Tag Archives: Jim Tracy

At 38, the Toddfather can still walk off with the best of them

Make all the old man jokes you want. The Rockies have played five home games on the young season. Jamie Moyer, 49, has given them their longest start at Coors Field. And Todd Helton, 38, has provided the margin of victory the last two nights with clutch late-inning heroics.

For all their talent and youth, the kids could learn something from these old-timers.

For much of Saturday night, it looked as though the Rocks would finally pay for the inability of any starting pitcher other than Moyer to make it to the fifth inning.

Monday, in the home opener, Jhoulys Chacin started and pitched four innings. After a day off Tuesday, Jeremy Guthrie started Wednesday and lasted only 3 1/3. Moyer started Thursday and went 5 2/3. Juan Nicasio started Friday and managed just 2 2/3.

The bullpen handled all this with aplomb. It pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball in relief of Nicasio as the offense erased a 6-2 deficit. It pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Moyer. In fact, the bullpen had a collective earned-run average of 1.71 going into Saturday night’s monsoon.

But when no starter manages to go six innings all week, it catches up to you eventually. So the Rocks were encouraged when Chacin showed up with better command Saturday night than he had in the home opener Monday. He was far from dominant, but he fought through four innings, giving up one run and throwing 64 pitches in a steady rain that had delayed the start of the game for sixteen minutes.

With the Rocks leading 5-1 and three outs from an official game, umpire Mike Winters called for the tarpaulin. Seventy-one minutes of rain delay later, Chacin’s night was done and the bullpen was looking at yet another short start.

“The third and fourth inning was really hard raining and the fifth was pretty much the same, I think it was slower than it was in the third or fourth, so I didn’t know why they called it,” Chacin said afterward.

“The very unfortunate thing for us was the fact that the game was stopped after the fourth inning,” manager Jim Tracy added. “And the amount of time that we were down, obviously we lose Jhoulys. And if you back up to yesterday, you got 2 2/3 from the starter yesterday. And if you go back to Opening Day, we had a short start.”

Esmil Rogers and Rex Brothers had each pitched the two previous nights. Matt Belisle had pitched Friday night and two of the previous three. So when play resumed Tracy went with Josh Roenicke, who promptly surrendered a three-run homer to Arizona’s Miguel Montero. As the rain resumed its steady beat, Tracy was forced to call on Belisle again, trying to nurse the one-run lead that remained, thinking the game might be called anytime.

“That’s our job, is to take the ball when we’re asked,” Belisle said. “The biggest thing is the preparation before and the expectation and anticipation that we may have to do this instead of sitting around going, ‘Oh, gosh, we’re in there again?’ In other words, honing the edge a little bit with how much we throw before the game, monitoring that and just understanding that we may have to pick up some innings.”

Matt Reynolds and Belisle would have gotten through the sixth, but Troy Tulowitzki committed two throwing errors, losing his grip on two wet balls. One of the resulting baserunners scored, tying the game. From there, the Diamondbacks managed another run off of Brothers, pitching for a third straight day, in the seventh. They put up another off Tyler Chatwood in the eighth.

The Rocks had been three outs from two straight wins over the division favorites and a .500 record. Now they were looking at a 7-5 deficit with time running out. On a dank, miserable night, it looked like they were going to get a miserable result.

They got one back in the eighth on a single by Tyler Colvin, who had homered earlier, and a double by Eric Young Jr. But as they entered the bottom of the ninth, the rain cascading down nearly five hours after the scheduled 6:05 start, they still trailed by one. On the mound was Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz, who held the longest active save streak in the majors, 28 straight, dating to last July.

Trying to come inside to leadoff man Marco Scutaro, Putz hit him in the shoulder. Scutaro, 36, went down, then scrambled quickly to his feet and sprinted to first pumping his fist and looking into the home dugout as if to tell his mates they weren’t finished yet.

But Jason Giambi popped out and Tulowitzki struck out. As Helton approached the plate, he represented the Rocks’ last chance.

“I was just trying to get a grip on the bat at that point,” he said. “It was raining pretty hard at the time.”

