Matt Holliday's Sacrifice Fly Walk-off RUn deserves a deep rewind.
It’s October 1st, 2007. Game 163 is taking place between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres.
It’s the bottom of the 13th inning. A tie score at 8-to-8, the winner of this game gets a date with the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series.
This is obviously a must-watch TV baseball game. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a one-game playoff that goes into extra innings?
However, to fully appreciate what happens next, we have to know the history of both franchises. We have to understand that neither of these ball clubs have won a World Series. Even crazier, one of these teams hasn’t even won a postseason series.
To get a better grasp of this moment, we need to use a time machine. In other words, we need to rewind.
The Rockies have Matt Holliday on third base and less than two outs. This is crucial because any fly ball to the outfield can theoretically send the Rockies to the National League Division Series on a sacrifice fly. However, the mere fact that the Rockies are hosting this one-game playoff is crazy to think about.
Back on September 15th, the Rockies were just 76-and-72. Yeah, you heard me right. Just 16 days ago, the Rockies were barely above .500. So how the heck are the Rockies even tied with the Padres for the National League Wild Card spot?
As Al Davis would say, “Just win baby.”
Yeah, the Rockies have sure won a lot of games lately. An unfathomable 10-game winning streak from September 16th until September 27th saw the Rockies go from 4-and-a-half games back of the Padres to just 1. In a twist of fate, the Rockies swept the Padres during that winning streak to get back into the NL Wild Card race.
But hey, that was just a lucky winning steak, right? There’s no way this ball club led by Clint Hurdle could win 2-out-3 against the first place Arizona Diamondbacks and sneak into the playoffs, correct?
And if you answered anything but “Yes” to those questions, you’d be dead wrong. Arizona ended Colorado’s winning streak during Game 1 of the crucial three-game set, but after dominating the Diamondbacks 11-1 on September 29th, the Rockies held on for a 4-3 win on the last day of the regular season.
Nail biting wins have been nothing new to the Rockies and their fan base. One of their wins during this 12-and-1 finish to the regular season included a 14-inning victory over the Padres.
But have the Rockies simply taken the Wild Card away from the Padres, or did San Diego majestically crumble down the stretch? Well, it’s a little bit of both.
Entering MLB game action on September 16th, the Padres were 80-67. They ended up finishing the year at 89-73, so a 9-and-6 record in their last 15 games is nothing to be embarrassed about from your ballplayers. But, a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies was still really bad, especially considering that all 3 games were at Petco Park.
Also, the Padres had the Brewers down to their last strike on September 29th, but Tony Gwynn Junior knocked a game-tying triple off Trevor Hoffman to send the game into extra innings. How brutal irony is that: The son of the greatest Padre ever quite possibly stopped you from going to the playoffs.
What gets lost in the shuffle is the Rockies were actually in third place in the Wild Card race prior to their incredible finish. The Dodgers were up 3 games on the Rockies after all of the games concluded on September 15th.
So what the hell happened to the Dodgers? It’s hard to exactly say why they simply forget how to play baseball, but their final record speaks for itself. On September 15th, the Dodgers were 10 games over .500. By September 30th, the team barely finished with a winning record at 82-and-80. You can’t make this stuff up. The Dodgers went from 79-and-69 and just 1.5 games back of San Diego for the Wild Card spot to finishing 7 games back of both Colorado and San Diego.
Colorado literally had to sweep Los Angeles to knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs, and the Rockies did just that from September 25th until September 27th.
The Dodgers might be known for playoff choking nowadays, but late season chokes are nothing new to the Dodger faithful.
Anyway, back to the Padres and Rockies. The Rockies went 12-and-1 down the stretch, but a minor choke job by the home of Ron Burgundy allowed Colorado to host a one-game playoff.
The Padres were 2 games ahead of the Rockies on September 29th, meaning they just had to win either of their next 2 games against the Milwaukee Brewers OR one Rockies loss the next two days clinched a Wild Card spot for Bud Black’s team.
