Body of work: Hands and feet
Colorado is in World Series thanks to defense, speed
DENVER -- The best fielding team in Major League history is even better than that.The Colorado Rockies established all sorts of defensive records this season, including fewest errors (68) and highest fielding percentage (.98925). But even that tells only half the story of one of the two fundamental assets that have graduated the Rox from the old Blake Street Bombers into a multi-dimensional threat. The other weapon is speed, the influence of which has already been showcased in this postseason. Yet it is Rockies leather that has their fans in such a lather. Their prowess exceeds those numbers; errors, after all, are a yardstick only for routine plays. The stats don't account for the acrobatic, impossible, hang-a-star-on-that-play thefts that go on daily. Colorado pitchers do, however, "The way they keep making plays, it gives pitchers such a comfort level," said Jeff Francis, the left-handed ace. "The most amazing thing about them is their consistency. Every day they come up with something special. "I know every game I've pitched, there's been at least one play made to save me." Making errors doesn't raise earned runs, of course, but making great plays lowers them. Shedding the stigma of Coors Field, Colorado's 2007 staff ranked in the middle of the NL pack with an ERA of 4.32, allowing 53 fewer runs than a year ago. A truer telltale sign is the ongoing 21-1 flight, during which the staff has a 2.80 ERA and the defense has committed a total of seven errors. "The defense definitely helps the pitcher," said third baseman Garrett Atkins. "They know that if their pitch gets hit, there's someone out there who'll turn it into an out. They can attack the hitter without having to worry about making a mistake. If they do, there are eight guys out there to turn it into an out." Not a bad collective nickname for that defense, Garrett: Eight Men Out There. To the Arizona D-backs in the NLCS, there appeared to be three times as many. The D-backs' limp offensive series -- eight runs in the four games -- was partly the work of a defense that consistently turned bids for clutch hits into rally-killing outs. "Seemed like every ball we hit hard," bemoaned Arizona manager Bob Melvin, "someone ended up making a good play, whether in the outfield or infield. It's different than the Rockies you've seen in the past. They're as good as anybody in baseball." The Rockies of the past have been only a blip on the Gold Glove radar. Outfielder Larry Walker earned five of them (1997-99, 2001-02), shortstop Neifi Perez copped one in 2000 and first baseman Todd Helton has three (2001-02, 2004).
Gold Gloves tend to be "heirloom" awards. Once in the family, they tend to stay in the family. So the Rockies' 2007 harvest may fall short of the deserved.Their double-play combination has range, accurate arms and is nearly flawless. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman Kaz Matsui combined for 15 errors, which would be considered a low total at the demanding position of shortstop alone. (The guys with the billing, Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, had 21.) "We take great pride in being reliable," said Tulowitzki, the scintillating 23-year-old rookie who has worked hard at his craft, taking hundreds of practice grounders for every ooh-and-aah play now. "It's great to be able to make a game-winning play with the glove. It's rarer. Like that catch by Willy in Game 2." Tulowitzki was recalling Willy Taveras' full-body dive for a Tony Clark drive into the right-center gap with two outs in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the NLCS, with Eric Byrnes already rounding third, to preserve a 2-1 lead. Taveras is the common link between "D" and dash, of course. The Rockies were doing quite well without him, as he spent a month nursing himself back from a strained quad to playing health. However, retrieving Taveras for the NLCS gave them a missing element that played a huge role in the sweep of Arizona. Taveras and Matsui atop the lineup give the Rockies the chance to create havoc at the start of any game. Even Ryan Spilborghs, who had done such a stellar job as Taveras' replacement before being bumped back to the bench, had to concede that. "We're a better team with Willy on the field," Spilborghs said. "He's great at the top of the lineup, stealing bases and doing things only he can do." "Those two put a lot of pressure on the opposing team defensively," Helton said. "I know when I'm at first and see guys like that at the top of the other team's order, I sense pressure not only on the pitcher, but the entire defense. You know you can't make any mistakes. "You always worry about bunts. It's not just the speed; they're really good hitters, too, just good players. But their speed definitely helps us defensively up the middle." As a franchise, Colorado's growing pains included being known as long-ball smashing brutes, and little more. That changed as Clint Hurdle sold a new approach, and was given the players to execute that vision. Thus, the Blake Street Burglars and Burners will be on display in the Fall Classic.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.