Streak might not be so lucky

Rockies' run of wins not proven recipe for Series triumph

October 22, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Insomniacs, those on the West Coast and serious baseball fans might be the only ones who have seen the Colorado Rockies sprint their way through the postseason.

Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to October baseball, though, knows the Rockies are hot. Historically hot. Overheated-radiator-in-the-desert hot.

They've won 21 of their past 22. They are only the second team to win its first seven playoff games in one postseason. The Rockies' streak of 10 straight wins is the fourth longest for a club heading into Game 1 of the World Series.

It is not something that will be duplicated - or forgotten - anytime soon.

"I think this streak will stand alone because they didn't have the luxury of losing," said Buck Martinez, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcaster and a national television color commentator. "In [late] September, they couldn't afford to lose, and they lost only one game. ... Their streak will be unique in that the team was in a win-or-go-home mentality for that whole stretch."

So, yes, these Rockies already have reached a certain plateau in baseball annals, with only a World Series championship standing in their way of legendary status.

But does this run mean they are guaranteed their first world title in the franchise's 15-season history?

Nope.

Consider that the longest winning streak heading into a World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was 15 games by the juggernaut 1960 New York Yankees, who then lost in seven games to the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Orioles twice took 14-game winning streaks into a World Series, in 1970 and 1971. They won it all in 1970 against the Cincinnati Reds but failed to repeat the next season against the Pirates.

The end results are mixed, but clubs want momentum down the stretch.

"Nothing beats winning, and losing just creates doubt," said Davey Johnson, the Orioles' second baseman in 1970 and 1971 and the manager of the New York Mets team that won 15 of 19 heading into the 1986 World Series. "You get on a zone, a roll, a good feeling. It's not only that you expect to win; you think you'll win no matter what."

Even before sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series and the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Championship Series, the Rockies were baseball's hottest team. Since Sept. 16 they've lost just once, to the Diamondbacks and ace Brandon Webb on Sept. 28.

The common sentiment is that the hottest team heading into the postseason is the one that ends up making the most noise in October.

But recent history doesn't back up that perception.

Since 1990, six playoff teams, including this year's Rockies, have finished the regular season 9-1, according to Elias. None of the previous five won the World Series. Only three, the 2002 San Francisco Giants, the 2004 Houston Astros and these Rockies, made it to the final round.

The last team to finish the regular season by winning at least nine of its final 10 games and win the World Series was Johnson's Mets in 1986.

Martinez can testify that late-season hot streaks don't necessarily translate into postseason glory. He played on the 1977 Kansas City Royals, who boasted one of the greatest August-September streaks in history. From Aug. 17 to Sept. 25, they won 35 of 39 games, including a stretch where they won 24 of 25.

They dropped five of their final eight regular-season games after they had clinched the division and then lost 3-2 in the American League Championship Series to Reggie Jackson and the eventual World Series champion Yankees.

Martinez sees plenty of similarities between these Rockies and the 1977 Royals. They both had young players who rose to prominence together. They both had plenty of speed, great defense and solid pitching. And they both had Clint Hurdle, the Rockies manager who was a September call-up for the Royals.

But, perhaps more than anything, Martinez sees the same trajectory for the two clubs. The Royals went on to win four division titles, make two World Series appearances and win one world championship in the next eight years.

He said he doesn't think the Rockies will win this year's World Series, but he thinks the club is about to go on an impressive run the next few seasons.

"It's really not unlike those '77 Royals, who then did it for a number of years," Martinez said. "I don't think this [Rockies] team will be thought of as one that had a great streak and then couldn't win the big one.

"This is a team that is going to be something special for the next couple of years."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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