The 2007 Milwaukee Brewers were actually in first place of the NL Central Division during most of the regular season, but a late surge by the Cubs, as well as a collapse, saw the Brewers outside of the playoffs for yet another year.
They still played spoilers, though, and after dispatching the Padres in 11 innings on September 29th, the Brew Crew disallowed September 30th from being the Padres clinch day. A very convincing 11-6 win for Milwaukee as the Padres had to fly from Milwaukee to Denver for a National League West grudge match.
Just like that, Game 163 determined who would win the National League Wild Card.
This was huge for Rockies fans as their favorite baseball team hadn’t sniffed the postseason since 1995.
Colorado began as an expansion franchise in 1993, and the Rockies earned the first-ever NL Wild Card spot in 1995. The Rockies fought hard in the Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, but the eventual World Series champion Braves took care of the Blake Street Bombers 3 games to 1.
But since then, the Rockies have always found ways to lose games. More importantly, it’s their pitching staff who seemingly always let them down. Even when the Rockies won the Wild Card in 1995, you probably don’t know any of their starting pitchers: Kevin Ritz, Bill Swift, and Marvin Freeman were arguably their three best pitchers that season.
Colorado was so desperate for starting pitching help that they signed Mike Hampton to an unreal 8-year, $121 million contract after the 2000 season concluded. All of the money in Major League Baseball is guaranteed by the way, so why would the Rockies sign a pitcher to an 8-year deal?
Simply put: It’s hard to find free agent pitchers who want to pitch in Coors Field, the home ballpark of the Rockies where the ball hits the mile high wind and sails out of play.
If you don’t remember Mike Hampton playing for the Rockies, you’re not the only one. He only lasted two years in Denver, with his last season being a dreadful 6.14 ERA and opponents batted .313 against him.
So for the Rockies to be successful, they usually need to outslug teams. But that wasn’t exactly the case in 2007.
Jeff Francis won 17 games for the Rockies this season. Ubaldo Jimenez was on this team, and the relatively unknown Aaron Cook posted an ERA under 4.2.
In a nutshell, this surprising Rockies team can play a little small ball and outpitch teams as well.
But tonight has been anything but a pitcher’s duel.
In a typical Coors Field shootout, the Rockies blew an early 3-0 lead. The San Diego Padres swiftly answered with 5 runs in the top of the 3rd, and it looked like the Padres finally hit their stride in this do-or-die playoff game.
And while the Rockies are unknown for playoff success, the history of the San Diego Fathers isn’t a happy story, either.
The Padres have been to the World Series twice, but they’ve only been to the postseason a grand total of five times coming into tonight. Since joining Major League Baseball in 1969, the Padres have mostly been an after-thought in the National League West. Coming into the 2007 MLB season, Bruce Bochy (BOH-chee) had enough with postseason disappointments, and he left for greener pastures in San Francisco.
Some Padres fans felt it was treason as Bochy led the team to division titles in 2005 and 2006. While they were back-to-back NL West crowns, the 2005 team barely finished with a winning record. And after being swept by the Cardinals in the NLDS, Bruce Bochy’s team finished the year under .500 at 82-and-83.
The 2006 squad was much better, but those pesky Cardinals were still too much for San Diego to handle. San Diego had home field advantage for the Division Series, but Bochy’s crew only scored a single run in their first two postseason games. The offense was slightly awake when they entered Busch Stadium. A 3-1 win in Game 3 gave San Diego fans new hope, but it was quickly taken away during Game 4. Six unanswered runs by St. Louis gave the Cardinals the series win and yet another postseason disappointment in southern California.
Bud Black took the 2007 job after Bochy left for the hated Giants. Led by NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, the Padres were in first place in the NL West as late as September 3rd. Peavy got the nod for this one-game playoff. It was his turn in the rotation since he hadn’t pitched since September 26th. But for whatever reason, the best pitcher in the National League was anything but clutch tonight.