Putz’s 1-1 offering was a fastball up and in. Helton turned on it and lifted a towering fly ball down the right field line. Arizona right fielder Justin Upton ran to the corner and set up to catch it. At the last minute he flung his head back, watching it nestle into the stands above him just inside the foul pole. Helton jumped for joy and his teammates streamed out of the dugout in the pouring rain to greet him at home plate.

“I didn’t think I hit it out,” he said. “I thought I hit it a little too high. But I’ll take it.”

“When he hit that ball, I couldn’t believe he kept it fair,” said Belisle, one of Helton’s closest friends on the team. “And then seeing him round those bases, I was just smiling ear to ear. I know that after that rain delay, coming back up, mentally it can be a struggle sometimes. But he’s a big game player and he’s been swinging the bat really well. I don’t think he’s faced Putz that much. It was just an incredible swing by a great player.”

It was also the second straight night that Helton delivered the game-winner. His eighth-inning double Friday night off Arizona’s Bryan Shaw drove in Carlos Gonzalez to break a 6-6 tie.

“Yeah, what about that?” Helton said in his usual deadpan. “I keep it in perspective. There’ll be days where I don’t get the big hit.”

If the Rocks end up contending this year, this will be one of those early-season mettle testers to remember. On a nasty night, after a week in which the bullpen had picked up the starting rotation time after time, the relievers finally faltered and the offense picked them up.

Indeed, a lineup featuring such golden oldies as Helton, Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez went into Saturday night’s game second in the National League in batting.

“It’s the whole old-school meaning of team,” Belisle said. “It’s what we do, and we’ll have to do it again. The great thing about our group is there’s no egos, so whatever Skip needs us to do, we’ll do.”

Skip was suitably impressed.

“That’s a great win,” Tracy said. “I’ve seen signs of this from this club, and I mean that. They have a moxie about them.”

In his sixteenth season, Helton leads the Rocks in RBIs in the early going with eight. This game had nowhere near the significance of the nightcap against the Dodgers on Sept. 18, 2007 when a similar walkoff homer against Takashi Saito helped launch the Rockies’ miraculous run to the World Series. But Helton’s celebration on the base path and the mob that greeted him at home plate were reminiscent of that night.

Informed he had shown that sort of emotion again, Helton replied, characteristically, “Yeah, sorry about that.”

Belisle smiled.

“I was giving him a little joshing for that, too,” he said. “It’s a big knock in a big game. I’m glad that everybody’s putting emotion and focus into each game. I don’t care if it’s April. Win every night.”

The lamest home opener in Rockies history

Throughout their twenty-year history, the Rockies have been an above-average entertainment value in home openers.

There was the unforgettable first one, for example. Everyone remembers Eric Young hitting a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, as if christening big league baseball in Colorado by smashing a bottle of champagne on the hull. Not everyone remembers Charlie Hayes hitting a two-run shot later that same inning on the way to a raucous 11-4 win over the Expos before an astonishing crowd of 80,227 at Mile High Stadium

Two years later, in another christening, they opened their new ballpark, Coors Field, with a four-hour, 49-minute, fourteen-inning marathon against the Mets. Down 9-8 in the bottom of the 14th, Dante Bichette hit a walk-off three-run homer that sent the most loyal among the sellout crowd of 47,228 — those who had not found an excuse to retreat from the cold — deliriously into the night.

In 2001, Mike Hampton pitched 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball to lead an 8-0 shutout of the Cardinals, providing temporary (and false, as it turned out) hope about the results of the team’s most expensive free agent signing of all time.

Four years after that, the Rocks delivered another walk-off in their opening act, a two-out, two-run homer by Clint Barmes in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Padres 12-10.

The next year, 2006, brought yet another walk-off win when Brad Hawpe drove in Matt Holliday in the bottom of the 11th to earn a 3-2 win over the Diamondbacks.

And two years ago, they cruised to an Opening Day 7-0 shutout over the Padres behind Jorge De La Rosa.

