DENVER — Don’t blame Terry Francona.
Who wouldn’t have road rage after playing these Rockies?
“I don’t give a (expletive) about them right now,” the Cleveland Indians manager snapped at me Wednesday after the Rockies pummeled his club again, this time 8-1. “Bud Black can handle them. He’s doing a great job. My concerns are with my team.”
Hey, all I wanted to know is if these Rox look like a ballclub with staying power. It was Tito’s Red Sox, remember, who brought their brooms to slam the door shut on Rocktober in the World Series a decade ago. This being the best Rockies team since or before then, I figured it was worth a shot.
But I get it, skip. Another talented team — the American League's defending champs, no less — ran into the Rockies and left with four-letter words as a consolation prize. Colorado outscored Cleveland 19-4 over a snapshot two-game series and has won 14 of 20 series to date. Given the caliber of teams they're beating, it’s starting to feel like this is the group that can do something no other Rockies club has done before: kick the gimmick label to the curb.
Hate to say it, but there’s a sizable chunk of baseball — whether it’s national media, opposing teams or the enemy fans who were drowned out by the 76,417 customers who turned Coors into a party zone for a pair of midweek games in early June — that doesn’t take the Rockies seriously. They look down on the Rockies. They portray Coors Field as an extension of Elitch Gardens for paying adults, a fun house where the roller coaster never ends. They see 24 seasons without a division title and joke that the Pacific Coast League shouldn't be so hard to win. Whether it's right or wrong doesn’t really matter, because that sentiment chases the Rockies like a shadow. It bothers them.
What Wednesday’s outburst revealed was less about Francona and more about the effect the Rockies are having on opposing teams. The Rockies must be hell in a hand basket to play against. Their holes will be exposed, eventually, because that’s how sports work. But right now where are those holes? Where do you punch the Rockies and they have no counter?
It struck me when an Indians batter returned to the dugout only to slam his helmet against a wall. This Rockies renaissance is thanks to the singular aspect that could change the national perception of the franchise as a whole: pitching. If you can pitch here, you can win anywhere.
Tuesday, it was rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela holding the Indians to three runs over six innings before the bullpen hit the lights and sent everyone home. Wednesday, it was rookie left-hander and Denver’s own Kyle Freeland opening with six shutout innings in his first interleague appearance.
“He pounded the strike zone. He’s a young kid and he’s got a good arm. But he threw strikes and didn’t walk anybody,” Francona said. “With a young pitcher, I think they understand the value here.”
The rookie arms arrived this season full of swag, but just as many question marks. They left their starts this week to standing ovations from a home crowd that's showing up for cool baseball instead of cold beer.
“When I got pulled, walking off the mound, I got chills,” Freeland said.
The Indians got mad. It seems a lot of teams get mad at the Rockies, whether it’s Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw firing shade at Tyler Anderson, or the Giants, who are always mad at the Rockies for something or other. I asked veteran Carlos Gonzalez if he’s noticed the same.
“What are they gonna do? Just pass (on the series)?” Gonzalez said. “They’ve gotta play here. Of course they’re going to get frustrated. When you lose two games by a lot of runs they’re going to be frustrated.”
Even their foul balls are stirring a buzz. It was in the fifth inning that CarGo decided since he’s always working on a game day, it was his turn for a party on the party deck. His ahhh-inspiring moonshot landed in the Rooftop — a triple-decker — an estimated 480 feet from where it left his bat.
“I should get a double for that,” CarGo said afterward.
The Rockies don’t get a trophy for being cool in June. But now that they can win with pitching in addition to their all-star bats and gold gloves, the frustration is starting to show across the diamond. The Rox's most noble effort would be forcing the haters to do what's rarely been done at 5,280 feet.
Take the Rockies seriously, or (expletive) else.