Rockies hero Baker seizes his chance
Patient hitter overcomes concussion, diminished playing time
DENVER -- Jeff Baker, the Rockies' forgotten son, will long be remembered in Rockies folklore after Saturday night.Baker had the game-winning pinch-hit single in the eighth inning of the Division Series-clinching, 2-1 victory against the Phillies, setting off another Rockies celebration and punching a ticket to the National League Championship Series. Baker didn't exactly have a celebrated season. He hit .222. He had 12 RBIs. He seemed to get lost on the Rockies bench, watching other reserves like Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan become a major part of the team's success. Then Baker got plunked in the head with a fastball from the Cubs' Jason Marquis on Aug. 10, putting him on the disabled list with a concussion. When he returned, he watched more than played, as the Rockies' September callups took many of the pinch-hit opportunities. "When I got hit in the face, it kind of put things in perspective, kind of slowed me down a little bit," Baker said. "I'd been pressing all year. Obviously, it's not where I wanted to be, but I got hit. I learned from it. To see it come full circle, get a big hit here, it's awesome." Baker's patience paid off Saturday night. He waited for a J.C. Romero sinker down and away and slapped it to the opposite field through the first- and second-base hole, scoring Garrett Atkins. "When that situation came up tonight, I've visualized it 100 times," Baker said. "I've seen tape on Romero. It's just one of those things. I was like, 'Here's my chance. Just go embrace it and do it.'" In Baker's previous 46 pinch-hit at-bats this season, he had three RBIs. But Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had a hunch that Baker had a good at-bat in him. "Baker has had a challenging year -- got hit in the head, had to go back to Triple-A and when he came back there were guys playing well, so he didn't have much of an opportunity -- so I think he's walking on air right now," Hurdle said. "The team is very happy for him." The rolling Rockies have been plenty willing to take turns playing hero during their run of 17 wins in 18 games. "That's the type of stuff you want to happen," Spilborghs said. "And that's what separates our team from other teams. You've got 25 guys that can come in at any time and produce and do something. We're not asking for anybody to go out there and be something they're not.
"Baker gets the call and all we wanted was a quality at-bat, and that's what we got. We're all so happy for him, because he obviously hadn't played at all this postseason, but he was ready."And the Rockies were ready to celebrate -- again. "We can get used to this," Spilborghs said. The Rockies broke out the champagne and beer in the clubhouse after the game, which had a different feel than Monday's celebration after the tiebreaker against the Padres. It was almost as if the Rockies are getting used to this and better at it. "It seems like somebody learned something because they sure did ice that stuff down. It's cold," Brad Hawpe said. "Every step on the way is unbelievable."
C.J. Moore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.