Three straight Rockies got on base to start off the bottom of the first, and after Yorvit Torrealba (tore-re-AHL-buh) cranked a bomb to left field, the Rockies led 3-nothing after 2 innings of baseball.
Starting pitcher Josh Fogg was sent out in the Top of the 3rd to preserve the lead, but he simply wasn’t up to the task. Peavy helped out his own cause with a leadoff single. Brian Giles fought his way to first base with a walk, and after Scott Hairston hit a single to load the bases, Adrian Gonzalez emptied them with a game-changing grand slam.
Fogg still couldn’t settle down after the grand salami. Khalil Green and Josh Bard both got on base via the hit, forcing Fogg to intentionally walk Geoff (JEFF) Blum to load the bases. Brady Clark then made solid contact with a ground ball to shortstop, and his speed forced the Rockies to just get the force out at second base. Just like that, it’s now a 5-3 lead for Peavy and the Padres.
But Peavy just couldn’t keep the ball out of the ballpark. The Rockies cut the deficit down to 1 after Todd Helton belted the baseball to right-center field and gave his home ffans a lucky souvenir. An amazing game thus far. It’s not even the Top of the 4th yet, and we’ve already seen three home runs, including a grand slam.
Fogg was able to get a 1-2-3 inning in the 4th inning, but Hurdle wasn’t pleased with his pitcher. He gave up 10 fly balls on a night when the wind was clearly blowing out, so he decided to go to his bullpen early.
Peavy wasn’t much better than Fogg tonight as the Rockies tied up the score in the bottom of the 5th. An early holiday for Rockies fans as Matt Holliday singled in Tulowitzki for the 5-5 tie.
Black was still confident in his young fireballer though, so he sent Peavy on the bump for the 6th inning. It was the same old story for Peavy as the Rockies re-took the lead. Everybody was seemingly able to hit him tonight. Seth Smith hit the very rare pinch-hit triple with 1 out. It was timely hitting all night for Colorado as Kaz Matsui got underneath the ball and delivered a sacrifice fly to center field.
Another lead for the Rockies, and this time around, the relief pitchers were up to the task.
After relieving Fogg, the Rockies bullpen held the Padres scoreless until the top of the 8th. The Padres were able to muster just 2 hits from the 5th inning going into the 8th. Taylor Buccholz (BUCK-holz) led the Rockies bullpen by going 1 and ⅔ innings, allowing just 1 hit, and threw 12 strikes on 13 pitches.
But Brian Fuentes (FWEN-tiss) just couldn’t hold the lead.
After relieving LaTroy Hawkins with 6 outs to go, Fuentes was a tad bit wild and inaccurate. Blum got the much-needed leadoff single, and although Fuentes got the next two batters out, Torrealba couldn’t quite handle this 1-2 slider from Fuentes, allowing Blum to reach second base on the dropped third strike wild pitch.
On the third pitch of the subsequent at-bat, Giles potentially saved his team’s season with a game-tying double to left field. But Hairston couldn’t send Giles home after that, granted Tulowitzki’s dart from shortstop and Helton’s great stretch at first base was excellent defense.
Neither team could score again in regulation, so we went to extra innings. The next three innings were full of drama as both teams had chances to score.
San Diego had runners on first and second with two outs in the Top of the 10th, but Matt Herges jammed Giles and got the inning-ending groundout.
Colorado had a golden opportunity for a walk-off win in the bottom of the 11th. With Brad Hawpe at the plate, Colorado had the game-winning run 180 feet from home. But Joe Thatcher fooled Hawpe on an 88 Mile-Per-Hour fastball to end the threat.
The Padres had their own runner in scoring position with less than 2 outs in the Top of the 12th. But Brian Myrow struck out, and Michael Barrett grounded out to keep the score at 6-6.
The Rockies went 1-2-3 in the 12th as the game entered Inning Number 13.
And this was quite possibly the greatest extra inning in professional baseball history. Five total runs would eventually be scored in this inning. With everything on the line, the offenses for both teams woke up in a huge way.
