Rockies Pile Up Runs to Win Wild Card : Baseball: Colorado beats San Francisco, 10-9, to reach playoffs in third season, quickest rise for expansion team.


It wasn't pretty, but it was typical.

Rallying from a six-run deficit after starter Bret Saberhagen lasted only two-plus innings, the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Francisco Giants, 10-9, Sunday to win the wild-card berth in the National League playoffs and set a record for expansion success.

The third-year Rockies finished one game behind the Dodgers in the West and one game ahead of the Houston Astros in the wild-card standings to win the right to face Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves in Tuesday night's opener of the division series at Coors Field, where a crowd of 48,039 was mile high in response to Sunday's victory.

The fastest an expansion team had qualified for the postseason was eight years. The New York Mets did it in 1969, going all the way to win the World Series.

When Curtis Leskanic secured the final out Sunday and wept as he was swamped by teammates, the crowd, already standing and cheering, erupted in a prolonged salute--"The ground was moving it was so loud," Leskanic said later--and the Rockies responded by circling the field and waving appreciation as police on horses and motorcycles ringed the warning track.

"This is not quite as good as winning the division championship, but it's more exciting than I thought it would be, and it's reason to celebrate," left fielder Dante Bichette said amid the champagne showers of the clubhouse.

"People didn't think a third-year team could do it, but we hung in through a long season. I congratulate the Dodgers, but the new rules open the door for us too."

The Dodgers won the division title by winning in San Diego Saturday night. Colorado Manager Don Baylor--the league's probable manager of the year for successfully juggling a pitching staff that was devoid of a set rotation and had a league-high 4.97 ERA--watched the Dodgers by satellite.

"I was never too high or too low," he said. "I knew that when Tommy [Lasorda] planted that final kiss on Mike Piazza it was over. We couldn't shake them, and they couldn't shake us. It came down to a few games here and there, but we have nothing to be ashamed of.

"I mean, third year or not, reaching the postseason is a tremendous accomplishment and I feel particularly happy for the 12 players who have been here from Day One. They were kicked around for going through the expansion draft and had a lot to prove. It's a good feeling to see them celebrate for the first time."

The Dodgers and others have bristled at the Rockies' expansion label, arguing that Colorado is a veteran team with a major payroll, having invested heavily in talented and experienced players.

"We've never used expansion as a crutch or excuse," General Manager Bob Gebhard said, dodging champagne.

"No one can argue, however, that we're only in our third year and haven't had the benefit of 100 years of development. We drew 7 1/2 million people in our first two years, and ownership was willing to turn it back into payroll, accelerating our ability to compete."

Owner Jerry McMorris, wearing a soaked T-shirt emblazoned "National League Playoffs" and a cap with "Wild Card" in gold letters, shook his head and said, "There are 20 teams that would like to be where we are right now, and 19 of them aren't expansion teams. My goal was to see if we could do it faster than the Mets did, and the support of our fans made it possible.

"It's true that the system allows more player movement now and an expansion team can develop faster, but let's not downgrade what we've done. We didn't have a fully functioning farm system until this year."

For a while Sunday, it appeared that the Rockies and Astros were heading for a wild-card playoff here today. Saberhagen, feeling fine physically but unable to spot his fastball, was rocked for long home runs by Matt Williams and J.R. Phillips as the Giants built a 6-2 lead. Four runs in the third and four in the fifth brought the Rockies back.

Walker drove in three runs with his 36th homer and a single. Eric Young drove in two with a homer, triple and single. Baylor used six relievers, who restricted the Giants to one run over the last six innings.

A team built for Coors Field, the Rockies lead the league in runs, home runs and batting. That's how they've been doing it, and they were still hearing from the fans, massed around the players' entrance, long after the game.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to win a World Series," McMorris said. "I'd like to find out this year."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World