In all, the Rocks were 11-8 in home openers going into Monday’s 20th edition, and 8-4 since 2000.

So, all things considered, the twentieth curtain-raising was their lamest ever. For one thing, they had never failed to score in a home opener before the Giants’ 7-0 whitewash.

On a gorgeous Colorado spring afternoon, before a full house ready to rock Coors Field, the Rocks looked curiously unprepared to play, as if informed a game had been scheduled just minutes before it began. They made Giants starter Barry Zito look worthy of his seven-year, $126 million contract, which is otherwise considered one of the ten worst contracts in baseball history. At an altitude where breaking balls come to die, Zito’s curve ball completely baffled the Rocks. In fact, this was Zito’s first shutout in nine years and his first in the National League.

“Obviously, he pitched a good game,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. “He got a lot of weak pop flies, kept us off balance. But we’ve got to put together better at-bats, and I think we will. I think nerves were a little involved. Hopefully the next game we’ll come out relaxed and swing the bats better.”

It wasn’t just the bats, although, admittedly, it’s hard to win when you don’t score. It was, as Mike Shanahan used to say, all three phases.

“We didn’t pitch well early in the game, we weren’t able to do a whole lot offensively and we had a miscue that helped lead to a three-run fifth inning,” manager Jim Tracy said, summing up the general incompetence succinctly. “I think tone to a game and tempo to a game is obviously very, very important, and the tempo that we set in the early part of the game was not good. Jhoulys (Chacin) struggled with his command throughout the time that he was out there.”

The Rockies’ winningest pitcher a year ago (11-14), Chacin threw 90 pitches in four innings, barely more than half of them (47) strikes. After leaving a pitch over the middle of the plate in the first and watching Pablo Sandoval airmail it into the right field stands for a two-run homer, he seemed to want nothing to do with the plate. He walked three batters in a row in the third, which turned the inning’s only hit, a single to right by catcher Hector Sanchez, into two more runs.

“The first two innings I feel pretty good,” Chacin said. “The third inning I just lost my focus and I was rushing all the pitches, my breaking ball and my fastball especially. I couldn’t get the ball to the plate and I walked a lot of guys in that inning . . . It’s a good thing I’ve got 30, 31 starts to go. I’m not going togive it up after one start.”

Meanwhile, the Rockies were batting as if hypnotized by Zito’s breaking balls. They lunged, they dove, they popped the ball in the air. The eight position players went down in order in the first three innings. The first of their four hits was a mighty twelve-foot nubber down the third-base line by Chacin himself. Marco Scutaro followed with a two-out single to center. This, it turned out, was their big rally of the day. Dexter Fowler fanned to end it.

The Rocks have now scored ten runs in four games. When I asked Tracy about this, he urged patience.

“I think it’s four games into the season and I think rather than push any kind of panic button or anything like that, we’re probably not the only club in baseball that right now is trying to find its way a little bit offensively,” he said. “I think the cure for that is to keep allowing a bunch of professional hitters to go up there and take at-bats and at some point in time, I guarantee you, we’ll get that squared away. There’s too many good hitters in this lineup for it to continue, in my opinion, for an extended period of time.”

For the sake of the paying customers, he’d better be right. Even prognosticators who didn’t think much of the Rockies’ chances this season thought they’d hit. Through four games, third baseman Chris Nelson is 0-for-10. Fowler is 1-for-11. Helton is 1-for-12. The team’s stars, left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are batting .176 (3-for-17) and .214 (3-for-14), respectively.

“I actually felt good today,” said Helton, who went 0-for-4. “I know it didn’t show. Third at-bat it was tough to see. The shadows came into play. Fourth at-bat you could see. Put a couple good swings on the ball, but, you know, get ’em tomorrow.”

To complete Shanahan’s trifecta, the Rockies didn’t field well, either. The cherry on the Giants’ sundae was a three-run fifth against reliever Matt Reynolds that was built on a pair of errors — a dropped pop fly to short left by CarGo and a throw in the dirt to second from the hole between short and third by Tulo.

That’s six errors in four games, which is not a good ratio. Last year, they committed 98 in 162 and ranked ninth in the National League.