San Diego struck first in the top half. Giles quite possibly had the game of his life by reaching base yet again. This time it was via the leadoff walk. Hairston, who was looking to make up for his anti-RBI single in the 8th inning, came up big with a giant 2-run homer to give the Padres the lead back, their first one since it was 5-4.
Jorge Julio then gave up a single to Chase Headley, so Clint Hurdle had to call on Ramon Ortiz to limit the damage. Ortiz kept the score at 8-to-6 with two fly outs and a strikeout, but the Padres were now just 3 outs away from their third straight trip to the NLDS.
In came Trevor Hoffman for the save. It’s hard to believe that Black never used Hoffman prior to the 13th inning, but credit Black for thinking his team would have the lead in extra innings.
A future Hall of Famer, Hoffman was on the last Padres World Series team back in 1998. He finished in second place for Cy Young voting on two different occasions. His last second-place Cy Young finish was just last season, where he saved 46 games for the division-winning Padres.
He’s been very good in 2007, although his ERA has climbed a bit since last year. Still, he entered tonight with an ERA well under 3 and a two-run cushion. Even though the Padres are on the road in a very tough environment, there’s no way that Hoffman could blow this.
And yet the average baseball fan was wrong again. Everything that could go right has gone right for the Rockies since the middle of September. So with that logic in mind, the hitting sticks were available to everyone in the bottom of the 13th. Back-to-back doubles by Matsui and Tulowitzki put the tying run on second base with nobody out. And if you could believe it, another triple by the Rockies, this time by MVP runner-up Matt Holliday, put the Rockies in a great spot.
For a team who was seemingly going to be fishing just two weeks ago, the Rockies are 90 feet away from heading to Philadelphia for the Division Series.
With less than two outs, Black told Hoffman to intentionally walk Rockies legend Todd Helton. Not a bad decision obviously since Jamey Carroll was due up next and not Garrett Atkins.
Even though Hoffman is facing the middle of the order, manager Clint Hurdle decided to have Carroll pinch-run for Atkins in the bottom of the 7th. There was one out with Atkins at second base. While the Rockies were up by 1 at the time and needed some insurance runs, deciding to pinch-run for your 5-hole hitter is always risky.
The Rockies of course didn’t score that inning and now needed the little-known Carroll to drive the ball into the outfield for a walk-off win.
Carroll wasn’t exactly a threat at the plate. In fact, he was a borderline disaster when it came to offense. After batting .300 during the 2006 regular season, he was a major disappointment this season by hitting just .222 in 107 games coming into tonight.
But tonight was a different story. His two-out single preserved the 11th inning rally before Hawpe inevitably went down on strikes.
So, as of now, Hurdle’s decision to put Carroll in the lineup as a substitute is starting to look okay. And with nobody out, all Carroll needs is a fly ball.
But is Holliday the right guy to score the winning run on a potential sacrifice fly? Haha Absolutely not. He only stole 11 bases during the year and was caught on four of those attempts. However, his baserunning IQ was off the charts during his prime, as he stole 28 bases on 30 attempts in 2008.
Well, here we go. It’s the first pitch of the at-bat. Can Hoffman jam the non-explosive Carroll into a ground ball with the infield now in? Will Holliday run on contact? If the ball is hit into the outfield, can the Padres outfielders throw out Holliday and keep their team alive? Welcome to a moment in history.
Hold on a second….Did Holliday actually touch home plate? Let’s look at that again.
I’ll be darned. I don’t think he touched the plate. Michael Barrett tagged him, but the home plate umpire determined that Holliday touched home base. This was years before instant replay challenges by the way, so the Padres had to live with home plate umpire Tim McClelland’s safe call.
Murphy’s Law to the fullest: Whatever can go right for the Rockies has gone right. Rocktober began in the grandest of ways as Holliday’s walk-off sacrifice fly run paved the way to seven straight victories and an eventual trip to the World Series
Since then, the Padres have only been to the playoffs once. The Rockies have played in two more Wild Card games since 2007, which includes an extra inning win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.