MLB: Colorado Rockies Blast New York Mets in NYC: 5 Keys to the Rockies Sweep

Michael AaronContributor IApril 15, 2011

MLB: Colorado Rockies Blast New York Mets in NYC: 5 Keys to the Rockies Sweep

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    View From the Rockpile: Musings From a Mile High Along the Journey to Rocktober

     

    There’s no bigger stage for a middle-market club than the sparkling new sandlot just a skip, hop and a seven-train jump from Broadway.  Do it here, and media, critics and fans will take notice. 

     

    America, meet the 2011 Colorado Rockies.

     

    The Rockies entered this season demanding better from themselves away from the friendly confines of Coors Field.  Road warriors, they need not be; but 31-50 on the road (as they were in 2010), they cannot be, not if they aim to make their NL West championship dreams come true.

     

    After taking three of four from the Pirates in PNC Park, the Rockies looked to continue to exorcise their road demons at Citi Field against a struggling New York Mets squad. 

     

    Yet, having lost eight straight series in the Big Apple and 22 out of their last 27 in old New York, New York, the Rockies still had their work cut out for them.

     

    Consider those dragons tamed, at least for the moment.  With the Herculean efforts of team leader Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies fought their way through wind, rain, daily deficits and a doubleheader to an amazin’ four-game series sweep against the Mets.

     

    Just how did the Rockies manage to turn the Mets into the Mess?  Take a look inside to find out…

5.) Pickup Your Teammates: Rockies Minimize Errors with Solid Team Play

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    Johnny Herrera Lays Down the Tag on Angel Pagan Following a Perfect Throw From Carlos GonzalezJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Rockies have battled their way to the best record in baseball at 10-2 through solid fundamental all-around play.  Good pitching, timely hitting, and solid D.

     

    This is not to say they have been perfect.  Yet, for each mental miscue and official error, the Rockies have taken it upon themselves to minimize the damage.

     

    Todd Helton gets an E3 on an easy infield pop up after the Rockies took the lead by putting up a crooked number in the top of the 6th in the fourth game of the series? No matter – starting (and winning) pitcher Jorge De La Rosa strikes out the extra batter with a runner on 2B.

     

    A pitcher misses his location, leading to a line shot somewhere in the area code of left field?  Not to worry: CarGo will track it down, uncorking one of his gems in the spider web that has become an outfield manned by the graceful Gonzalez.

     

    Rafael Betancourt allows two runs in the bottom of the eight during the first game, closing the Rockies lead to a single run?  Piece of cake: Huston Street pitched a 1-2-3 9th to seal a 7-6 victory for the Rox.

     

    And when Street suddenly lost his magic touch in Game 3, allowing the Mets to inch to a 6-5 deficit in the bottom of the 9th?  Settle yourselves, said Matt Lindstrom, in nailing down that 6-5 score as final, using his hot, hot heat to send the Mets into silent submission.

     

    Hell, they did it off the field too: after Carlo Gonzalez lost a routine fly ball in the New York City sunshine during the bottom half of the top frame (yes, sunshine actually made an appearance this week, even if the Mets’ defense did not), Tulowitzki ran to the Rockies’ dugout to grab CarGo’s sunglasses.

     

    Since the magical 2007 run to Rocktober, the Rockies organization has gained notoriety for the tight-knit nature of its players. 

     

    As the Mets unraveled, individuals screaming into their gloves blunder after each maddening defensive blunder, the Rockies maintained their composure, calmly, methodically working their way to the sweet series sweep.

4.) Huston Street: Close to Unhittable? Or, Prelude to a Closer Controversy?

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    Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street throws a pitch in a rocky outing against the Mets at Citi FieldChris Trotman/Getty Images

    Huston Street arrived in New York looking far more like the steal that Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd procured from Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics in the Matt Holliday (see: Carlos Gonzalez) trade before the 2009 season. 

     

    Street saved games 1-2 of the series with paint-by-numbers magic and a deathly mixture of location and guile.  Following his second save of the series in the Rockies 5-4 win on Wednesday night (and his sixth in six chances on the young season), Street’s ERA had dipped to a 1980’s gas price-worthy 0.90. 

     

    But come Thursday morning, with the opportunity to shut the door on the Mets for a third time in three days, Street faltered, getting just one out, while surrendering a 2-run home run to Scott Hairston and allowing two more Mets to reach base before Tracy removed him.

     

    The Rockies skipper called to the ‘pen for off-season acquisition (and former Florida Marlins and Houston Astros closer) Matt Lindstrom.  Lindstrom loaded the bases, before eking his way to his 2nd save of the season, cleaning up the mess that Street paved before him by inducing a David Wright fly ball to the warning track in right field for the final out.

     

    Though emblematic of the Rockies depth and ability to cover for their teammates missteps, Rockies fans cannot help but wonder: do we have a closer controversy on our hands?

     

    Street suffered through a roller coaster ride of injuries and blown saves in 2010.  O’Dowd traded defensive stalwart Clint Barmes to the Astros for Lindstrom to compete with Street as the closer – a battle that Street won coming out of spring training. 

     

    And, despite Street’s strong start to the 2011 campaign, Tracy admittedly considered removing Street in a shaky 7-5 victory against the Dodgers on April 6.

     

    In the short-term, Street is likely to keep his job with Lindstrom used situationally.  However, like Chris Iannetta in years past, fans and critics are sure to wonder if Tracy’s quick trigger on Street positively or negatively influences the guitar-strumming Rockies’ closer.

3.) Rockies Starting Rotation Maintains Composure, Avoids Crooked Innings

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    Rockies spot starter Greg Reynolds tosses a pitch in his victory against the Mets on April 14, 2011, his first MLB victory since 2008Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    When the Rockies placed staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez on the Disabled List immediately after his Opening Day shellacking against the Diamondbacks, media pundits focused on one overarching question: could the Rockies pitching hold the fort until Jimenez returned?

