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Monday, October 1, 2007
Updated: October 2, 1:49 PM ET
Hoffman easy prey for playoff-bound Rockies

By Michael Knisley
ESPN.com

DENVER -- A long, stressful, extra-inning night finally ended a long, stressful, extra-game regular season Monday in Denver, and the Colorado Rockies flew away to Philadelphia and the National League Division Series ...

... on Holliday.

Matt Holliday.

Holliday's triple to right field in the bottom of the 13th brought Colorado back from a two-run deficit, and his mad dash home and frantic head-first slide on a short sacrifice fly to right by Jamey Carroll gave the Rockies an epic 9-8 victory over San Diego in the NL's wild-card tiebreaker game.

Rockies players
Pandemonium breaks out at Coors Field after the Rockies advanced to the postseason with a victory over the Padres.
That ended a four-hour, 40-minute evening of ups, downs, fits, starts, rallies, failures, successes and baseball memories-in-the-making that had even the losing manager, the Padres' Bud Black, shaking his head in admiration for the beauty of the game.

"This is why we in uniform, the people in the front office, the fans, love baseball," Black said. "It's because of games like this."

In that sense, if you'll excuse the pun, the game was a baseball holiday, perhaps one of the best do-or-die games ever played. When Holliday scored in the bottom of the 13th -- if, in fact, he scored; there was some question afterward whether he actually touched the plate during his collision with Padres' catcher Michael Barrett -- it became the first walk-off win in a one-game playoff in major league history.

It certainly left the 48,404 fans in attendance at Coors Field drained.

Not to mention Rockies' first baseman Todd Helton.

"I can't believe it," Helton said. "Can you believe it? We were down. We battled back. We did it against the best closer of all time."

And that makes Monday night's game all the more remarkable. For 5 2/3 innings, the Padres' bullpen -- which had the best earned run average (3.00) in baseball this year -- kept Colorado smothered. After starter Jake Peavy left the game with one out in the seventh, trailing 6-5, three San Diego relievers (Heath Bell, Doug Brocail and Joe Thatcher) gave up one hit among them until the 13th.

Then it was Trevor Hoffman time. Hoffman has closed out 524 games in his 15-year career, including 42 this season. He is baseball's all-time saves leader; he is as automatic as it comes when he enters a game with a lead.

On Monday, he entered with a two-run lead, thanks to Scott Hairston's two-run home run in the top of the 13th inning.

But Carroll's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 13th was the first -- and only -- out Hoffman recorded in blowing this save. He gave up a leadoff double to Kazuo Matsui, another double to Troy Tulowitzki to score Colorado's first run in the rally, and then Holliday's triple to right to tie it.

He intentionally walked Helton, and then faced Carroll.

And then Hoffman faced the questions, which might have been a harder matchup for him than even the Rockies' lineup.

That challenge, he met, though. With dignity and poise. And heartache.

"I'm having a hard time doing this," Hoffman said to a knot of reporters in front of his locker. "It's not that I don't want to, but the way everybody participated in the way they did, and to have it come out the way it did, it's tough to deal with."

Someone suggested that Hoffman, like many pitchers, has had difficulty in the past with the altitude at Coors Field.

"I'm a professional, man" he said. "It doesn't matter where you're at. You've got to be ready to go wherever you're at."

I can't believe it. Can you believe it? We were down. We battled back. We did it against the best closer of all
time.

--Rockies first baseman
Todd Helton

It is, Hoffman said, the hardest baseball blow he's had to absorb.

"I don't really have a ton of words right now," he said. "It's pretty explanatory. It's difficult."

Monday's game was Hoffman's second straight blown save. He was on the mound in Milwaukee on Saturday when the Brewers' Tony Gwynn Jr. lined a two-out, two-strike triple to right that tied a game in the bottom of the ninth. San Diego lost that game in the 11th; had they won then, the Padres wouldn't have had to play the Rockies on Monday.

"It's such a rare occurrence," Black said Monday. "But the Rockies came out swinging, and there's really nothing to say except that I'm taking my chances with Trevor."

Nearly lost among the madness of the 13th inning was a controversial seventh-inning blow that sent Black to his bullpen in the first place. Peavy, the National League's likely Cy Young Award winner, gave up a drive to the Rockies' Garrett Atkins that might or might not have cleared the fence in left before it bounced back onto the field of play. It was ruled a double, and Atkins didn't score.

Had it been called a home run -- even replays weren't conclusive -- it would have been the difference. Instead, the score was tied 6-6 after nine innings, where it stayed until Hairston's home run -- which most definitely did clear the fence -- put San Diego up 8-6 in the top of the 13th.

Holliday's triple in the bottom of the 13th was his second hit of the long night, and clinched the 2007 NL batting championship. He finished with an average of .3396226, slightly better than Chipper Jones' .3372319; and he finished, too, as the league's top run producer with 137 RBIs.

But it was his desperate dash to home moments after the triple that will mean the most to the Rockies. It sends them into the NL Division Series for the first time since 1995, when they lost to the Braves as the wild-card team.

"I was at the plate," said Colorado right fielder Brad Hawpe, the on-deck hitter, "waving him home. I was waving my arms as fast as I could."

Michael Knisley is a senior deputy editor for ESPN.com