So, yes, it was only one game, but it was the sort of debut that can close a Broadway show in its first week. The sellout crowd of 49,282 booed the home team early and often.

The Rockies’ hardest-hit ball of the day was a foul line drive off the bat of Michael Cuddyer that hit Judith Reese, a woman celebrating her 69th birthday in the stands down the third-base line, in the head. The game was stopped so Reese could be removed on a cart normally reserved for injured players. Thankfully, she was treated for a concussion and released later in the day from Denver Health.

“I want to thank the fans, the paramedics and the community for their instant support,” she said, according to a news release by the hospital.

All in all, the opener was not exactly what the team marketing officer was going for.

“Yeah, it is disappointing,” Helton said. “Obviously, you want to go out and have a good showing Opening Day, and we didn’t do that. But in the end it is one game. We get a day off (Tuesday). It’ll be tough to sleep tonight, but after that you’ve just got to wash it off. It’s just one game. But yeah, with the excitement, the fans in the stands, it’d be nice to put together a better game.”

They’ll come back with Jeremy Guthrie against Giants ace Tim Lincecum on Wednesday. The early results don’t mean much for the outcome of the long season — the Rocks started 11-2 last year and finished 16 games below .500 — but a few signs of life would be nice.

Rockies would rather not be our punching bag

To understand the Rockies’ decision to take manager Jim Tracy’s contract status underground, you have to understand the relationship between ball clubs and old media — newspapers, radio and television.

This is difficult for most people to do because you don’t hear much about this relationship. That’s because, until very recently, you got most if not all of your information about ball clubs from old media, which are neither inclined nor equipped to examine their own role in this dance dispassionately.

As you may have noticed, things are changing rather rapidly in this respect. Many athletes now bypass the old media filter and communicate directly with their fans through new media, Twitter and Facebook being the most obvious examples. Clubs are beginning to do the same. The Broncos have taken to breaking their own news through the organization’s Twitter account or that of John Elway, the face of the front office. They have their own videographer, Chris Hall, who posts news conferences and edited video features on the team’s web site.

The Broncos also issue a media credential to a former employee and current independent blogger, Andrew Mason. Using his own resources, Mason covers the team both at home and on the road pretty much as a traditional old media beat reporter would, except that he is more comfortable with a variety of platforms — photography, videography, the written word — than most old media reporters. He posts his work on the web site MaxDenver.com.

Both the Broncos’ and Mason’s sites are aimed at the Broncos’ very substantial fan base, both locally and nationally. They emphasize the good news and minimize the bad.

The Nuggets, too, have brought news dissemination in-house in the person of former Associated Press and Rocky Mountain News writer Aaron Lopez, who tweets and writes for the organization’s web site.

To date, this self-dissemination of the news remains limited. Although the Broncos were well aware of the investigation into Spygate II in Josh McDaniels’ final season as head coach, they were not about disclose it publicly. Still, once the Denver Post broke the story, the Broncos took immediate control of it, calling a news conference the same day — a Saturday — to announce the investigation was complete and the NFL had fined both the organization and McDaniels for breaking league rules by videotaping a San Francisco 49ers walk-through at London’s Wembley Stadium four weeks before. In effect, they were announcing that the story was over before old media had a chance to sink their teeth into it.

The Broncos have become even more pro-active about public relations under Elway, who was hired a little more than a year ago. One could imagine them beating old media to the punch the next time, announcing both the infraction and resolution simultaneously, thereby providing the story as little shelf life as possible for old media to chew on afterward.

At first glance, this looks like the traditional inclination of any organization, public or private, to manage the news and minimize negative publicity, and it certainly is that. But it is also something more. It is one result of old media transforming themselves as their monopoly on information slips away.

While those of us who grew up in old media are loath to admit it, pandering to web hits — internet page views — has become a fact of the modern age. Page views drive digital advertising, and digital advertising is the key to the internet land grab.

