PHOENIX — It’s a sports tactic old enough that it remembers real bulletin boards, freckled with pinholes, chunks of cork scattered across the shag carpet below: nobody believed in us.
Between guzzles of champagne and soggy man-hugs, the Rockies repeated the phrase over and over late Saturday night, their spot in the postseason clinched. Nolan Arenado said it. Greg Holland said it. Trevor Story pounded a Coors — Banquet style, not the blah stuff — and said it.
For once, it’s true. For the Rockies, it’s always been true. On the rare occasion there’s been an outstanding baseball club at Coors Field — a playoff club, like the one that plays the Diamondbacks in the National League wild-card game Wednesday — the voices of doubt rise an extra decibel: Yeah, but Cooooors.
When a team proves itself over 162 games, you’d think it would go the other way. But it doesn’t. Altitude, Coors Field, all that. What an easy narrative ignores is how the Rockies got here, at Chase Field, for a Game 7 without the first six.
This Rockies team is not like the other Rockies teams. The Rockies got here with pitching. They got here with Jon Gray, the obvious starter for the wild-card game, who was drafted No. 3 overall for this very moment. They got here with Kyle Freeland, 24; Antonio Senzatela, 22; German Marquez, 22. They got here with a playoff roster that has 10 homegrown players, third-most among the 10 postseason teams, a bunch of boys who hiked the trail up together.
“If you have a group of men who believe in each other, they can galvanize and bring people together,” general manager Jeff Bridich said. “That creates trust, that creates belief. When times get tough, when games get hairy down the stretch, when games are tight and things have to get done in certain ways, there’s already that belief. This team’s got that.”
How they got here is why it was important they got here at all. They needed to know — and folks needed to see — the new way can work where the other way rarely did. The baseline of Bridich Ball was to add young arms on top of young arms on top of young arms. Then add some more young arms. It’s why this version of the Rockies is different than the other versions of the Rockies, and why I think these Rockies are built to last. Win or lose Wednesday — more on the actual game here in a minute — the Rockies now are a lot like their neighborhood ballpark. Same streets, same view, same trouble after midnight. But wholly different than 20 years ago and on the way up.
“I don’t know if we’ve met,” owner Charlie Monfort told Rockies catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a deadline acquisition and Colorado resident for all of two months, during the champagne party.
“I know you,” Lucroy replied, extending a handshake. “You’re the boss.”
Back to the nobody-believes-in-them part. The Rockies eat that stuff up. In a survey of MLB.com writers, 12 took the Diamondbacks to win the wild-card showdown, including former Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd. Only three took the Rockies. The DBacks are the smart choice. Zack Greinke still hasn’t given Pat Neshek an autograph, but Greinke is 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA at home; and behind the big bats of Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez, the Diamondbacks would be my first pick to win the National League pennant.
But I’ve been around these Rockies too often to bet against them. It’s the cockiest team in Colorado, with little reason to be, considering the previous seven years. Opening Day, I pegged the Rockies at 86 wins and narrowly missing the playoffs. They won 87 and made the playoffs.
Shows what I know.
The Rockies know each other better than most. They came up together, they'll go out together. (Mark Reynolds and Carlos Gonzalez were Diamondbacks minor leaguers together, even.) They know Chase Field allows more doubles and home runs than Coors Field. They know they can win here, evidenced by a 5-5 record here. They know in a wild-card game — Game 7 without the other six — all it takes is one swing. That will be Chuck Blackmon’s swing, an early inning two-run homer. They know they need seven (if not eight) ace innings from Gray. They need better from their bullpen.
“I don’t think we’re an underdog in any series we play in,” Holland said.
Rox 3, DBacks 2. Pin it on the bulletin board.