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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Surging Rox making baseball history

Last place to first Colorado on a Cinderella run for the ages
By Jim Molony / MLB.com

DENVER -- When the 1976 Cincinnati Reds ran off seven consecutive postseason victories en route to a second straight World Series title it represented the pinnacle of the Big Red Machine's '70s dynasty.
While the 2007 Colorado Rockies certainly aren't in the class of those Reds, their 7-0 run to clinch the franchise's first World Series made the Rockies the first team in 31 years to go 7-0 in the postseason and also earned Colorado another rare place in baseball history.

Besides the streak, their sweep of Arizona in the National League Championship Series made the Rockies one of only five teams to finish in last place one year and reach the World Series the next, joining the 1991 Atlanta Braves, the 1991 Minnesota Twins, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies and the 1998 San Diego Padres.

Baseball fans haven't forgotten the previous four teams to go from last place to the Fall Classic in one year, and it's doubtful they will soon forget a Colorado team which has won 21 of its last 22 games and was 6 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West as recently as Sept. 15. A year ago, the Rockies finished 76-86, 12 games behind San Diego and Los Angeles.

"These guys just don't quit," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. "This has been fun to watch let me tell you."

The 21-1 run is incredible on its own, but it is even more amazing when you consider the Rockies are in the playoffs for only the second time in their 15-year existence and first time since 1995.

They became only the second team to sweep an NLCS since the seven-game series was instituted in 1985 and first since Atlanta swept Cincinnati in the 1995 NLCS.

"At some point, maybe the historic [magnitude] of this will sink in, but right now we're just a team that is enjoying playing the game and coming out expecting to win every day," Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins said. "What you're seeing is 25 guys pulling in the same direction."

And rewriting baseball history in the process.

The Wild Card Rockies did not have home-field advantage in either series, yet swept NL East champion Philadelphia in three games and NL West champion Arizona in four to complete their bottom to top jump that earned them a place along the other great turnaround stories in baseball history:

• The 1991 Atlanta Braves, a year after finishing last (65-97) in the NL West, went 94-68 to win the division, then beat Pittsburgh in the NLCS before losing to Minnesota in the World Series.
Those '91 Twins made a similar last to first leap. The '90 Twins finished 74-88 and in the American League West cellar, 29 games behind Oakland. When the Twins and Braves met in that memorable 1991 World Series it was the first and only time in the 20th century two teams that had finished last the year before met in the World Series.
• The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies made it to the NLCS and then the World Series, one year after finishing dead last in the NL East, 70-92 and 26 games out of first place.

• The only other team to go from cellar to World Series in one year was the 1998 San Diego Padres. The year before, that team finished in the NL West cellar, 76-86 and 14 games behind San Francisco. The '98 Padres finished the regular season 98-64, good for first place in the division, then beat Houston in the NLDS and Atlanta in the NLCS to advance to the World Series.

Now comes the Rockies, the latest team to climb from the cellar to the pinnacle in one season.

Even Cinderella didn't climb that far.

"If you would have told me back in Spring Training that we were going to the World Series I wouldn't have believed it," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "This has been an incredible run, we played so long where if we lost our season was over we've been playing every day like that's still the case."

Of the previous four to go from cellar to pennant, only the Twins went on to win the World Series. None of those teams went unbeaten in the postseason, let alone win 21 of their last 22.

The Rockies will face either Boston or Cleveland in the World Series with a chance to join Minnesota as the only team to finish last one year and win a Fall Classic the next.

Keep the history book handy. The last-to-first Rockies don't look like they are finished rewriting it.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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