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Game 163, Version 1.0
The Hall of Fame closer in an All-Star season took the mound with a two-run lead, but in the Colorado dugout Troy Tulowitzki screamed to his teammates: "We're going to kick his ass!"
It was the last inning in the last game, a game that wasn't even on the schedule, a tiebreaker squeezed into this improbable season, as if no one wanted it to end.
To this day, you can go to The Chophouse in LoDo or Don's Club Tavern on Cap Hill or the Starbucks at Cherry Hills Marketplace and say "Game 163, and folks know what you're talking about. They'll flash a little smile, you'll smile, an eavesdropping stranger will smile, and soon the whole place is telling stories about where they were for Game 163 — because it's the greatest game in Rockies history — yes, even better than "Game 170."
It was October 1, 2007. The first day of Rocktober. The Rockies hadn't been to the playoffs since 1995. Todd Helton, wearing a uniform number that would someday be retired, was in his 11th season — and had never played in the postseason. And on September 15, the Rockies were just 76 — 72, another ordinary season ... until the extraordinary came out of the thin Colorado air.
The Rockies won 13 of their final 14 games, including the final game of the season, to tie the San Diego Padres for the wild-card, thus setting up this tiebreaker — Game 163 — perhaps the coolest sporting event to ever occur in Denver, Colorado.
But they were about to blow it! Jorge Julio, a name that otherwise would've become an obscenity in these parts, allowed two runs in the top of the 13th inning. And with a two-run lead, Trevor William Hoffman, the eternal savior of San Diego, emerged from the bullpen. "I remember Tulo, said Ryan Spilborghs, a Rockies outfielder in 2007 and my current broadcast partner for Rockies games. "He's coming off the field in the 13th and screaming that we're going to kick Hoffman's ass. There are times when maybe you get your teeth kicked in, and you come into the dugout, and it's quiet. We got no shot. The guys are stunned, they're done, they're punch drunk. But then there are other times when you get punched, and the guys want to counterpunch, they want to hit them back even harder. I just remember Trevor Hoffman coming in, and Tulo, always setting his glove down in the same spot at the end of the dugout, just yelling: 'We got this guy! He's going to get his ass kicked!' And Todd's like, 'Yeah!' And Kaz Matsui is leading off and hits a double. Then Tulo hits a double. It's 8 — 7 in the 13th! Tulo was a gamer. Nobody looked at him as a rookie. It was just like, 'All right, lead us! Go for it!'"
Tulowitzki came in second in the voting for 2007 Rookie of the Year. He could've won it. And Matt Holliday came in second in the voting for 2007 Most Valuable Player. He should've won it. Jimmy Rollins? Are you kidding me with this? He was a brilliant ballplayer, but the MVP? Holliday won the batting title with a .340 average (while hitting .301 on the road) and he led the league in RBIs with 137. Holliday also swatted 50 doubles and 36 homers. Mash Holliday. He was a game-changer, a season-saver, and finished with a .405 on-base percentage and a .607 slugging percentage. "I remember shaking his hand for the first time, Rockies pitcher Josh Fogg said. "There were muscles in his fingers, his thumb, and his hand that I didn't even know existed on people. I remember asking someone, 'Who is that guy?' They're like, 'Yeah, he's a good baseball player, but he was even better at football.' I could believe it. The guy is a monster."
And here was Holliday in Game 163, bottom of the 13th. With Tulo on second, the right-handed Holliday drove a Hoffman pitch the opposite way to right field. It sailed toward the hand-operated scoreboard. Is this going to be a walk-off home run to make the playoffs? Is Brian Giles going to catch it at the wall?
Giles hit the wall with his body sprawled, the ball hitting above his outstretched glove. Tulo scored! Holliday scampered to third with a triple. Game tied. No one out. Holliday and his thumping heart stood on third.
