Swing heard around the Rockies

Swing heard around the Rockies
By Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports
October 21, 2007

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
The FedEx guy wasn't happy.

When Tony Gwynn Jr. opened the door of his California home recently, he received a heaping of grief along with his package.

After all, he's the reason the Colorado Rockies are in the World Series.

"Why," the deliveryman asked, "did you have to triple against us?"

By us, he meant the San Diego Padres, who Sept. 29 were one strike away from clinching the National League wild-card berth – and eliminating the Rockies. As for the triple, Gwynn Jr. wore his baggy-fitting Milwaukee uniform and stood in the batter's box with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning against Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time saves leader and nine-year teammate of Gwynn Jr.'s father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

Gwynn Jr. lashed a ball into the right-field corner to score teammate Corey Hart, tie the score 3-3 and force extra innings, where the Brewers would prevail. They beat the Padres again Sept. 30, forcing a one-game playoff against Colorado, which won that and hasn't lost since.

"What am I supposed to do," Gwynn Jr. said Sunday. "Strike out?"

Well, Sinatra never sang a song called "Screw You, Hoboken."

Gwynn Jr., on the other hand, showed that loyalty goes only as far as a gerrymandering politician decrees. When he crossed the San Diego County border – and especially when he slipped into his Brewers uniform – all allegiances disappeared.

"When I was in the on-deck circle, I saw the situation developing," he said. "If the guy in front of me got on, it was in my hands. I don't know if I thought of it along the lines that I could put them out of the playoffs, but I could get us another inning or two to try and win a game."

Gwynn had yo-yo'd between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville all season, joining the Brewers for good in September during their run for the NL Central title. The Brewers, baseball's April darling, gagged down the stretch. They hoped to salvage a season above .500, and the day Gwynn tagged Hoffman, they could notch victory No. 82.

The previous time Gwynn faced Hoffman, on May 27, he had singled on a fastball. He knew not to look fastball. Five consecutive changeups, though? That was extreme even for Hoffman, who has made nearly $60 million over his career because of his flutterball.

"There's a reason why he's so successful," Gwynn said. "Everyone knows he's going to throw the changeup, and no one does anything with it. He's so good with his arm action, it throws you off."

On the fifth, 76 mph over the outside corner, Gwynn bent his knees inward, like they were knocking from nerves, reached out with his left-handed swing and yanked the ball down the right-field line. No throw came. Gwynn slide head-first into third anyway, then leapt and celebrated.

About 900 miles away in Denver, an entire clubhouse of players jumped too, as if the floor had suddenly turned into hot coals.

The Rockies' incredible run – now 21 victories in 22 games heading into the World Series – never would have happened without Gwynn's triple.

"It would have been easy for them to pack up because … their season was pretty much over," Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. "So it says something about their character and how they play the game.

"And we definitely owe them a cold one after the season."

In a couple months, Gwynn might take them up. Right now, he's too busy with his 2-week-old daughter, Makayla. First-time fatherhood allows him only so much leisure time.

Though he's spending it as expected.

"Watching a lot of playoff baseball," Gwynn said, "because you don't see this type of thing in baseball. You see it in basketball every few years. It's been amazing watching them do their thing. It's a different hero every night for them.

"It's all them. They've won 21 of 22. This has nothing to do with me."

Try convincing the FedEx guy.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Oct 22, 2007 12:41 am, EDT

Email to a Friend | View Popular