DENVER — When it’s over in baseball, it’s over-over. There’s no locker clean-out the next day like the NFL, or sometimes in the NHL or NBA.
The Colorado Rockies on Sunday packed their bags and cleared out their cubbies once and for all.
"I’m going home,” All-Star leadoff man Charlie Blackmon said of his immediate plans.
It’s sudden, and what made this Rockies club so enjoyable to watch, follow and cover came flowing out after the Brewers won 6-0 to end the National League Division Series with a three-game sweep.
There was Blackmon, explaining why close friend D.J. LeMahieu often eschews the TV cameras when it’s time for media (“It doesn’t help him win baseball games”). Matt Holliday, saying why he thinks the ballclub’s future is bright (“Very, very good players, teammates, people”). Nolan Arenado, saying his family’s annual Wiffle Ball game takes precedence over speculation of his future with the Rockies (“It’s the last thing on my mind”).
Nowhere in the losing clubhouse was their evidence of anger or what-should-have-been. The Rockies were thumped by a red-hot Brewers team that proved to be superior in every last aspect of a lopsided series. Series score: 13-2.
Now the Rockies have a clear-cut blueprint for what they must improve to carry their evolution into the next step, the NLCS and beyond. What unfolded Sunday — and throughout a series in which the Rockies managed to mount one legit rally, in the ninth inning of Game 1 — was exactly who they were for most of the season.
Come to think of it, their greatest achievement was disproving the most widely held beliefs of baseball at altitude: they proved it’s possible to pitch at Coors Field... and not hit at Coors Field.
And with the 1990s and much of the 2000s as bulletproof if forgettable evidence, you can fix hitting much easier than you fix pitching.
This was the worst offensive team in club history. When the wind chill on Sunday dropped into the 30s and furthered the Rockies' bats into a deep freeze, it was nothing out of the ordinary. The strikeouts that turned Rocktober into Rockkkktober were simply a continuation of who they were too often, underscored by the bright lights of the postseason. The lowest batting average in team history (.256). The lowest road batting average in team history (.225). An offense that, when held under the microscope of ballpark-adjusted metrics, was closer to the 47-win Orioles than the NL West-winning Dodgers.
"It's hard to win when you don’t score runs,” Carlos Gonzalez said.
And the worst offensive team in club history came one win from the first division title in club history. That's how good their pitching was — the second-best team ERA we've seen here (2009). How that paradox works can be summed up with the stream of man-hugs that piled up near the exit door of the clubhouse: German Marquez embracing Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland coming in for the real thing on Scott Oberg, Bud Black tossing an arm around Adam Ottavino.
The fact the Rockies qualified for a playoff series but kept Freeland on the bench will perplex me until the end of days. If Bud Black hadn’t squeezed every possible win out of this bunch, the skipper would be primed for an offseason of second-guessing. But he did. He really did. Pushing this offense to the brink of an NLCS must rank as one of the better coaching gigs we've seen around these hills.
"They deserved to win this series," Black said of the Brewers.
Did CarGo’s final at-bat as a Rockie come with a strikeout in the ninth? Did Otto’s final showing come in the seventh? Did LeMahieu wave goodbye with a three-pitch strikeout to close the eighth? Hope you got a good look. There’s a good chance we won't see 'em for long.
“We’ll see what happens in the end,” CarGo said.
“I’ve never gone through (free agency) before,” Ottavino said.
“From when I first came in the league with the Rockies to ending the season in the playoffs... it’s been an unbelievable experience,” LeMahieu said.
This season ended with Peyton Manning revving up a crowd of 49,658 from a luxury suite, with Todd Helton seated next to owner Dick Monfort behind the dugout, with Air Force Master Sgt. Julie Bradley summoning goosebumps with a powerful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
And you know what? This Rockies season ended right where it should. They were better than the teams who stayed home last week and not quite as good as the teams who are still playing.
"Getting into this series was big for us," Blackmon said.
Sudden or not, the Rox know where they stand.