Rockies advance to World Series

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Rockies advance to first World Series

By Mark Gonzales

Tribune staff reporter

October 16, 2007, 1:00 AM CDT

DENVER -- Maybe not perfect, but nevertheless amazing.

That sums up Colorado's run to their first World Series in its 15 seasons, punctuated Monday night by a harrowing 6-4 victory over Arizona to complete their four-game sweep of rival in the National League Championship Series.

"I said it before," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've believed for a long time."

Behind rookie pinch-hitter Seth Smith's two-run bloop double and Matt Holliday's three-run home run off Micah Owings during a six-run fourth inning, the Rockies won for the 21st time in their past 22 games.

But they received a scare, as Chris Snyder's two-out, three-run home run off Brian Fuentes in the eighth shrunk the Rockies' lead to two. But closer Manny Corpas struck out pinch-hitter Tony Clark with a runner at third to stop the rally.

Until the eighth, the Diamondbacks had mustered only five runs in this series. Their hitting methods were questionable in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Jeff Salazar grounded to first on the first pitch of the inning.

Former White Sox prospect Chris Young lined a double down the third-base line with one out, but Stephen Drew popped a 3-0 pitch to second. Eric Byrnes, who suggested the Rockies were the beneficiaries of several breaks in the first two games, then hit a check-swing grounder to short.

Rookie standout Troy Tulowitzki hurried and threw to first to nail the sliding Byrnes, who laid on his belly for several seconds after the play.

The final out fueled a wild celebration around second base and set off a fireworks explosion.

The Rockies will open World Series play Oct. 24 at either Cleveland or Boston. The sweep of Arizona extended their winning streak to 10 games. It also marked the first time in NL postseason history that the NL Division Series and NLCS ended in sweeps.

The Rockies' 21-1 stretch is the best won-loss record in modern Denver professional sports history, topping the ABA Nuggets' 19-1 run during a 20-game stretch in the regular season. The best run for theBroncos was an 18-1 mark from 1997-98 that included the postseason.

All six Colorado runs in the fourth came after two were out. Hurdle took a risk that paid off handsomely when he lifted 21-year-old left-hander Franklin Morales for Smith, a mid-September call-up who was a backup quarterback to Eli Manning at Ole Miss.

Owings got two strikes on Smith before Smith dropped a 200-foot double that landed two feet inside the left field line to put the Rockies ahead 2-1.

An error by first baseman Conor Jackson allowed speedy Willy Taveras to reach safely and extend the inning. Kazuo Matsui's RBI single opened the lead to 3-1 before Holliday launched a three-run home run over the center field fence that traveled an estimated 452 feet and knocked out Owings.

The series of clutch hits by the Rockies were a major factor in their advantage over Arizona. Jackson's RBI single in the third gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead, but it was only their third hit in 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

In the first inning, Young broke off first and was caught in a rundown by Morales. Arizona mounted a rally in the second, but Jeff Cirillo grounded to second.

And in the fourth, Justin Upton hit a double with one out but was left stranded.

Meanwhile, the heroics by Smith and Holliday, who has hit four homers in the postseason, were the latest in a series of clutch achievements by Colorado during its amazing run.

Yorvit Torrealba hit a three-run, game-winning homer in Sunday's Game 3 victory as the Rockies succeeded in pressure situations.

"You look at every game in that streak at the end of the year, every game could have been that game that kept us out of the playoffs," left-handed ace Jeff Francis said before the game. "To think we had to win 13 out of 14 just to get a playoff game, that might scare you just to think about it.

"But that turns out what we had to do, and it's pretty special that it happened."

Arizona relievers Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon combined for 4 1/3 hitless innings and struck out nine to give their teammates a chance at a comeback.

But aside from Synder's homer, the Diamondbacks' hitters came up short repeatedly throughout the NLCS.

"Once the sting of this subsides, we will be able to reflect that we had a good year," said Arizona manager Bob Melvin, who directed the Diamondbacks to the NL West title and was named the league's manager of the year by his peers in voting conducted by The Sporting News.

The Rockies ran off a franchise-record 11 victories before losing at home to Arizona 4-2 on Sept. 28 that clinched a playoff berth for the Diamondbacks. ... -headlines

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