You possibly can’t win the World Sequence in spring coaching. However it doesn’t cease Rockies star Nolan Arenado from attempting.
Earlier than stepping within the batting cage on a cold Arizona morning, Arenado introduced: “One swing. Backside of the ninth. Rating tied.”
Arenado dug within the batter’s field, slowly exhaled and waited for a pitch delivered with no person besides Colorado teammates standing across the cage. It was a nasty strike, portray the black, low and out of doors. Relatively than swinging from his heels, Arenado calmly reached out, bought the barrel on the ball and knocked it solidly if unspectacularly into the opposite-field hole.
“He went down and away on me, so I took the pitch to proper subject,” Arenado mentioned. “I used to be completely happy, as a result of in a recreation I often roll that pitch over.”
Whereas an all-star résumé is constructed on towering residence runs and jaw-dropping net gems, a hero within the playoffs is the hitter that does no matter little factor it takes to get a vital run throughout residence plate.
Via all the identical drills repeated in each major-league group’s preseason camp, what are the Rockies are engaged on in 2019? Erasing the ache.
For the primary time in franchise historical past, Colorado is aware of what it’s wish to qualify for the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. “We’re beginning to get good at having the expertise of Recreation No. 163,” normal supervisor Jeff Bridich mentioned.
However, because the Rockies have discovered the exhausting means, the one issues extra intense than the strain and pleasure of October baseball are the agony and remorse felt when a group flops, as Colorado did final yr.
The goals of profitable a championship have been gone in a blink of a watch: Seven days in October, 50 innings of baseball in three time zones, a meager six runs scored, with the enjoyment of a stirring do-or-die victory in Wrigley Discipline sandwiched between a troublesome loss in Los Angeles and the embarrassment of getting spanked by the Brewers’ broom of their Nationwide League divisional sequence.
“The battle you’re consistently preventing within the postseason is to discover a approach to keep affected person when each at-bat counts actually does rely and all of the significance is heightened,” mentioned Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who drove in a strong 107 runs from late March by means of the ultimate day of September, however produced solely a single RBI as Colorado’s offense fizzled when the video games mattered most.
What the Rockies have discovered is October baseball may be as a lot about grittiness and coronary heart price as spin price or exit velocity. What Colorado has found in the course of the previous two years is Jon Grey may need higher stuff in his pitching arsenal than Kyle Freeland, however Freeland has all the proper stuff in his coronary heart to face tall on the mound and stare down bother, because the noise from 40,151 followers in Wrigley Discipline punches a gap within the sky.
“The playoffs are one thing you need to undergo to grasp what the depth is like. There’s no different approach to emulate it or duplicate it,” mentioned Freeland, who refused to give up a single run whereas pitching 6 2/three innings throughout Colorado’s playoff victory towards the Cubs.
“Sure, there was added stress. It was in Wrigley Discipline. It was rowdy. It was a playoff recreation. It was win-or-go-home. It was blah, blah, blah. However you may’t take into consideration all that on the mound. Now, you may’t trick your thoughts into considering none of this issues and it’s simply one other recreation, as a result of this one recreation does matter. It’s your complete season on the road. So in that state of affairs, it’s a psychological course of you need to undergo to make your self as snug as potential, ensure you can bear down, get to your quiet place and do your work.”
Within the comparatively quick span of 5 years, the Rockies have climbed from the depths of dropping 96 video games in the course of the 2014 season to a spot the place they imagine the game’s pinnacle is inside their attain. However on this uncommon air, it’s more durable to breathe and the journey grows extra arduous with every further step.
“There are all the time challenges and expectations,” Rockies supervisor Bud Black mentioned. “However I’ve informed the group to relish it and embrace it. You wish to be a group that’s talked about. We bought on the nationwide stage final yr, to a sure extent. That’s what you need. That’s what the gamers need. They need that acclaim. They need their group to be talked about within the combine.”
It’s no small achievement the Rockies can speak about profitable the World Sequence and be taken significantly.
The significantly exhausting half: Doing work on the massive stage, by digging within the batter’s field, discovering your quiet place amid the October insanity and driving within the profitable run with an opposite-field double in the course of the ninth inning, when the entire baseball world is watching.