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Thursday, October 25, 2007
Rockies knocked down, but not knocked out

By Howard Bryant
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox, having enough fun on the field already, decided before the bottom of the fifth inning to seek out a little pleasure at the jukebox, too.

WORLD SERIES

Rockies-Red Sox
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While Franklin Morales warmed up for his first World Series appearance, the loudspeaker pumped Stevie Wonder's 1966 soul classic "Uptight." The musical score at ballgames has for years been a humorous pastime; at Tropicana Field, the umpires are greeted to the theme from "Law & Order." But if the Colorado Rockies aren't careful, Wednesday night's tune might just serve as an unfortunate, fatal harbinger.

Yes, the Rockies got creamed in the World Series opener 13-1. Yes, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and the rest of the Red Sox played hopscotch on the basepaths. Through the first five innings, Ortiz and Ramirez had come up a combined eight times and reached base seven times. Yes, the Red Sox set Series records by pounding eight doubles and pushing 13 runs across the board in an opening game. Yes, the soaring Red Sox, over their last four games, have outscored the Indians and Rockies 43-6.

And finally, yes, Josh Beckett continued his torrid October, striking out the first four hitters of the game on his way to another blistering performance that -- along with a three-run Boston first -- ripped the eager hearts from the Rockies' batting order early. Beckett is now 4-0 in the postseason.

Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling, 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 career postseason starts, will get the start for the Red Sox in Game 2.

Game 1 of the World Series was all that and more. Amid a constant drizzle, the Red Sox played as if they were playing their annual tune-up against the Boston College nine to kick off spring training. The Rockies, meanwhile, the hottest team in the history of baseball -- before Game 1, they hadn't lost since Sept. 28 against Arizona -- looked like a team that hadn't played a baseball game in at least a week. After five innings, the final score was set. In short, the Rockies got boat-raced.

"For us, we definitely had a lot of momentum going. I think those last three games against the Indians we were rolling on all cylinders," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who went 2-for-5 with three runs scored. "Guys were feeling a little more comfortable at the plate."

But no, this series isn't over. Not necessarily. And despite Boston's clear Game 1 mandate, there is plenty of precedent that a Game 1 knockdown does not constitute a Series knockout. In 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost World Series games to the Yankees by 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 but won the Series in seven games, the last 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski's famous Series-ending home run. The 1996 Yankees were bounced at home by Atlanta 12-1 in Game 1 and 4-0 in Game 2, yet won the series in six games. In 1968, Bob Gibson struck out 17 Tigers in a 4-0 Game 1 win, beat the Tigers again 10-1 in Game 4, but in Game 7, the Tigers wound up beating the mighty, unstoppable Gibson 4-1 for the title. The rule here for the Rockies is to keep playing.

"Well, one of the strengths this club has had throughout the season is our confidence hasn't been shaken by the results of a game," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. "That being said, that's not the way we drew it up. But you know what? We've had to go out and play. We've got some pitchers that have to make some pitches. I feel real confident we'll get back out there and get after it [in Game 2]."

If you happen to be the Rockies, there are certainly reasons to be concerned. The first is the Snowball Effect. Morales came into the game with eyes as big as silver dollars. His line -- two-thirds of an inning, six hits, seven runs, all earned, a 94.50 ERA, with all seven runs scoring with two out -- didn't do much to build confidence for Thursday's Game 2.

The Rockies' looking overwhelmed Wednesday night was one thing, but their collective belief that the Red Sox are simply too good for them is quite another. How they will react to not just their first postseason loss, but the loss's being so decisive will speak volumes about their toughness and character.

But there are numerous reasons for hope despite the blowout. The first is that the Colorado defense did not play scared, avoiding the silly, crucial mistakes that undermine a team's confidence and leave a team scarred for the series. The Indians will hurt all winter because, despite Boston's fury, they know they left key plays on the field.

The second is that the Red Sox scored 11 of 13 runs with two out. That rarely happens, and a tighter, more focused Rockies team can rebound and make Game 2 a different type of contest.

And the third is that having not played for eight days had to be some sort of a factor for a team that had won 21 of 22 games, including their first seven playoff games.

"I think you saw Beckett and I think you saw our inability to shut down innings," Hurdle said. "I think they scored all but two runs with two outs. You can ask me all series long, and I'm not going to an answer on that. We're a no-excuses ballclub. Always have been, and we're going to be. We got outplayed tonight."

In all, it was one game. The difference will be whether the bad lessons of the night disappear or if they stay in the Rockies' minds. It should be remembered as well, that after the first game of the ALCS against Cleveland, after Boston's at-bats looked as perfect as they did Wednesday night, the Red Sox went out and lost three straight games. Curt Schilling and his 10-2 career postseason record is next, but Cleveland got to Schilling at home in Game 2 of the LCS, knocking him out in the fifth inning.

This series is over only if the Rockies believe it is.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.