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Colorado Rockies on a winning streak

October 16, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: It was another Cinderella chapter to baseball’s record books.

ANNOUNCER: Colorado’s the National League champion!

RAY SUAREZ: It was the final out for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the winning play for the Colorado Rockies, who swept the best-of-seven series with four straight wins. It will be the first World Series for the 14-year-old franchise, and they’re the first team in more than 30 years to win the National League Championship after a 7-0 playoff run.

TODD HELTON, First Baseman, Colorado Rockies: It was fun. This has been a great ride. We’re not done yet. We’re going to keep it going.

RAY SUAREZ: Since mid-September, the Rockies have won 21 of their last 22 games…

ANNOUNCER: Swinging a high drive to deep center…

RAY SUAREZ: … one of the greatest runs ever for a team heading to the World Series.

Their season was saved October 1st, after the Rockies won the National League wild card in a one-game play-off against the San Diego Padres. Now the Rockies have eight days off before they face the winner of the American League Championship Series, which is still up in the air. The Cleveland Indians are up two games to one against the Boston Red Sox.

Rollercoaster ride for the Rockies

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the Rockies and their run, we turn to Patrick Saunders, a sportswriter who follows the Rockies for the Denver Post.

Well, Patrick, one Rockies outfielder called the story far-fetched. Did anybody pick the Rockies for the National League pennant back in April?

PATRICK SAUNDERS, The Denver Post: Nobody did. Some of the players were talking playoffs back in spring training, you know, as early as February, but they didn't have that great a middle of the season, and certainly not a great beginning. They got hot at the right time, and now here they are. It's been a rollercoaster ride, and it's been crazy, no doubt about it.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, "hot," I think, is a little bit of an understatement. This was a team that was 4.5 games out of the wild card with just nine to play, two games out with two to play. What did they do in those last two weeks to be able to hang in?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: You know, I've been asked that question a lot. And I think the best way to say it is they played their best baseball at the right time.

The baseball gods, if there is such a thing, were smiling on them. They got a lot of breaks. Their pitching pitched better than it had all year. They got the fans behind them finally, because they hadn't been coming out in droves. And it all came together.

It's serendipity; it's magic; it's whatever label you want to attach to it. It's one of the greatest runs in baseball history. And it's phenomenal. And the funny thing is, a lot of the country doesn't know about them.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, they don't play in what are traditionally regarded as one of the big markets, though they have the Mountain time zone all to themselves. They are getting attention now.

PATRICK SAUNDERS: That's for sure.

Upping attendance at games

RAY SUAREZ: And how about the fans in Denver themselves? Was this a team that was drawing earlier in the year?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: They'd made some strides. The last few years hasn't been particularly great, but they've upped attendance each game about 3,000 per game, about 28,000 per game. But it's still in the bottom tier of Major League Baseball.

And as recently as about three weeks ago, when this crazy streak all started, they weren't drawing that well. But when they went on the road, won some key games on the road, came back, and suddenly everybody jumped on the bandwagon. And now it's the rowdiest crowds I've been around for a long time.

I was down in Arizona. The crowds down there were nowhere near as into it as the Rockies fans are right now.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, has this been a baseball town? I mean, once upon a time, the Rockies set a Major League attendance record when baseball started there, but you think of the Broncos, you think of the Nuggets. Do people talk about the Rockies much?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: Well, like you said, when they first came into being in 1993, they drew over 4 million people. The attendance records were out of sight. Then they went through some hard times. People started turning away.

Bottom line, it's still a Broncos town. I think it probably always will be. But it's a great sports town in general. And there are a lot of baseball fans here from a lot of places all over the country. And the Rockies now have kind of turned them on, because it's a fun, young, exciting team to watch. And I would anticipate that this has re-established, if that's the right word, baseball in the Rocky Mountain time zone.

Building a winning team

RAY SUAREZ: Well, for a medium-market team, did the Rockies' management do some smart things? How did they stretch their payroll dollar and build a winner?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: You know, that's a great question, because the Monfort brothers, who own this team, have got a lot of criticism, and including from my paper, for being too cheap. But what they did was build from within, not give outrageous contracts to anybody anymore.

A lot of the core players on this team came up through their farm system. They're not paid a lot of money, but they're young; they're talented; they came together. And you have to tip your hat to the Rockies, and in particular to general manager Dan O'Dowd, because he had faith in this young talent. I think even Dan would be surprised that it's blossomed so quickly.

But they're doing it the right way. You know, there's talk out there of Alex Rodriguez getting who knows how much money, you know, $300 million. I've heard that term thrown around. The Rockies are never going to do that, but a lot of teams in baseball are proving you don't have to do that to be a winner. And the Rockies are the latest case of that.

RAY SUAREZ: Did they scout heavily in Latin America in order to place some early bets on young players?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: They did, and that's one of the first things that Dan O'Dowd did when he took over as GM, was establish a Latin American presence for the Rockies. They put in training schools down there. They taught them English. They did all sorts of things to help them adapt to American culture.

And it's paid off. Some of the best players on this team, including Manny Corpas, who's now their closer at the end of games, came up through the system. And they fit in remarkably well. And that is one of the secrets to this Rockies' team's success.

An eight-day break

RAY SUAREZ: Now, there are various schools of thought about wrapping up a series early and being able to get some rest before you play the other team. How do you come down on that? Is eight days off before you get to whoever emerges from the Sox-Cleveland battle, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: You know what? I've got to think it's a bad thing. Not that they couldn't use a couple days, three days, but baseball is an everyday sport. It's a rhythm sport. Pitchers like to keep pitching, if they're in a groove. And the Rockies pitchers are in a groove. Hitters, if they're in a groove, like to keep hitting, and a lot of the Rockies' hitters are in a groove.

Yeah, eight days off is not necessarily a good thing. The Detroit Tigers had about a week off last year. They were the hottest team in baseball. And they ended up losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Rockies probably won't admit it, but I can't imagine they're too thrilled with having to sit on the sidelines for, you know, a full eight days while the other teams keep playing.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, on the other hand, it's eight days where it can get colder in Denver. Is the home field and knowing how to play in the thin air of Coors Field an advantage for the Rockies?

PATRICK SAUNDERS: You know, it is. I think the Coors Field factor has been overblown the last few years. They have a thing called the humidor now, which they store the baseballs, which levels the playing field a little bit.

There is a home field advantage. The crowd helps. The thin air helps. Playing in the cold helps. But you've got to remember, it's going to be either the Red Sox or Cleveland, and they're both used to cold weather baseball, too.

But there is a home field advantage. I don't know how much it's going to play a part in this series. And we're all crossing our fingers that we don't get an October blizzard, because that's been known to happen here in Denver.

RAY SUAREZ: Patrick Saunders, thanks a lot for joining us.

PATRICK SAUNDERS: You're very welcome.