Taveras helps Rox to 2-0 NLCS edge
Clutch catch saves key run; bases-loaded walk wins it in 11th
PHOENIX -- Center fielder Willy Taveras admitted the stress of returning to the Rockies' lineup for the National League Championship Series and trying to maintain the team's unprecedented success was "more than killing me."
But Taveras can relax after making two plays Friday night that helped the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks, 3-2, in 11 innings in Game 2 at Chase Field in front of 48,219. The Rockies, who before late in the regular season had never won more than nine games in a row in their 15-year history, have won 19 of their last 20.
Taveras' diving catch of a Tony Clark line drive with two out in the seventh preserved a one-run lead. Taveras forced in the winning run by drawing a four-pitch walk from losing pitcher Jose Valverde with the bases loaded in the 11th.
"I wanted to play, but I wanted to be part of the team and try to win -- I didn't want to come over here and make the team look bad," said Taveras, who suffered a strained right quadriceps on Sept. 8 and didn't play again until Thursday night's 5-1 victory in Game 1.
The Rockies have won eight straight overall and have become the first NL team to win their first five games in a postseason since the Wild Card was instituted in 1995. They have also secured the first two in the best-of-7 NLCS. They teams play three straight at Coors Field starting Sunday night at 6:30.
"Denver is going to be a crazy place this weekend, and we're excited to go home and keep playing the way we've been playing," longtime star first baseman Todd Helton said. "But we still have work to do."
Since the LCS expanded to a best-of-7 format in 1984, 14 of the 17 teams that won the first two games advanced to the World Series.
The three exceptions -- the Blue Jays and Dodgers in 1985 and the Yankees in 2004 -- all won the first two games at home before falling short of the World Series. The Rockies have built their two-game lead on the road.
"Well, you know what?" Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "We've come back from difficult circumstances this year. It's two games. The [winning] team has to win four before it's over."
Winning consistently on the road used to be an unrealized quest for the Rockies, but it's no problem these days. They've won 10 straight on the road, after having never won more than eight straight in their history. This road spurt has seen their pitchers post a 2.47 ERA.
"We've played better baseball on the road," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, whose team is the first since the 1999 Yankees to win its first five playoff games. "[We're] fundamentally sound ... we execute. We pitch better. We find ways to win."
The Rockies figured it out even though the Diamondbacks wore their black jerseys, preventing Colorado from wearing the black jerseys it wore while winning the previous seven games. The D-backs wore black only during home Saturday games during the regular year.
But forget missing their favorite outfits. The Rockies had to win despite missing their bats. They struck out 12 times, after fanning 10 times in Game 1. They also won after Manny Corpas hit Chris Young with one out in the ninth and wound up letting him score.
Corpas, however, struck out two in a scoreless 10th to earn the win. Ryan Speier pitched a perfect 11th, finishing with a strikeout of Young, for his first Major League save. He had led the Pacific Coast League with 33 this year at Triple-A Colorado Springs before being called up in September, and collected 100 saves in 281 career games in the Minors.
"I thought maybe [the first save would come] during the regular season with Manny worn out after throwing in three or four games in a row, not Game 2 of the NLCS," Speier said. "It's pretty special."
Both teams had strong starting pitching.
Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave up one run on five hits and struck out six in five innings. He ended the second and fourth innings by fanning Augie Ojeda with two on, and retired a check-swinging Mark Reynolds to end the fifth with the bases loaded.
|"Denver is going to be a crazy place this weekend, and we're excited to go home and keep playing the way we've been playing. But we still have work to do."|
|-- Todd Helton|
With two down and a D-backs runner at first in the seventh, Taveras -- who had a Clark fly ball to the center-field wall bounce off his glove for a double in the second inning -- was playing toward left field because Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins was working that side of the plate. But Clark pulled a 2-2 pitch to right-center. Taveras dashed and dove, and Hawkins raised both hands in appreciation.
The D-backs' tying run in the ninth turned into a bad play.
Stephen Drew singled after Corpas hit Young to put runners at first and third. Eric Byrnes grounded to second baseman Kazuo Matsui, who flipped to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The run scored, and second-base umpire Tom Halion ruled that Tulowitzki was not on the bag for the out at second.
However, Drew, thinking he was out, wandered toward the dugout and was tagged out. The D-backs would not score again.
Valverde threw 42 pitches in 1 2/3 innings, and it cost him. Pinch-hitter Ryan Spilborghs singled to lead off the 11th, Brad Hawpe walked with one out, Jamey Carroll walked with two down and Taveras took four pitches that weren't close.
"We used to hit a lot," Taveras said. "But now, two or three runs are enough."
And Taveras could leave the park knowing his efforts are enough for the streaking Rockies.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.