With Title At Stake, Black Has Holliday On His Side This Time
Matt Holliday smiled and glanced at Rockies manager Bud Black.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m on your side this time.”
Baseball’s version of gallows humor.
The Rockies are at Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon, playing the Dodgers in a Game 163 to decide the NL West champion, while the Brewers are at Wrigley Field, as well, playing the Cubs in a Game 163 to decide the NL Central champion.
Never before have there been two play-in games in the same year.
But the Rockies and Dodgers have both played a Game 163. The Dodgers, in fact, will be appearing in a play-in game for an MLB record sixth time. The Rockies are appearing for the second time in their 26 year existence, tied with the Red Sox, Cubs and Twins for the third most, four shy of the Dodgers and one behind the Giants.
The Rockies previous play-in experience was upbeat. It was the start of a post-season run that saw the Rockies sweep the Phillies in three games in the NL Division Series, and the Diamondbacks in four games in the NLCS, only to have to wait for nine days for the Red Sox to wrap up the ALCS against Cleveland, and then sweep the Rockies in the World Series.
And it was an adventure-filled final two weeks leading up to the Rockies advancing to the post-season.
They won 14 of their final 15 pre-post-season games – including Game 163 against the Padres at Coors Field. And it was in Game 163 that the Rockies rallied for three runs in the bottom of the 12th to beat Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman and the Black-managed Padres, 9-8.
Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki doubled to bring up the first run, and then Matt Holliday tripled to make it 8-8. Holliday would tag up, and score on a Jamey Carroll line drive to right on a still-discussed slide into home plate.
Padres fans swear that Holliday never touched home plate.
Rockies fans swear that Holliday did touch home plate.
Home plate umpire Tim McClelland said it was a close call, but points out that Padres catcher Michael Barrett did not catch the ball.
The argument also has been made that with replay, it would have shown Holliday was out, to which McClelland points out, “with replay it would have shown Barrett was blocking the plate without the ball, which would have made Holliday safe, regardless.”
“I think I touched home plate,” he said. “It was close, and it is hard to be definitive. With replay, I don’t think it would have been clear enough to change the call.”
What Black knows is he and the Rockies are both back in a Game 163, together, and he is looking forward to the matchup of emerging German Marquez (14-10, 3.76) starting for the Rockies against Dodgers’ rookie Walker Buehler (7-5, 2.76).
“We’re going to have to be ready,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “But then again, they’re going to have to be ready for our guy, too. It’s great, because it’s two of the best young starting pitchers in the big leagues, pitching in this kind of critical game.”
Buehler is winless in five starts against the Rockies in his rookie season, but has a 2.61 ERA and allowed one earned run in 13 innings of two starts at Dodger Stadium.
Marquez, who is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts overall, is 2-0 with a 3.19 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers, having allowed just two runs in 15 innings of two starts at Dodger Stadium. He also has a Rockies record 221 strikeouts.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the National League, in my opinion, especially in the second half,” Black said.
The Dodgers, however, earned the right to host the play-in game by winning the season series against the Rockies 12-7, including a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium in a series that began two weeks ago Monday. The Rockies responded to that series by winning nine of their final 10 regular-season games, and caught the Dodgers in the standings but failed to finish ahead of them at season’s end.
"I wish we would've won the division a while ago, but that's not the case," third baseman Nolan Arenado said. "This is our reality, and it's awesome. It's just fun. We get to go there, hopefully win, and come back here. That's the goal. It's definitely something that we're all excited about."
The reality is that whichever team wins the game on Monday won’t play again until Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Thursday, and the NL West champion will be hosting NL East champion Atlanta, which had one fewer win (90) than both the Dodgers and the Rockies at the end of the 162-game season.
The loser on Monday, however, doesn’t go home. It will travel to either Chicago or Milwaukee for the wild-card play-in game Tuesday against the loser of Monday’s play-in game between the Brewers and Cubs.
It is that time of year that creates an added excitement, on the field, as well as off.
“Every player across the landscape of pro sports," said Black, “even amateur sport, is going for a championship. … High school state playoffs. … College World Series. … NCAA Regionals. … This is beyond that, but it is the same sort of feeling. It’s great. I love it. It’s what you play for, a chance to be a champion. It’s awesome.”