King Kaufman's Sports Daily

It ain't luck if you do it 20 times: Rockies take 3-0 lead over D-Backs. If we're lucky, the Indians and Red Sox will save us from a postseason of routs.


King Kaufman
October 15, 2007 1:53PM (UTC)

Thank goodness for the Cleveland Indians and their seven-run 11th inning Saturday night, or Sunday morning, or Tuesday afternoon is what it felt like by the time that glacier of a game ended. In six series this postseason, the Indians in the A.L. Championship Series are the only Game 1 loser to win a Game 2 and make a contest of the thing.

In every other matchup, including the NLCS, which is now 3-0 Colorado after the Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1 in the Denver rain Sunday night, one team has won its way to within a game of clinching while their opponents are still on the schneid.

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Three of the four first-round series were sweeps, which is the first time that's ever happened, and all the Diamondbacks have to do to avoid becoming the fourth team this October to feel the broom is beat a team that's won 20 of its last 21 games.

And do it on the road.

Something strange is happening when the baseball playoffs aren't as competitive as the upper echelons of college football.

But that's how it's going. One top-ranked college team after another has been falling -- just to make me look bad after I wrote last month that college grid is a beat-down festival. Also to make me feel bad in the case of my then-second-ranked alma mater losing on a bonehead play Saturday mere minutes after No. 1 LSU had gone down, clearing the path to the top spot.

But we were talking about baseball, and here was Eric Byrnes of the Diamondbacks Sunday night, stepping to the plate in Denver, the crowd raining boos on him and the sky raining rain on him, though almost certainly without the same malice.

The Rockies faithful were mad at Byrnes, who actually played for the Rox for two uneventful weeks in 2005, for saying in an interview that the Rockies hadn't so much outplayed the Diamondbacks as benefited from some lucky breaks.

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"Definitely, the ball has bounced in their direction," he'd said. "They've been the beneficiary of some calls."

This is one of those things that you look bad talking about if you're down 2-0 instead of up 2-0, even if you're just trying to buck up your teammates, as Byrnes later said he'd been doing, because you look like a sore loser who's dissing the team that just beat you. Which is true, and you are.

But that doesn't mean there isn't some truth to it. You don't lose a 3-2 game in 11 innings without shaking your head and saying that if not for an inch or two this way or that, things might have been different. Especially when one of the opposition's run-scoring hits was a dunker that landed on the foul line.

That said, it isn't anything like all bad luck when you score three runs in 20 innings, as the D-Backs had done when Byrnes spoke -- it's now four runs in 29 innings -- when your ace gets beat by four runs or when your team makes a half-season's worth of spectacular base-running blunders, two of them, in two games. All guilty as charged, Diamondbacks.

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And while you might win a game here and there because of luck, you don't rabbit's-foot your way to 20 wins in 21 games. So without some good bounces the Rockies would be 18-3. They're doing everything right. That's what's happening.

But we had Byrnes at the plate, top of the first inning, the first two Snakes having singled against Josh Fogg, one of those journeyman roster-fillers whose habitual below-averageness earns him hero worship whenever he manages to keep his team in a ballgame. Paul Byrd of the Indians, who took care of the New York Yankees in the first-round Game 4 last week, is another one of these guys. It's a great job. An ace gets excoriated for the same shaky, six-inning, three-run start for which the Josh Foggs of the world are feted.

Though it should be noted that Fogg was much better than that Sunday, allowing just one run in six innings, thanks in large measure to the Diamondbacks hitting into a googolplex of double plays. At one point they hit into 12 double plays in one inning. I know. I hadn't thought it possible either.

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So Byrnes is batting, the people are booing, the rain is raining, the runners on first and second are taking their leads, no one is out, and things are looking up at last for the Arizonas. Fogg delivers a pitch just as the TBS announcers are talking about Byrnes' comments about luck, and as luck would have it Byrnes picks that moment to scorch one right back through the box.

If life were a comic strip the next frame would show Fogg cartwheeling in the air, his shoes and socks flying off as the ball zoomed past. Instead the ball happens to find Fogg's glove, and he wheels smartly and throws to second to double off the runner there, Chris Young. The Rockies almost got a triple play, but Stephen Drew, who had made one of those terrible base-running errors in Game 2, managed to get back to the bag at first ahead of the throw.

Luck. A nice play by Fogg, who did have to react slightly to catch the line drive, and who then knew what to do with the ball. But a few inches up, down or in either direction and that ball either means a 1-0 lead for the Diamondbacks, the bases loaded and nobody out or the bases loaded, nobody out and Fogg with a baseball implanted between his ribs.

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Baseball games turn on these sorts of things all the time, which isn't to say that it's a game of luck. It's a game of six-month seasons, and the luck, most of us believe, tends to even out over the course of those 162 games, so that the teams that make the playoffs really are the best ones around. But over the five or seven games of a playoff series, there isn't always time for that luck to even out. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't.

For whatever reason or no reason at all, this year it's not evening out with a vengeance, and we're left with what looks like a series of beat-downs in series between fairly evenly matched teams.

The Rockies and Diamondbacks traded solo homers after that first-inning rally was snuffed out Sunday. Matt Holliday hit one for Colorado off of Livan Hernandez, who's another one of those guys like Fogg and Byrd, and then Mark Reynolds hit one off of Fogg in the fourth.

Meanwhile Hernandez did that thing he often does, calmly flipping up 29-mph whoopsy-doodle balls that dazzle and baffle opposing hitters right up until the moment someone hits a three-run homer, which Yorvit Torrealba did in the bottom of the sixth, and with the way the Diamondbacks have been swinging the bats, Byrnes' rocket into Fogg's glove and a few other solid connects notwithstanding, that was pretty much that.

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Torrealba's the guy whose pop fly landed on the foul line for an RBI single Saturday.

Luck? Certainly not. Not only. There won't be any arguing that the Diamondbacks are getting a raw deal from the fates when they go down to what would have been a sure defeat before 2004 but now we'll just call an extravagantly likely one. They're being beaten by a good team that's hotter than hotter has ever been. But they're also not getting any favors from the big spinning wheel.

Which means neither are we. With sweeps and near sweeps all the rage this month, we fans are left counting on the Indians and Red Sox to give us a little back and forth. Game 3 of that series is Monday night, followed by Game 4 of the NLCS.

Maybe the Diamondbacks will recover and give the Rockies something to think about, at the very least. Seeming juggernauts getting dumped is also the rage this month, the college football people tell me. No jugger has ever been more nautty in the playoffs than the Rockies and their 20-1 record since Sept. 16.

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The Rockies have built up such a comfortable lead that they can have a losing record from here on out and still win the World Series. I'd like to see them try that. We need to inject a little of that ol' college football uncertainty into the baseball playoffs.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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