Dan Wetzel:

Rocky Mountain Way: Coors pit stop

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I've begun my trek across country toward the East Coast and my new home in upstate Niskayuna, New York. Believe me, it really exists. Check Yahoo! Maps or a nearby atlas and you'll find that Niskayuna is near the capital, Albany. We left behind the sunshine and good times of California early on Monday morning, still feeling the effects of the numerous goodbye gatherings. After two grueling days of driving, my wife and I decided to relax by taking in a game at Coors Field. (Ok, I kind of decided for us.) It was my first trip to this new classic ballyard. What better way to get acquainted with a new stadium than a visit by the venerable Boston Red Sox and the high potential for fantasy explosives?

My top man Joe Kennedy is set to face Bronson Arroyo and make what are likely to be futile efforts to keep these potent lineups at bay. As I've mentioned in an earlier column, I'm most psyched to see Nomar Garciaparra back in the lineup. But first, are those rain clouds above me? Further still, it looks like the wind is blowing in toward right field. So much for my prediction of a 20-run, 14-pitcher marathon.

We take a brief stroll around the park, checking out the different vantage points and I fall in love with the place. Within minutes, I believe I have seen each Major League Baseball squad represented via a cap or jersey. And of course, Red Sox Nation is well represented, including several overserved patrons who settle in behind me. I'm curious to hear how many Yankees chants will be initiated from this group before this one's in the books.

After a fairly routine first inning for Joe Kennedy, I overhear the gentleman next to me tell his wife that Bronson Arroyo is key to three of his fantasy teams as he finishes his warmup pitches. For a moment I think to myself, who's crazier? Me, for backing Joe Kennedy, or this guy for running with Arroyo on three squads? Time will tell in this evening's battle.

Playing in the National League park means that Terry Francona needs to sit either Kevin Millar or David Ortiz. With the southpaw Kennedy on the mound, Ortiz grabs some pine, but odds are we'll see him before it's over.

Vinny Castilla continues to make the most of his return to Colorado by belting a solo shot, his 16th, in the second. Alright! Kennedy's up 1-0. Let's see how he responds. A chopper off the plate by Gabe Kapler opens the gates to a three-run rally in the third, aided in part by Kennedy's own poor fielding. I came in with no allegiance to either team, so my cheering and booing of both teams seem to confound my fellow patrons.

I'm looking for a roll of TUMS to counteract the effects of Kennedy's ever-rising WHIP as he just keeps pitching himself into and out of more trouble. My neighbor keeps score and appears visibly agitated by Arroyo's own demons. Kennedy departs with a 4-3 lead. A quick scribbling on the back of my Coors Light cup reveals the damage. Kennedy's ERA (5.40) and WHIP (2.2) are brutal as one might expect in this particular outing, but he stands to get a victory. Bring on the bullpen!

Meanwhile, I eagerly await each at bat by Nomar. Even the Coors Field announcer drops the "r" at the end of his name. In each of his three plate appearances against Kennedy, I am conflicted. I've been high on Kennedy's season in spite of a lackluster Rockies performance to date. And like anyone who drafted Nomar in the first round, I need the RBI help. He hits the ball well, although it appears that his timing still seems a bit off in what has developed into his own spring training. All he has to show for the night is one RBI off of a sacrifice fly and an infield single in the ninth off of Shawn Chacon (more on him in a minute).

Amazingly, the teams go scoreless for four straight innings after a very long and drawn out third. During this stretch of the game, the stadium treats fans to such staples as the Drano and Harley-Davidson races, the baseball equivalent of three-card monte and a bevy of lowlight reels. A shot of the Detroit Pistons hoisting the NBA championship trophy elicits the largest cheer of the game. They ask only one baseball trivia question during this period. Who won the 1964 American League batting title? I confidently blurt out the name of Tony Olivo of the Minnesota Twins to the bewilderment of those around me. When my statement is confirmed on the Jumbotron, I am applauded (mockingly, I think) by the fans around me as my wife shakes her head in shame. Sleep deprivation and the thin air can't stop the internal encyclopedia! Back to the action.

The Colorado bullpen (Allan Simpson, Steve Reed and Tim Harikkala) combine to hold the Red Sox scoreless for three innings. Meanwhile, Arroyo and Scott Williamson hand things over to Alan Embree. After brushing Todd Helton back with a high fastball, Embree fires a plump and juicy fastball over the center of the plate, that Helton promptly serves over the right field wall to extend the lead to 6-3.

I quote the boy genius Stewie from Family Guy as I exclaim "Victory is mine!"

Not so fast. Shawn Chacon will make me sweat it out. I should have known better than to believe anything was a sure thing when the closer enters with an 0-4 record and 7.20 ERA. He alternates between great location and straight batting practice fastballs, firing 31 pitches in his inning of work. It starts easily enough by retiring Johnny Damon, but he hits Mark Bellhorn with a pitch. Now it's interesting. He makes a great pitch to retire David Ortiz and then proceeds to walk Manny Ramirez and allow an infield single to Nomar. It sets the stage for a two out, bases loaded confrontation with Jason Varitek. Red Sox Nation is awakened and the crowd is in a frenzy. Varitek posts a valiant effort, only to whiff. That's 12 runners left on base for the Sox this evening.

The crowd stays behind to listen to the opening strains of "Rocky Mountain Way" and all seems right with the baseball world. Let's take a look at the highlights of this one, starting with the starting pitching matchup.

Starting pitchers

  • Joe Kennedy: Win, 5.40 ERA, 2.2 WHIP, 4 Ks
  • Bronson Arroyo: Loss, 4.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 4 Ks

Kennedy's line could have been much, much worse. He doesn't throw particularly hard, leaving him prone to giving up laser shots when he fell behind in the count. Fortunately, he gets a lot of ground ball outs, which allowed him to pick up his first win in eight starts.

Arroyo was impressive in stretches, allowing only two extra base hits over his six innings of work. He was hit hard, but line shot singles can be overcome. He helped minimize the damage potential by only allowing one walk. You could do worse with spot starters.

Heroes
Vinny Castilla: The solo shot in the second got the ball rolling and he finished the game 3-4 with two RBIs. Try to convince the guy with Castilla in your league how much he'll fade in the second half. He's on his way to a monster season.

Todd Helton: His two-run homer sealed the deal for the Rockies and allowed all the breathing room Chacon needed. Helton's found the power stroke as of late and stands as the anchor for the Rockies heart of the order. Fantasy owners who were ready to panic due to the lack of home runs must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Mark Bellhorn: Normally, a 2-3 effort with two RBIs isn't a big deal. But when it leads to potential runs ahead of Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra, this is a great lineup for the Red Sox. His RBI total is up to 37, which ranks him at the top of American League second baseman alongside Alfonso Soriano.

Goats
Gabe Kapler: Ok, the error doesn't hurt you in the fantasy realm, but he hurled Bronson Arroyo toward defeat. It devastated my neighbor and sent him scurrying into the night.

Alan Embree: Embree failed to hold down the fort in the eighth, surrendering three hits in two-thirds of an inning pitched and the aforementioned rope into the right field stands by Helton.

Kevin Youkilis: He came up in several game-breaking situations, failing to capitalize on the opportunities with a called third strike and a feeble ground ball.

So ends the first trip to Coors. It'll definitely call me back eventually. Now, back into the car for another 12 hours en route to St. Louis. If the weather and the car hold up, maybe we'll make the 7:05 first pitch against Oakland.

Otherwise, my wife just pointed out a road sign advertising the world's largest prairie dog. Good times.

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