Todd Helton, Rockies Headed to Fall Classic

DENVER -- Riding a Rocky Mountain High like none other, Colorado is heading to its first World Series.

With their 21st win in 22 games, the relentless Rockies beat the rattled Arizona Diamondbacks 6-4 in Game 4 Monday night to sweep the NL championship series at a chilly Coors Field.

Series MVP Matt Holliday's three-run, 452-foot shot into the pine-filled rock pile in center field capped a six-run outburst in the fourth inning, and the wild-card Rockies -- a team that debuted in 1993 -- were on their way.

"They always say baseball is about confidence and we have a lot right now," Colorado right fielder Brad Hawpe said.

The Rockies have a record eight days to rest before opening the World Series at either Cleveland or Boston on Oct. 24. The Indians lead the ALCS 2-1.

"It was fun, this has been a great ride. We're not done yet," Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. "We're going to keep it going."

With their delirious fans waving brooms and towels, the Rockies joined the 1976 Big Red Machine as the only teams to start a postseason with seven straight wins. Colorado has won 10 in row overall and lost only once since Sept. 16.

"It's unbelievable. I never dreamed I'd have this opportunity," Holliday said. "With this group of guys I'm so excited to be a part of it. This MVP award goes 24 other directions."

Just one strike from postseason elimination on the final weekend of the season, the Rockies have become a charmed team that seemingly cannot lose. This marked the sixth straight year that a wild-card club reached the World Series.

Colorado had never won more than 83 games before going 90-73 this season and sneaking into the playoffs with a 9-8, 13-inning win over San Diego in the wild-card tiebreaker. After sweeping Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, the Rockies put a purple pummeling on a D-backs club that led the league with 90 victories.

"Once the sting of this subsides, we'll be able to reflect that we did have a great year," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said.

Ahead 6-1, the Rockies withstood Chris Snyder's three-run homer in the eighth. Chris Young doubled with one out in the ninth off closer Manny Corpas, but Stephen Drew popped out on a 3-0 pitch.

"If that's not the tying run, then I obviously don't let him swing," Melvin said. "Bu right there you know you're going to get a fastball, you know you're going to get a pitch to drive. He just came off it a hair and popped it up."

Eric Byrnes followed with a checked-swing grounder that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki charged. His throw beat Byrnes' headfirst dive, and Helton threw his arms in the air.

"I can't believe it, what a crazy game," Helton said. "Emotionally, you can't say enough about this ballclub."

The Rockies are the first team since the 1935 Chicago Cubs to win at least 21 of 22 after Sept. 1, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Before this season, the Rockies had just one postseason victory, back in 1995, when they were eliminated by Atlanta in the first round.

Now, they're riding into the World Series with astonishing momentum -- and to think, with two weeks left in the season, they stood in fourth place in the wild-card race and knew they had to win just about all their games to have a shot at extending their season.

Reliever Matt Herges, who resurrected his career in Colorado this summer, pitched two hitless innings for the win, and the Rockies' stellar bullpen closed it out -- but not before Brian Fuentes surrendered Snyder's homer.

With the Rockies trailing 1-0 with two outs in the fourth and runners at second and third, manager Clint Hurdle made a bold move: He pulled his starting pitcher, rookie Franklin Morales, for a pinch-hitter.

Hurdle didn't have to worry about burning his bullpen because Game 5 wouldn't have been until Wednesday night. So he sent up rookie Seth Smith, who had only eight career at-bats when he was placed on the playoff roster.

Smith fell behind 0-2 in the count against rookie Micah Owings, then blooped a 1-2 pitch down the left-field line. Like everything else this October for the Rockies, it fell in the perfect place and ended Owings' streak of 19 scoreless innings.

The two-run double put Colorado ahead 2-1 and the Rockies caught another break when Arizona first baseman Conor Jackson couldn't catch Willy Taveras' easy grounder. The error set up Kaz Matsui's run-scoring single -- the eighth RBI of the postseason for a player once cast off by the New York Mets.

Holliday sent the sellout crowd of 50,213 into a frenzy when he drove Owings' fastball over the center-field wall to make it 6-1.

Morales allowed one earned run on five hits in four innings. Though he didn't get the win, the Rockies improved to 8-2 in his 10 major league starts.

Owings, the first pitcher since Whitey Ford in 1953 to collect two four-hit games in the same season, lived up to his .333 batting average by legging out a single in the first and coming around to score on Jackson's two-out single in the third.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin said he felt like an AL manager with the DH whenever he got to fill out a lineup card with Owings in it.

Owings had a chance to pad the D-backs' lead in the fourth but struck out to strand a runner at second. In the bottom half, he dived to field Yorvit Torrealba's dribbler and throw him out at first. Afterward, the trainer came out to take a look at Owings' left shin, but the right-hander stayed in -- only to soon fall apart.

With the Rockies celebrating their first pennant, four franchises remain that have never reached the World Series: the Mariners, Devil Rays, Senators/Rangers and Expos/Nationals.

The Rockies went 2-1 against Boston this season, outscoring the Red Sox 20-5 in a June series at Fenway Park. Colorado last played Cleveland in 2005, getting swept in a three-game set at Jacobs Field.

One night after a cold rain forced the grounds crew to dump three tons of dry dirt on the field, the grounds crew had a relatively routine workload under clear skies. It was a crisp 55 degrees at gametime.

The D-backs clinched their playoff spot on Sept. 28 at Denver and Melvin put out a diluted lineup the next two games while resting his regulars for the postseason. Melvin said he has no regrets about not trying to knock out the Rockies that weekend because his sole purpose was to get his team rested and ready for the Cubs, whom Arizona swept.

Arizona ace Brandon Webb, whom the Rockies beat in Game 1, said he wanted to pitch that final weekend because he knew the Rockies were so hot. "I knew that all we had to do was win one more and these guys would be out of it," Webb said.

Instead, on a cool night in October, it was the rampaging Rockies who knocked out the D-Backs and gave baseball its first World Series at altitude.

"Anything can happen in baseball," Hawpe said. "Fortunately the best thing that can happen to us has happened. ... And it's not over."

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service


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