     

    Are the Wilpon-owned Mets in a Madoff mess of debt? 

     

    Which is to say, yes.  (And yes.)

     

    Thus far, Rockies starting pitching has been, if not phenomenal, phenomenally workmanlike.  In the series against the Mets, each starting Rockies pitcher (Jason Hammel, Esmil Rogers, Greg Reynolds and Jorge De La Rosa) succumbed to at least one difficult inning of work. 

     

    Indeed, every pitcher other than Rogers had at least one inning in which they gave up two runs, and each one of them put the Rockies behind early in the game.  Yet, with traffic on the base paths, the Rockies pitchers contained the damage time and again.

     

    Credit in particular goes to pitching coach Bob Apodaca and catcher Chris Iannetta, as they masterfully coached, prodded, and clung to the Rockies pitchers, guiding them through rough spots and pushing for better results until each of their arms respectively pled uncle.

     

    In the short-term, starting pitcher 5B Reynolds provided the Rockies with a fantastic spot start, earning his first MLB victory since June 17, 2008. Reynolds showed the unexpected depth of a Rockies pitching staff off to a rousing 8-0 record with a 3.68 ERA, 12 games through the season.  

     

    Like Hammel and Rogers before him and De La Rosa immediately after, Reynolds’s gritty 5 innings set the table for the Rockies’ 6-5 win in the top half of Thursday’s doubleheader…only to be immediately optioned to the Rockies AAA-affiliate in Colorado Springs, to make way for a certain righty from the Dominican Republic to come off of the DL. 

     

    No Ubaldo, no complete games, no respect from the media?  No problem for the unheralded starting rotation of the Rockies.  Underdog works just fine.

2.) It Ain't over Til It's Over: Resiliency Carries the Day for Rockies

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    Ian Stewart and Jason Giambi celebrate after scoring the go-ahead runs on a double off the bat of backup catcher Jose Morales in a 6-5 Rockies victory over the MetsChris Trotman/Getty Images

    2-0, 4-2.  2-0, 3-1.  2-0.  2-0, 4-2.

     

    The above numbers represent neither winning lottery tickets, nor a Ritalin-deprived adolescent’s recollection of the scores of an amateur tennis match.

     

    Rather, the above signify each of the deficits the Rockies faced in their Citi Field triumph before winning each game of the four-game set – with three victories by a single run.

     

    Watching these Rockies over the early part of the season, one thing is clear: there is no panic, there is no give-in, no mercy.  The Rockies have 27 outs to make their mark offensively, and if the first two weeks are any indication, this 2011 edition of the Rockies offense does not offend to waste a single pitch.

     

    Authored by new hitting coach Carney Lansford, Rockies hitting with two outs and runners on base is no longer where RBI’s go to die.  From the leadoff to the eight hole, Rockies hitters are one focused and locked-in bunch.

     

    The Rockies offense has been a breath of fresh air after two seasons of ill-timed strikeouts and lazy fly balls; inconsistency and missed opportunities.  Once offensive sinkholes, Chris Iannetta and Dexter Fowler no longer elicit groans and frustration from management and fans alike.

     

    The volcanically hot start of Troy Tulowitzki and the poetic brilliance of any given at-bat by Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton cannot be diminished. 

     

    But it would do the Rockies lineup a disservice – with clutch hitting from the likes of backup first baseman/head cheerleader Jason Giambi and utilitymen Ty Wigginton and Johnny Herrera – to assume that this Rockies offense is merely Tulo, Cargo and a stack of table settings.

1.) Troy Tulowitzki's 2011 MVP Campaign Blasts into Orbit

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    Troy Tulowitzki blasts one of his four home runs during the Rockies four-game visit to Citi Field, where they swept the New York MetsJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Brevity is the soul of wit, pined Shakespeare.  Words may muddle the madness of King Tulo.  Let’s take a look at the numbers:

     

    22 Home Runs, 52 RBI’s, .822 slugging percentage since September 3, 2010, a span of 40 games.  Yep: that ranks Tulo first in each of those categories in that span.

     

    The human video game that is Troy Tulowitzki finished the series against the Mets hitting 10-16 with four home runs and eight RBI’s.  Tulowitzki became the first person to ever go yard in four consecutive games at Citi Field.  Even more, as Elias Sports Bureau has reported, Tulowitzki is the first to accomplish the feat (home run four games in a row in a single series) in all of MLB since Vladimir Guerrero did it in four games against the Rangers in September 2004.

     

    More important than the home runs and hits, though, has been the timing of his hits.  Each one of his home runs occurred at crucial moments in the series, either giving the Rockies the lead or bringing them closer to the lead.

     

    His offensive fireworks also put his defense in the backseat.  But lest you forget, Tulowitzki’s defense set the stage for the remarkable offensive display, which catapulted the Rockies to a sweep in the house that has historically haunted the Rockies. 

     

    With two outs and a runner on third base in the seventh inning of a tie game in the first meeting at Citi Field, Tulowitzki robbed David Murphy of an RBI base hit from shallow left field.  Tulowitzki did everything but the Macarena to gun down the hard-charging Murphy.

     

    For an encore to his star turn on defensively, he hit his first home run of the series in the top of the eighth.

     

    Surely, it may be a bit premature to anoint Tulo the 2011 NL MVP.  But words do no justice for the baseball being played by Troy Tulowitzki, hands down the best player on the planet at this early stage of the MLB season.

     

    Put another way?  

     

    Clap, clap.  Clap, clap, clap.  Clap, clap, clap, clap.  TU-LO!