Torrealba comes up big in big games
Homer from Rockies catcher comes off friend Hernandez
DENVER -- There are few in the long history of baseball who have had the honor of hitting a game-winning homer in the postseason. Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba now owns that distinction, and he might be the only member of this select group to have gained this achievement at the end of an at-bat during which he literally laughed.
Having developed a close bond with Livan Hernandez while serving as his catcher in San Francisco, Torrealba has a good understanding of the crafty veteran's wide array of pitches. Yet, he admits he wasn't expecting the 58-mph curveball that made him laugh or the 82-mph fastball that created a sense of hysteria at Coors Field on Sunday night.
Fittingly, this just added to the unbelievable script being followed by the Rockies, who, thanks to the two-out, three-run sixth-inning homer Torrealba hit off Hernandez, claimed a 4-1 Game 3 win over the Diamondbacks and now find themselves just one win away from sweeping their way into the World Series.
"He's just clutch," said Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes, who kept the Diamondbacks scoreless in the eighth inning. "He's just a big-time player. That's what those guys do in big games, they step up. He's that type of guy."
Other than the homer he hit against San Diego in the tiebreaker game that clinched the Rockies' postseason spot two weeks ago, Torrealba's previous history didn't include any hits that even closely rivaled the significance of this one. In 396 at-bats this season, he compiled just eight homers, and in 11 career at-bats against Hernandez, his only rewards were three singles.
Yet, because he's a member of the Rockies, it's almost expected that he'd do something this unexpected. Like nobody can explain how they've managed to win 20 of their past 21 games, statistics certainly aren't going to reveal how a free swinger like Torrealba could end a seven-pitch at-bat against Hernandez by drilling the fatal 3-2 fastball over the left-field wall.
"I was saying, 'He can't do it. He ain't patient enough to do it,'" Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "I was trying to do a little reverse psychology there. ... He's a free swinger. He's not up there to take a walk. He's up there to swing the bat. He got a pitch he could handle tonight, and the rest is history."
Torrealba, who hit .194 (7-for-36) with a full count during the regular season, fell behind with a 1-2 count when he was frozen by Hernandez's 58-mph curveball.
"It just made me laugh," Torrealba said. "It looked more like a softball [pitch]. He's really a smart pitcher. He knows when he needs to put something on it and when he needs to take something off. He tried to keep me off-balance. That's what he does best."
Three pitches later, Torrealba fouled Hernandez's 3-2, 60-mph curveball straight back. Seeing this, Hawkins admits his optimism grew. One pitch later, while looking for something offspeed on the outer half of the plate, the Rockies catcher sent the inside fastball into a throng of enthused Colorado fans.
"I'm really surprised by the fact that he tried to go inside on me," Torrealba said. "I've faced Livan a million times already, and most of the time he goes middle away with either fastballs, sliders, or even curveballs. I was actually looking for something soft middle away. He threw me a fastball inside, and I reacted to it."
Torrealba's reaction as he rounded the bases was heartfelt. When he hit his homer against the Padres two weeks ago, he pointed to his mother in the stands. As he rounded the bases after hitting this memorable homer, he pointed to the sky in honor of his grandmother Aurelia Hernandez, who passed away three years ago.
When Torrealba returned to the dugout, he fist-bumped his teammates and they thankfully fed off the emotion created by their spunky catcher.
"We follow his lead," Fuentes said. "When he comes up with a big hit or shows that emotion, it gets us going. We want to ride that emotion. It's good. Not everybody is like that. But that's just the way that he is."
Torrealba's first two Major League seasons (2001-02) were spent serving as a batterymate with Hernandez. They've remained close friends and admittedly have a pretty good understanding of what the other is going to do in the heat of battle.
Hernandez knows that Torrealba can create power with fastballs inside. But after seeing his friend foul the second slow curve straight back, the veteran pitcher, who's known for his patience, decided against his will to challenge his friend with a fastball.
"It's the last pitch I want to throw," Hernandez said. "I know [Torrealba] is one of my best friends in baseball, and I know he can handle the fastball inside very good. In that situation I throw everything and it's foul, foul. Curveball it's foul, and I tried to throw a fastball inside."
Adding to the dramatics of this confrontation between friends was the fact that it included gamesmanship from both angles. Hernandez stepped off the rubber once and Torrealba called time to step out of the batter's box.
"He took a long time, and I was taking a long time," Torrealba said. "It was a little crazy right there."
Actually, the craziness will truly begin if the Rockies are able to carry this improbable run into the World Series. Over the past three weeks, they've benefited from a number of unexplainable events.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.