* * *
Manager Clint Hurdle stood in the Rockies' spacious clubhouse and shouted: "I've got good news and bad news! His Rockies had just won the final game of the regular season. After 162 games — this grinding, grueling journey of 2007 — they had an identical record as the San Diego Padres. "The good news is: we get to play in Game 163 tomorrow night! The bad news is: the Padres are starting Jake Peavy, and we've got Fogger!"
"Oh no! Troy Tulowitzki yelled from his locker. "We're fucked!"
The clubhouse erupted in laughter. Of course, Josh Fogg was a back of the rotation big league starter, who retired two years later with a 62 — 69 record. But his close-knit teammates had faith in him even against the Padres' Peavy, pitching in his Cy Young season. Tulo's playful joke summed up the Rockies. It didn't matter who was throwing or what was thrown at them — the 2007 Rockies were makers of the impossible. At this point, the Rockies felt invincible, impervious.
And so, in a way it was fitting — in Game 163, the Rockies' starting pitcher would be a dude with a near-5 ERA, yet also called "The Dragon Slayer. Fogg had a penchant for pitching well against aces. In September of 2007, he won a key ballgame against Brandon Webb, the reigning Cy Young winner from the Arizona Diamondbacks. And Fogg won back-to-back starts in June against Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. A teammate would even decorate the clubhouse with an airbrushed painting of Fogg slaying a dragon with a baseball. They just loved their Fogger. "That was the biggest thing with that group, that they wholeheartedly enjoyed playing baseball together, said Fogg, who was 30 in 2007, his second season with the Rockies, "going to the field, hanging out and going to dinner after. For them to allow me to work my way in there and find my own little niche? It was special. I ran the football pools or the basketball pools or this-and-that or fantasy football. I found my little way to contribute to the group, but they were so solid from the get-go. Sure, they would trade a guy or a guy would get released here and there, but the core group stayed together so long. They'd been in A ball, AA, AAA, ridden the busses together, and they had stories. That feeling doesn't happen very much in baseball anymore because there are so many free agents. The teams that do build from within are going to have that ability to not have as much talent but have the chemistry that could overtake the teams with that talent."
Fogg started 29 games for the 2007 Rockies — second most behind Jeff Francis — and finished 10 — 9, many of the 10 wins being dragon slays. He was such a great guy, a favorite of everyone from the broadcast booth to the clubhouse. And Fogger had one of the most unusual paths to the big leagues of any Rockies player ever ... considering that he was cut from his high school baseball team as a junior.
The high school season prior, he'd played second base for the junior varsity but was so bad at the plate that they used the team's designated hitter for him and not for the pitcher. At junior year tryouts, Fogger threw some bullpen sessions but hoped to still play infield. "Coach puts the list up of who's made the team, and I'm not on it, said Fogg, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "I didn't really know what to do then. I planned on playing baseball my junior and senior year. I go home and tell my parents. I didn't have any big plans to go anywhere after that, so I was looking for what was next. Maybe I could play another sport? But our coach, Coach Petik, was actually our P.E. coach, and we had P.E. seventh period. Two days later, he said, 'Josh, can I talk to you for a second?' He brings me into his office and shuts the door. I was a very good student so I knew I wasn't in trouble. I wasn't getting yelled at for anything. He said, 'Hey, do you still want to play baseball?' I was like, 'Yeah, I'd love to play baseball.' He's like, 'Well, Ray Retzinger just failed off the team, and you're the next guy in line, but you're going to have to pitch.' I was like 'All right, I'll pitch!' He's like, 'Just so you know, you're not going to [actually] pitch. You're never going to pitch. You'll be the No. 5 guy.' We had four legit guys, I think three of them went to Division-I schools."
But that junior season, Fogg learned to throw a curveball. Fogg didn't throw hard but threw with conviction. "People ask, 'You're kind of small. I thought you'd be bigger?' Fogg recalled. "And I say, 'When I get on the mound, I was 6'4."' I was sure of it. I come back for my senior year and I'm coming in as the No. 1 starter. End up 9 — 1, or whatever it was, all these strikeouts, and all of these accolades, All-State, and this-and-that — all because of Ray Retzinger."