Years ago, people in the media business had the luxury of debating whether to provide the information people needed or the information people wanted. Even then, reader surveys indicated we could not provide too much celebrity news. And they suggested we could very easily provide — and often did — more information than most people wanted about the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

But we had a monopoly on the existing platforms for news dissemination, so we got to decide. Generally speaking, we tried to strike the balance they teach in journalism schools. Many people resented this gatekeeper function, but what were they going to do? Where were they going to go?

Fast forward to today. Old media institutions are fighting for their lives amid the creative destruction of capitalism that has brought down so many old industries and delivered so many new ones. I worked for one of them. TheRocky Mountain News went under three years ago after 150 years of existence. Given such cautionary tales, the surviving institutions of old media are now focused primarily on survival.

In this brave new world, all media, old and new, are in a battle to the death for your eyeballs. As recently as ten years ago, writers had no idea how many people read this column or that one, just as advertisers had little or no idea how many of their sales grew out of any particular print or broadcast ad.

Today, thanks to the internet, we know exactly how many page views each column gets, and we have learned a few things that do not, in the end, come as any great surprise:

Provocation sells. Extreme, even absurd claims, often get more web hits than moderate, reasonable ones. Thanks to something called search engine optimization, celebrity news gets the most attention of all. If you think the amount of media attention devoted to Tim Tebow is very nearly insane, you haven’t seen the web analytics. If you saw local page view counts for anything including Tebow’s name, you would understand why so many apparently unrelated pieces find a way to throw it in there.

The web rewards extremism not necessarily because readers are becoming more extreme in their views, although they might be. Mainly, the web rewards extremism because extreme claims drive curiosity. If I write a column saying Tracy has some good traits and some bad ones as a big league manager, it will get far fewer clicks than if I declare he is either the Rockies’ savior for the next ten years or he is a joke and has no business in a major league dugout. Either of the latter claims is likely to provoke a heated dispute, preferably in the comments section of my employer’s web site. The former claim is not provocative enough to fully stimulate that partisan debate and will therefore almost certainly be less successful in attracting eyeballs to my employer’s web site.

Which brings us back to the Rockies. The Rocks have not yet been as pro-active as either the Broncos or Nuggets in managing and disseminating their own news, but they are getting there. They have begun tweeting from an organizational account and they publish the writing of correspondents who work for mlb.com on their rapidly improving web site.

More than most organizations in town, they have been battered by old media’s recognition that extreme stands attract more attention than moderate ones. When the Rocks are good, as they were in 2007 and 2009, old media lavish attention on them. When they are bad, as they were in 2008 and 2011, old media rip them as if they had never accomplished a thing.

So the decision to quit making public announcements about the contract status of their top executives and manager is just a way of giving old media fewer fat pitches to hit. After all, who else does such a thing? Does the Post announce that it is re-upping a sports editor or columnist, opening the door for the public to chime in on whether that’s a good idea? Does KOA declare how long it intends to keep me around? Does CBS4 announce the term of any anchor’s contract?

The Rocks remember well the beating they took in old media when they announced on the first day of the 2007 season that they were re-upping general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle for two years apiece. They were slapped around for weeks. What had O’Dowd and Hurdle ever done to deserve these extensions? Didn’t it prove that the organization didn’t really care about winning?

Six months later, the Rocks went to the World Series. They got no apologies. Old media were too busy capitalizing on the club’s success with special sections and special programming glorifying an organization they had excoriated earlier that same year.

This drives the owners and executives of sports organizations nuts. They see it as a total absence of accountability and intellectual honesty. Old media executives don’t much care. They believe their accountability is to the marketplace, where there’s a referendum every day.

Old media are doing what they must to survive in a world in which anyone with an internet connection and an inspiration can self-publish in an instant, a world in which advertisers have a broader array than ever before of media platforms from which to choose. In a (relatively) free market economy, old media institutions have every right to do what they feel they must to survive.

And organizations such as the Rockies have every right to chart their own course, to do what they can to avoid being punching bags. All they announced last week is that they will provide fewer artificial occasions for us to slap them around. Tracy will be employed in his current position until he’s not. Just like you or me.