling behind, gave-up a single to the lefty and the great 8-run 5th and become an 8-8 6th. Rex got the last out of the inning to send it to the bottom of the 6th.
DiceK, once a pretty good starter has been transformed into a reliever this season by the Mets, and considering the pen usage the past two days, played an important role for the Mets, pitching through the next few innings. He worked around a Wright error in the 6th to send it to the 7th, where Rex Brothers worked around a walk to send it to the bottom of the 7th. With one-out in the bottom of the 7th Tulo achieved what will be one of many in a long-line of career achievements, hitting his 1000 hit, a solid single up the middle. Nolan Arenado followed this up with a double down the line, putting men at 3rd and 2nd with just one out. After a walk of Corey Dickerson (Wheeler’s spot had become the pitcher’s spot), Jordan Pacheco gave the Rox the lead again with a solid sac fly to center field, but Dice K was able to induce DJ to fly out to left field, leaving men and 2nd and 3rd and giving fans the sense we might have wasted an important opportunity.
Sure enough, the top of the 8th with Adam “Zero” Ontavino pitching saw a repeat of the Phils, Giants and DBacks game. Daniel Murphy hit a perfect cue shot to left field that CarGo just came up short in snaring for a double (he made a great play to just catch the ball, saving a potential inside-the-ballpark homer). Zero then got David Wright with one of those patented swing-destroying sliders, leaving Wright looking at the video screen to see where the ball even ended up. Alas, that great pitch was undone by that man again, Chris Young with a soft liner to left to score Murphy, putting the Mets back in a tie 9-9, and with the sense that the bullpen had little answer for the Mets hitters this evening. Weiss brought in Boone Logan at this point for “Zero” and Logan got the lefty Granderson on a 2-2 count with a nasty slider to outside of the plate. Logan then closed out the inning with a 2 pitch AB getting Anthony Recker, tonight’s catcher, on a fly ball to CarGo. Rockies 9 Mets 9, but with Bettis having been sent down and Rosario sick, and the Rockies pen fighting to get outs, the game felt more like the Rockies were trailing 9-9 rather than tied.
The Mets finally used their lefty in the bottom of the 8th, getting a quick K of Justin Morneau, a line-out of Blackmon, and while Drew Stubbs worked a walk, CarGo rolled into the shift 2nd to 1st, sending it to the 9th still 9-9. Boone Logan started the 9th, getting Lucas Duda to strike-out on a 7 pitch, 3-2 count with a called strike 3 on a nice slider. The next batter was to be Ruben Tejada, the right-handed hitting and light-hitting short-stop. Here was one of those key moments, and relying on “the book,” the standard plan so many managers use, Weiss pulled Logan, the most effective reliever of the evening, and replaced him with LaTroy Hawkins, who then faced left-handed hitting wily veteran, Bobby Abreu. Abreau promptly hit a hard line-drive double to left, putting the go-ahead run at 2nd with only 1 out. EY Jr came into pinch-run for Abreu, who seems to be enjoying one last time through the majors after taking a year off. Hawkins got the pinch-hitter Satin on a roller to Tulo, but EY Jr with his great speed took off after the throw from Tulo to 1st and got to 3rd. So, 2-outs, man on 3rd and up next CF Juan Lagares, who brought in an 11 game hitting streak and was one of the few Mets without a hit entering the 9th. He promptly took a high 4 seamer 95mph pitch into right field, making it 10-9.
Daniel Murphy followed this with a single to left, making it men at 3rd and 1st, but after Murphy took 2nd, the Rox walked David Wright to set-up a match-up between Hawkins and Chris Young, he of two RBIs already. Score 10-9, needing to keep it closer, and Hawkins did it, showing him two sliders at 87 before getting him to pop up a 95 mph fastball to Charlie Blackmon. So off to the bottom of the 9th, down 10-9, to face the third Mets closer of the year. The Mets lost their planned closer (chosen to replace LaTroy Hawkins coincidently enough) when Bobby Parnell injured his elbow on opening day precipitating Tommy John surgery. He was replaced by the ineffective but always interesting Jose Valverde. The latest to get the role is Kyle Farnsworth, a hard-throwing 38-year old righty who has closed in the past for teams like the Rays and Cubs.
He certainly has seen enough to know what can happen at Coors. First batter was Tulo, who in five pitches started his march towards hit 2,000 with a hard hit ground-ball back up the middle into CF. The next batter, Nolan Arenado, Farnsworth had already watch do damage, and so he attacked him with three straight sinkers, elevated enough though so that Arenado was able to hit it deep enough to CF to allow Tulo to just tag-up and get into scoring position. And here is where baseball becomes better than 99.9% of the fiction writing in the universe.
