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No excuses for Rockies' bush-league mistake

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

BOSTON – Just like his team, Matt Holliday was left sprawled out in the dirt, flat on his belly, flailing for safety that would never come. He was picked off, out by a mile in no-man's land off Fenway Park's first base.

His was another embarrassing mistake, another sorry bit of baseball, this time in a manner no one could miss, a little-league bumble in the big-league World Series.

Holliday had reached base in the eighth inning on an infield hit, a grounder near second that the Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia just couldn't quite handle. For the Colorado Rockies' moribund offense, it was what passes for a rally, a chance with a man on first and two outs, trailing 2-1.

This was all they had, this was their hope. They'd managed a meager 11 hits and two runs in two games, arriving in the World Series on a torrid hot streak only to fade fast in the bright lights of prime time.

But Boston was beatable in Game 2 and Colorado needed it desperately. And there was Holliday, who represented the tying run at first base.

Then Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, armed with mountains of advance scouting information, accurately assumed that Holliday was going to try to steal second. So Mills sent a pick-off signal to catcher Jason Varitek, who sent it pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, who threw over to first and nailed Holliday easily.

And that was that; Boston winning 2-1 to assume a solid 2-0 lead in a series that will be over fast if the Rockies can't get their act together faster.

Colorado has not just been outplayed in this series, but outsmarted. Even the Red Sox advance scouts are kicking them around.

It's been the little things, the big things – all things really – that have caused the Rockies so much trouble. They may have won 21 of 22 to get here, but the Red Sox are not a team you can give extra chances to, the American League is not nearly as forgiving as the National.

The Rockies somehow need to win four of the next five, and they've done nothing so far to indicate they are capable of such a feat. At least not against the Sox.

Boston has been better in every facet of the game – including scouting and bench calls, apparently.

"Millsy did a great job right there and read the situation right and got us an easy out," Varitek said.

Colorado wasted some excellent pitching Thursday night, managing as many hits (five) as called third strikes in getting blanked over the final eight innings.

After the game, the Rockies talked about the boost their home crowd would provide and the advantage of NL rules and how no one thought they'd be here anyway. All of that is well and good, but the Red Sox are not San Diego or Philadelphia or Arizona.

As we've seen in recent years, if the NL champ doesn't get an early jump (the way the Cardinals did a year ago) these Series can end in a hurry. Whether that means the AL sweeps of the Cards (2004) and the Astros (2005) or something more respectable hardly matters.

"We've done things that people haven't expected us to do all year," manager Clint Hurdle said. "All we need to do is win, what, four out of five?"

Did he say all? Did he forget that in one of those games Josh Beckett is going to pitch?

Despite the score, Thursday's game contained very few uneasy moments for the Red Sox. Maybe it was Colorado's 10 strikeouts or the fact that other than Holliday, the Rockies managed just one single, but there was an expectation of victory.

The only bit of panic, really, was Holliday's hit. It got Fenway's full attention because quirky plays can turn into avalanches in October.

But getting picked off late in a World Series game is an inexcusable mistake, one made even more strange by the Red Sox's confidence that they would make it happen.

Papelbon was asked if he was surprised that he picked off Holliday so easily.

"No, honestly I wasn't," he said.

That's how on top of it Boston is, how well-oiled the machine, how perfectly executed they can be in the most important moments.

"We don't throw over to first base on our own for the most part, ever," Schilling said. "It's always a sign from the bench."

And the bench knew Holliday was going to be aggressive.

"I was trying to make something happen and get into scoring position so we wouldn't need a home run to go ahead or a double to tie the score," Holliday admitted.

So he played right into their hands and right out of the inning, right out of the game – one play in a World Series where the result is starting to look inevitable.