Local scouts tried to figure out just how good this Fogg guy was. Late on the scene, sure, but the kid was seemingly getting better by the start. He'd visited Stetson, as well as some junior colleges in the South Florida area. And while it seemed like a dream, he had some communication with the baseball program at the University of Florida. "They were down playing one of the South Florida schools, Fogg recalled. "Coach Andy Lopez had been in contact and said, 'Hey, come out to the game, and we'll talk after.' They get done, and the bus is waiting, and people are getting on. Coach Lopez and I are talking on the field. We're probably out there 45 minutes with my dad talking — and all of these guys are on the bus waiting, waiting, waiting. He's like, 'Listen, we want to have you up to Gainesville. How about you come up this weekend?' My dad couldn't go, so they flew me up by myself. Senior in high school, probably one of the first times away by myself. They pick me up from the airport, they take me straight to the field. I'm there for less than 24 hours. I go to the field and I'm sitting in the stands. I don't even know who they're playing. It ends up being Tennessee. Friday night, I'm like, 'Are they any good?' And someone said, 'Well, they have one pretty good player that's going to start.' About two-and-a-half hours later, the infamous Todd Helton had hit a home run in like the seventh inning to win the game 1 — 0 all by himself. And then I'm thinking — this guy is the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball! I can't compete with this stuff! Then I get to play with him on my team for a few years later in my life. I told him about it, and he's like, 'I don't even remember that game.' I'm like, 'It was one of the most memorable games for me, and you don't even remember it?' It was probably just an average game for him back then."
Helton, of course, also played football at Tennessee. He was teammates with Peyton Manning. And in the spring of 1995, the Colorado Rockies selected Helton with the eighth overall pick in the MLB draft. The first pick in that draft was Darin Erstad to the California Angels. Kerry Wood went No. 4 to the Chicago Cubs. The pick before Helton was the Texas Rangers. They decided to go with Jonathan Johnson, who pitched in just 42 games in the bigs. Imagine the late-1990s Texas Rangers with Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez ... and Todd Helton.
Also picked in the '95 first round was Roy Halladay out of Arvada West High School outside of Denver. He went 17th to the Toronto Blue Jays. And the 28th pick in that draft selected by the Montreal Expos was a catcher named Michael Barrett, who was then playing shortstop.
As for Fogg, the future dragon slayer became a Florida Gator. "In high school, Fogg said, "a coach once told me, 'Yeah, you're, at best, a No. 3 guy in JUCO.' And I was like, 'Oh, I'll take that.' I wasn't planning on going anywhere. Then I got to Florida and I'm like, 'Screw that. I'm being No. 1 here!' If you're going to doubt me, I'm just going to go out there and throw the piss out of it until you realize that I am good enough. Coach Lopez liked that I had a quick arm. It was a live arm. At one of my first bullpens at Florida, he said, 'You're going to throw 94 before you leave here.' I was dying laughing. I'm like 'Yeah right! I got no chance!' I threw 84 in high school. Sure enough, my junior year in college, now I'm getting big-time scouts. Guys are coming to see me because I'm closing games and doing a really good job. It was against Miami, and I remember my dad told me. He was in the stands and he's watching how they scout. The guns are up, and I throw a fastball. It's 94. He said you could see people grab their phones and start calling. That was probably when I shot up. I was probably a middle-teen rounder at that time. I got picked in the third round."
When he debuted in the bigs in 2001 for the Chicago White Sox, Fogg was a reliever. The next year he started all 33 of his appearances for his new team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finished his career with 194 games started in the big leagues.
