What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
I always thought there would be some kind of magical turning point, when the Rockies went from a young and talented team on the verge of contending to bonafide World Series contenders, but it didn’t happen like that. It didn’t happen like that at all, really.
To say the Rockies got off to a slow start in 2012 would be an understatement. They underwent a roster overhaul that started at last year’s trade deadline, and nothing meshed right at first. Alex White and Josh Outman got off to a slow starts in their new, high-altitude home. Jorge de la Rosa came back slowly from his Tommy John Surgery. Todd Helton’s old bones took a while to kick into gear. The Rockies only won eight games in April and when Jim Tracy tossed Troy Tulowitzki under the bus after a ninth-inning looking strikeout topped off a six-game losing streak, fans were openly wondering about his indefinite extension.
Slowly, the Rockies began to turn it around. While the team, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez included, kept struggling at the plate, Michael Cuddyer went on a tear in early May with four homers in three games, and the Rockies swept Braves. The good news for the Rockies, though, was that the rest of the division struggled to get into gear every bit as much as they did. As May ended, the Rockies finished up with a 23-27 record, but only two games behind the Diamondbacks for first place in the division.
One by one, pieces started to fall into place. It started in obvious places; Tulo and CarGo heated up as May ended and found their regular form. Coupled with Cuddyer’s hot start, runs started to pour in for the Rockies. As the calendar turned to June, Jhoulys Chacin started to come into his own as a big league starter. When summer started, Todd Helton went on a tear like no one had ever said the word “humidor” before and by the time July came around, the Rockies were over .500 for good and winning games in droves.
It wasn’t easy, though, because as the Rockies heated up, so did the Giants and Diamondbacks. What looked like the worst division in baseball in April suddenly turned into a breakneck race for two playoff spots between three teams as the summer wore on. On September 9th, the Rockies held a one-game lead over both the Giants and Diamondbacks with seven games against each division rival scheduled in the season’s last 23 games. Everything seemed to be setting up for an epic battle down the stretch.
And then the Rockies blew their competition out of the water. Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and Helton mashed like the Blake Street Bombers of the franchise’s early days. Chacin and Outman and Jeremy Guthrie delivered great start after great start. The bullpen, with Rafael Betancourt and Tyler Chatwood and rookie Christian Friedrich, was dominating down the stretch. Of the 14 games the Rockies played down the stretch against the Diamondbacks and Giants, they won ten. Of their other nine games, they won seven. They had the division in hand before their season-ending series in Arizona, but they swept the Snakes just for good measure.
We’ve all seen the Rockies ride a wave of momentum into the playoffs, only to have it falter out when it matters most before. The third time was the charm in 2012. A million different things go into a World Series, but Todd Helton always seemed to be the guy holding it all together. Is there a more perfect Colorado Rockie image than Helton doubling into the right-center gap against Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth of Game 5 of the NLCS, clearing the bases, turning a two-run deficit into a one-run lead, and giving the Rockies a 3-2 series lead? Maybe that was it, maybe that was “The Moment.” I didn’t know what to expect from the Rockies before that night, but after it? There was only one way this season could end.
For three years, we’ve been looking at the Rockies and saying, “Can you imagine what this team will be like if they ever put everything together? The offense is there, the starting pitching is there, the bullpen is there,” but they never got entirely on track. It was frustrating when it didn’t happen right away in 2012, but now we know. We know what it’s like to see Tulo and CarGo and Helton mash the ball while the starters turn in great start after great start and Betancourt comes in to put everything on ice. We know for sure that it’s something special, and now the Rockies have a trophy that will remind us of how special it was for forever.