For when fiction writers, often even the best, try and create scenarios for great outcomes – failures or successes, just great outcomes – they are constrained by credulity. After all, who would believe that a team would have a so many sick players that its only healthy non-back-up catcher left to pinch-hit in the pitchers spot would be a guy coming into the game hitting .107. A guy whose career major league numbers are a .242 hitter with 3 home runs. But, that is who did come up to bat. Charlie Culberson had to come in and do what is, agreed upon by most sports scientist, the hardest thing to do – pinch hit a baseball in a pressure situation. Farnsworth certainly didn’t make it easy, getting a called strike on an 85mph slider, followed by a ball on an 87mph slider. At this point Farnsworth challenged him away with a 95 mph 4 seamer….and in one swing Charlie Culberson became a legend, Charlie Cloberson, sending the pitch out to the absolute deepest part of the field, clearing the 415 foot sign into the stream.
Cloberson knew before he was two steps out of the box that he got it all, that it was gone, but raced around the bases like Ryan Spillbourghs in 2009, probably even faster, to be greeted at home by a group of exhausted teammates, all of whom had played seemingly some role in this great one-night drama. For the rest of his life Charlie Cloberson will have this experience to help mark his career. And what an event! I could almost hear Jack Buck yelling like he did at the Kurt Gibson homer on the radio broadcast….” I don’t believe what I just saw….I don’t believe what I JUST SAW!”
It was just that sweat…that fun…that pure enjoyment. What made it even great – it was another whole team victory. Franklin Morales, who clearly didn’t have his good stuff, who was having a hard time getting the ball in on righties and keeping it away on lefties, fought for 5 innings, keeping them in the game, leaving with a chance as it turned out to record a win, and this was remarked upon by Walt Weiss. With having sent down Chad Bettis today because of Rosario’s illness, they didn’t have a long-man in the pen, and Morales had to get them at least to the 6th with a chance to win – which he did. Rex Brothers might have allowed the tying run to score, but he also went an additional inning, keeping the Mets bats in check in the 7th. Brandon Barnes, playing with a cold, not only hustled down the line to be safe (helped by a dropped ball) but scored an important run. Jordan Pacheco not only had to be the main catcher, but also had a key sac fly to keep the game from falling away. Boone Logan got key outs. LaTroy Hawkins, Adam Ontovino and Chris Martin all allowed runners to score, but kept the innings from going crooked and wasting the big 8-run comeback. And of course Ryan Wheeler and Nolan Arenado had big homers to spark the original comeback. Tulo did what Tulo does – get on base and scored runs, even as other guys tonight were the ones who brought him home.
But at the end of the night it was the light hitting infielder, the 25th man on the roster in many ways, the guy acquired in a trade for Marco Scuturo, who was “The Hero” – launching a homer than any of us who stayed up to see it will remember for years to come. He made the previous 3:46 minutes all prelude to what likely will be the highlight of his career – and what a highlight. He managed in one-swing of the bat to make an 8-run outburst with a grand slam in it both a secondary note and meaningful at the same time. That is the power of that one short three pitch AB. And it reminded us why we love this game! Why sitting with my kids at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night jumping up and down for this one great day (among many this season we hope) is just so fantastic.
The Question left to be decide….where does this one rank in the Greatest All-Time Rockies Games:
1) The Mile-High Opener with EY Sr. Launching the Team to its First win
2) The Coors Field Opener in 1995 with Dante Bichette shaking his fist…at the Mets
3) The 2005 Opening Day walk-off by Clint Barmes vs Trevor Hoffman
4) The 2007 Dodgers walk-off with Todd Helton flying around the bases.
5) The 2007 Game 163 Matt Holliday slide game
6) The 2009 August 14th inning Ryan Spillborghs’s grand slam game
7) The 2010 July comeback down 9-3 against the Cardinals to win.
And then there is this one! Where do I put it? Not sure where to put it right now….but its right up on the list, and given how enjoyable this team is, how hard they play and how unlikely the hero is, given the list of sick players, given that it also included an 8-run comeback as part of it and that 6 bullpen losses they had faced leading-up to this…this one might just be my all-time favorite. At least until the next one. Enjoy being King for the Evening Charlie Cloberson….they can never take that away from you for the rest of your life! People are always saying “life imitates art” but as seems the case most of the time in baseball, baseball is simply better than art, because it is the place where real life and the beauty of baseball create true stories and legends that last, that you tell the stories about for generations to come. And sometimes those stories even end up in Cooperstown. Well, Charlie, you probably won’t ever make it there, but… Tonight you were the better hero than any old best-selling writer can ever imagine! You are Charlie Cloberson Culberson.