One of the questions big league pitchers often get is: are you nervous when you pitch? It's a fair question. You're standing on a circular metaphorical spotlight, performing in front of 40,000, as well as a television audience, your family, friends ... and intense teammates, who rely on you to perform with precision. But after his crazy journey, Fogg was confident. He felt he belonged. "I can very vividly remember only three times I was nervous on a major league mound, he said. "My first time appearance ever with the White Sox, starting a game in the World Series ... and starting Game 163."
* * *
Only six times prior to 2007 had there ever been a one-game tie-breaker — most famously in 1978 — when Bucky Dent, the scrawny New York Yankee, homered over the Green Monster and, in part of New England lore, earned himself the middle initial F for the rest of time.
Win or lose, it would be a historic night at Coors Field, our glorious home venue nestled into downtown Denver. The city was painted purple. The Rockies would make the playoffs again in their future, but no vibe will ever match Rocktober, this mystical twist of an autumn. It was just this feeling that you cannot recreate or replicate. What a time to be in Denver.
In the clubhouse before Game 163, Troy Tulowitzki spotted Tiny. Tiny is Mike Pontarelli, a longtime clubhouse manager "who's given more grief to me than anyone in the history of baseball, Ryan Spilborghs said. "You can find Tiny in Denver minor league team photos from back when he was like six years old. His dad, Dave, is a retired Denver cop and works at the stadium. So Tulo is like, 'Tiiiiiny, what are we having for dinner?' And he was like, 'Maggiano's' or something like that. And Tulo was like: 'Nah man, we got to have steak and lobster, no matter what. Steak and lobster!' So they order Chophouse steak and lobster for the whole frick-in' team. And remember, this is after September call-ups, so we have a full house including minor leaguers and minor league coaches."
Coors fizzed. The place was brimming with fans. Attendance that night was 48,404. Emotions swirled in the thin air — and in the stomachs. "It was very similar to the beginning of a horror movie, where nothing has happened quite yet, but I still had an uneasy feeling of not knowing what's going to happen next, explained Phill Kaplan, a Denver native and die-hard Rockies fan, who was in the stands that night. He was with his cousin, Brent. Both guys were 24. "That 2007 team meant everything to me, Kaplan continued. "I was going through some serious personal troubles at the time, and that team was my escape, and it couldn't have happened at a better time for me."
But facing Jake Peavy in the one-game tiebreaker was on paper just a terrible turn of events. The day before, on Sunday, Padres manager Bud Black made a controversial decision. A win against the Milwaukee Brewers and they were in. But they didn't start their ace in Game 162, instead saving him for either Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series at the Philadelphia Phillies ... or a Game 163 at Colorado.
The Padres lost Game 162 and flew to Denver that night. Peavy is weaved numerous times into Colorado history. In Todd Helton's final home game — September 25, 2013 — Peavy was the starter for the visiting Boston Red Sox. In Helton's first at-bat of his last home game — the faithful capturing one last glimpse of the great goateed gamer — he homered off of Peavy. And in 2007, Peavy had started against the Rockies 10 days prior to Game 163, pitching seven innings of three-hit baseball, allowing a lone run. And then with Peavy out, it took the Rockies an additional seven innings to finally win the thing, famously, on a Brad Hawpe homer in the 14th inning.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "If These Walls Could Talk: Colorado Rockies"
Copyright © 2019 Drew Goodman and Benjamin Hochman.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Bud Black vii
Chapter 1 Game 163, Version 1.0 1
Chapter 2 Nolan Arenado And Charlie Blackmon 21
Chapter 3 Todd Helton 39
Chapter 4 CarGo, Tulo, And Ubaldo 55
Chapter 5 Rocktober 77
Chapter 6 Larry Walker 103
Chapter 7 The Skippers 117
Chapter 8 General Managers 147
Chapter 9 Dick Monfort 169
Chapter 10 The Golden Thong And Other Stories 175
Chapter 11 Inside The Clubhouse 189
Chapter 12 Inside The Booth 203
Chapter 13 My Baseball Life 227