BOSTON – The Colorado Rockies qualified for the World Series before the first snowfall, kicked around Denver for a while, had the team computer system die, cleverly put the "R" in front of October, took a little batting practice and on Monday night, finally on Monday night, boarded a flight bound for the coolest baseball games of the season.
Todd Helton, who had famously played in nearly 1,600 regular-season games without a postseason appearance until about three weeks ago, spent some time pacing the aisle of that plane, just to say it aloud, to everyone and no one and to himself.
"I'm going to the World Series," he gushed. "Boys, you all know where we're going? We're going to the World Series."
They were words of wonderment, the kind that might never come out of a New York Yankee's mouth, that don't play in Boston as they would have three years ago.
And, you know, it didn't hurt to remind everybody. This was, after all, a team that hadn't played a ballgame in more than a week, and that, by the time Josh Beckett starts throwing fastballs at it, will not have for nine days.
"Baseball," said an attending scout, forecasting trouble, "is a game that has to be played."
While the Red Sox labored through their habitual seven-game mini-miracle, putting games on top of games, losing and winning an inch at a time, the Rockies made do on their seven-day mini-camp, the reward for remarkably winning 21 of 22 games.
"We've done all we can do," Helton said, "without going to the Dominican league and playing."
Helton and a few of the boys spent some time hunting, raising the question of the day from the Rockies' clubhouse.
From a reporter unclear on the hunting concept: "What'd you catch?"
"Ducks," Helton said. "Yeah, then we released them."
The World Series begins Wednesday night in Boston, Beckett against lefty Jeff Francis, the Red Sox now in the role of postseason establishment and the Rockies in the part of the hot team at the right time.
On an unusually warm fall day at Fenway Park, each team had its last-minute details to resolve.
The Red Sox cut Tim Wakefield from their roster, avoiding the decision altogether on whether to pitch him at Fenway in Game 2 or Coors Field in Game 4. Curt Schilling will follow Beckett in Game 2 and Daisuke Matsuzaka will start Game 3.
Wakefield has a potentially serious shoulder ailment, and it was with some sadness that Terry Francona announced the veteran knuckleballer would be unavailable.
"Sometimes," Francona said, "doing the right thing is certainly not the fun thing."
Left-hander Jon Lester, who last started almost a month ago and threw 3 2/3 innings in the playoffs, is tentative for Game 4. He pitched four innings of a simulated game Monday.
Boston will also start rookie Jacoby Ellsbury over veteran Coco Crisp in center field. Crisp rammed his knee against the bullpen wall after making the running catch that ended the ALCS. Though Ellsbury had taken Crisp's job for games 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians, Crisp, a switch-hitter, might have gotten the start against Francis. Ellsbury bats left-handed.
"It made a very difficult decision," Francona said, "maybe not quite as difficult."
Finally, the Red Sox got to the task of readying David Ortiz for Coors Field, where he'll play first base or not play at all. Ortiz took ground balls during batting practice.
Asked if his chronically sore knee would hold up over two or three games at first base, Ortiz said, "Hopefully."
"I'm feeling good right now," he said. "You get into a situation like this, you're not thinking about pain."
Francona still has a few days to consider what to do with the Ortiz-Kevin Youkilis-Mike Lowell triangle when the series moves to Colorado. Ortiz had near-MVP numbers in the regular season, and Lowell drove in more runs (120) than Ortiz did (117). Youkilis just batted .500 against the Cleveland Indians, and .425 in the first two rounds, and helped drive the Red Sox' comeback from that three-games-to-one deficit.
Youkilis can play first (where he didn't make an error in the regular season) and third but probably not the outfield, Lowell is a very good third baseman, but a third baseman only, and Ortiz is passable at first.
"It puts us at a disadvantage," Francona said. "The team we set up to play 154 of our games we don't get to send out there."
The Rockies added to their roster right-hander Aaron Cook, their Opening Day starter. He strained an oblique in early August, tweaked it again in early September, and hasn't pitched in a big-league game since Aug. 10. He gets Game 4 and rookie left-hander Franklin Morales, who started the Rockies' clincher against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS, gets bullpen duty.
Manager Clint Hurdle used Ryan Spilborghs as his primary designated-hitter during a mid-June series at Fenway Park, but could be considering a different plan. Matt Holliday, an improved left fielder but not as adept as Spilborghs, could be moved to DH, allowing Spilborghs the treacherous Fenway outfield.
"I will not discuss the DH situation with you," Hurdle said.
So that was that.
What's left, then, are the games, which the Rockies might recall generally go nine innings.
"If anybody's better than Peavy," right fielder Brad Hawpe said, "I can't wait to face him."
Peavy allowed six runs in that game. Beckett has allowed three in three playoff starts.
"I think we're ready," Hawpe said. "We couldn't simulate World Series baseball, but we tried to do everything we can."
- Terry Francona