Holmes: Rockies 1st Blown Save, 1st Save

SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Darren Holmes made his mark on Rockies history quickly.

“I had the first blown save in Rockies history,” said Holmes, now the Rockies bullpen coach, but 25 years ago the first closer in the history of the expansion Rockies. “To my defense, a little bit, I missed three weeks of spring training because I had back spasms, so I only got to pitch in three games before the season started.

“The Rockies wanted to leave me (in Tucson, at the spring training facility), but I told them I was ready. I wasn’t. So, I went out in front of more than 80,000 people and blew that first save.”

It wasn’t pretty. With two men on base, two out in the top of the eighth and the Rockies holding a 4-2 lead on the Mets, Holmes faced three batters. He walked all three, forcing in two runs, and leaving the bases loaded for Willie Blair, who wild-pitched home one run, walked Dave Gallagher and gave up a bases-loaded triple to Todd Hundley.

“I remember I was walking off the field – they took me out obviously,” said Holmes. “I got booed. You know we had go a long way down the left field line to the locker room (at Mile High Stadium). I got a standing boo by 81,000. I had nine-year old kids flipping me off. I was like, `Oh my God.’

“Then, I somewhat crawled into a little bit of a shell. I had two saves to my name and I am the closer. When I get to Denver you’d thought I was Lee Smith. That was the expectation and I get it, but I was nowhere near ready at that time for what went on.”

Not that Holmes is complaining.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.

But there were rough moments early on. Three weeks and six appearances later, having saved two of four opportunities, Holmes found himself on the mound against the Cubs at Wrigley Field with one out in the ninth, two men on a base and a 10-5 lead to protect. Ryne Sandberg worked him for a walk, Derrick May grounded into a run-scoring fielder’s choice, Steve Buechele doubled home a run, and Sammy Sosa sent an 0-2 pitch sailing over the left field fence, tying the score at 10-10.

The Rockies pulled out a 14-13 win in 11 innings, but it did not lessen the anguish for Holmes.

After the game he was summoned to manager Don Baylor’s office, and general manager Bob Gebhard was seated behind the desk.

“Hey, we’re going to send you down to Triple-A,” Holmes remembers. “It wasn’t a medical rehab. IT was, `Go down. Relax. Get all of this off your mind. Get yourself right.’ Then Don said, `There is a good pitching coach down there, Frank Funk. Get yourself right because right now you aren’t right. You need a break.'”

Holmes resisted, but fortunately the Rockies were adamant.

“Best thing in the world for me,” said Holmes. “I got there there and had thrown three pitches in my first bullpen when Frank Funk noticed something. I was not separating over the rubber. I wasn’t getting my hand out over the rubber. He made me change that and it clicked. I was back.”

And after 10 days and seven games at Triple-A Colorado Springs, Holmes was back in the big leagues, and was unscored upon in 10 of the first 11 appearances after his return. That one exception was in his third appearance, in San Diego, when he gave up a two-run, walk-off home run to Fred McGriff with nobody out in the 11th.

“That didn’t faze me at all because I knew I was back,” said Holmes.

He responded by converting 22 of his next 23 save opportunities, including 16 in a row before that one failure.

“That was redemption for me,” he said. “Little by little I was building confidence in myself and building confidence in the fans and that’s when it really started becoming fun.”

And that group of players, most of whom didn’t know each other, had fun, creating what became a lifelong bond, having shared those early days in the creation of a franchise, and playing for manager Baylor, who worked to avoid the franchise being characterized as a rag-tag collection of unwanted players.

The players wore coats and ties on all road trips. They stood on the top step of the dugout, every member of the team, for the National Anthem.

“He wanted us to take pride in ourselves,” Holmes said. “He wanted us to look professional. You look out there today and we are not in coats and ties on every flight, but with the Colorado Rockies everybody is still out on the field, together, for the National Anthem.

“Don wanted you to respect the flag, respect the country. No one was going to be hanging out in the clubhouse. We were all out there for the National Anthem the first day of the franchise and we still are today.”

They may have been castoffs from the rest of baseball. But they were in the big leagues. And Baylor demanded they act like they belonged.

Tracy RingolsbyComment