The Colorado Rockies closed the regular season as the hottest team in baseball and the pressure of the playoffs hasn’t changed that.
The Philadelphia Phillies must put together a hot streak in a big hurry or their season will be over.
Colorado returns to Coors Field on Saturday night with a chance to reach the NL championship series for the first time and send the Phillies home winless in their first postseason in 14 years.
These clubs had the most torrid finishes in baseball - the Rockies won 14 of 15 and Philadelphia 13 of 17 - to become surprise entries into the playoffs. It is Colorado, though, that has carried over that momentum to take a 2-0 lead in this division series.
“We believe we’re going to win every game,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve been playing in the loser’s bracket for a month.”
After Hurdle’s club won a pitchers’ duel in the series opener, Game 2 on Thursday was more of the slugfest many predicted this series would be and Colorado won 10-5.
Kaz Matsui, who had just four home runs all season, hit a grand slam and came within a single of the cycle while driving in five runs. Matt Holliday hit his second homer of the series, Troy Tulowitzki got his first and the Rockies outhit the Phillies for the second consecutive game (12-9).
“We need to have short memories right now,” said Howard, who homered Thursday but also was picked off first base.
The Phillies haven’t won a playoff game since Game 5 against Toronto in the 1993 World Series, though their season ended in the next game on Joe Carter’s home run.
“No one is panicking, no one is down,” said Jimmy Rollins, who homered and drove in four runs in Game 2.
This will be the first playoff game at Coors Field since a Game 2 division series loss to Atlanta on Oct. 4, 1995. The Rockies went on to lose that series in four games in what had been their only postseason appearance until this week.
“I remember the way people have talked about Coors in the olden days, with sellout crowds every night and how fun it was to play there,” Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins told the team’s official Web site. “I can see how that could happen (now).”
Jamie Moyer (14-12, 5.01 ERA) certainly does not have fond memories of Coors Field, having been ripped for 12 runs and 17 hits in 11 innings there. He takes the mound for Philadelphia having lost all four starts he’s made against the Rockies, including one this year on July 7 as he gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-3 defeat.
Less than a week after helping extend Philadelphia’s season, Moyer hopes to avoid being the pitcher to help end it. The 21-year veteran started Sunday’s regular-season finale and beat Washington, helping the Phillies clinch a playoff berth by going 5 1-3 strong innings in a 6-1 win.
This is Moyer’s first postseason start since 2001, when he was 3-0 for Seattle with a 1.89 ERA. His only other playoff outing was a loss to Baltimore in 1997.
“It’s the most important game of our season,” the left-hander said. “It’s one pitch at a time and getting into the game as deep as I can. The game doesn’t change.”
The 44-year-old Moyer is unlikely to pitch too deep - he’s gone past the sixth inning once in his past 12 starts - and that means the Phillies will rely on a bullpen which has looked shaky. The Rockies have hit .313 in this series off Philadelphia’s relievers, who have given up six runs and two homers through 7 2-3 innings.
“We’re in a hole right now and we need to get out,” closer Brett Myers said. “But I think the guys in here are up for it.”
A Phillies lineup which scored an NL-high 892 runs this season will look to get off to a good start against a rookie Rockies starter for the second straight game.
The 23-year-old right-hander was called up from the minors after the All-Star break and became a fixture in the rotation. Jimenez allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine of his final 10 starts, and held opposing batters to a .228 average this season.
His only career appearance against the Phillies came on Sept. 10, giving up two runs and four hits in six innings of a 6-5, 10-inning road loss.
Like Moyer, Jimenez is not expected to chew up a lot of innings - he’s never lasted beyond the seventh - but the Rockies bullpen has surrendered only one run and six hits in nine innings during this series.
Another solid performance by Colorado’s relief corps could end this series and send the team to the NLCS, starting Thursday in Arizona or at home against the Chicago Cubs.
“They are very excited about being here, but by no means is that it,” Hurdle said. “They want to keep playing.”