D-backs try to digest season's end
Fine campaign comes to unceremonious halt in NLCS
DENVER -- Arizona's series could be defined by what happened in the span of four Colorado hitters stepping to the plate in the fourth.
Talk all you want about luck or about destiny or about magic when it came to Colorado's success.
But before luck could happen, the Rockies had to put the bat on the ball. Before destiny could be defined, Colorado had to capitalize on its opportunities. And ultimately, magic is what happens when fundamentals are executed to textbook perfection.
In a span of no more than 20 minutes, the D-backs watched the Rockies use a combination of all three to ride to an emphatic series sweep. Ultimately, the sequence that played out between Seth Smith's pitch-hit at-bat and Matt Holliday's three-run blast in that fourth inning could be a microcosm of what went wrong for the D-backs all series long.
There was a two-out bloop double that fell perfectly placed in no-man's land, too far up for Eric Byrnes to come in and make a play on and just far enough back for Stephen Drew or Mark Reynolds to reach.
That two-run single was followed by an error, one of three the D-backs would make in the series. All three led to unearned runs.
And then there was Holliday's homer, lifting 50,213 fans to their feet and leaving Arizona to marvel at how Colorado always seemed to capitalize when needed, something the D-backs never could quite grasp.
"That's just the way the balls bounced in the series," third baseman Mark Reynolds said. "It seems like none of the balls have been bouncing our way. But you have to credit the Rockies. They've gotten the big hits when they needed them."
And, quite frankly, the D-backs didn't.
When it came to hits falling in the right places, the scale was tipped in Colorado's favor.
It started in Game 1 against Brandon Webb when he gave up four runs when only one ball was hit hard all night. Those perfectly placed balls then came in to play time and time again, no more evident than Smith's perfectly placed double.
"You make your own breaks and they made their own breaks," manager Bob Melvin succinctly put it.
When it came to mistakes, there weren't many. But they were costly.
Errors by Reynolds and Jackson in the series led to unearned runs that proved to be difference makers. A handful of baserunning mistakes further quelled promising rallies.
The Rockies, on the other hand, executed the fundamentals to near perfection. They did everything right.
"You always talk about luck, but luck is when preparation meets opportunity," veteran Tony Clark said. "They performed well all series, and there comes a point in time where you don't simply say they're lucky or they're fortunate. They're a good ballclub."
And when it came down to connecting for the critical hit, the D-backs simply couldn't.
"They've got a good team, and we just missed opportunities the whole time," Eric Byrnes said. "If you're looking for someone to blame, start here. I'd like to think I did a couple of things to help us get here, but obviously I did nothing to help us advance beyond this point."
Yes, Byrnes was unable to be the catalyst Arizona desperately searched for all series long, but the blame shouldn't be shouldered solely by the left fielder.
In the end, the season played out much like the regular season did. The pitchers carried their load. The offense lagged behind.
During the regular season, Arizona finished 29th among all 30 Major League teams in three offensive categories -- hits, on-base percentage and batting average. The D-backs finished four from the bottom in total numbers of runs scored.
Regardless, however, that unorthodox formula resulted in a NL-best 90-win season. It defied baseball norms, but it worked.
"Our offensive numbers as a whole haven't been great, but whenever we've really needed to respond and win a game we've been able to do it," Melvin said.
That stayed true from April 2, when the D-backs used some key offense late to seal an Opening Day win, until Oct. 6, when behind a strong pitching staff, the Arizona offense finished off a three-game sweep of the Cubs.
The offense was never the focus. But it had always managed to do just enough -- until it mattered most.
Arizona ran into a hot team. No one will argue that. But ultimately, Arizona's inability to get the big hit cost it the chance at making the franchise's second World Series appearance.
Arizona had the baserunners, evidenced by the fact that the D-backs actually outhit the Rockies in three of the four games and by a final margin of 36 to 30. But maybe the most telling statistic would be this: with runners in scoring position, the D-backs went a combined 4-for-27.
Then there were the rally-killing double plays. In all the D-backs hit into six, including three in the first three frames of Game 3.
The hits didn't fall. And as a result, the wins never came.
While Byrnes put the blame on himself and ultimately on the offense's inability to come through, his teammates were more apt to give the credit where they felt credit was due.
"We swung the bat well," said rookie Justin Upton, who went 2-for-3 in Monday's game. "We hit balls hard anywhere. They're just hot. They played good defense. They got all the breaks, balls right at people. There was nothing we could do. We swung the bats great and it just didn't go our way."
And while the storyline coming into the series would have had Colorado's pitching staff as a mere side note, there was no denying that Arizona ran into a pitching staff arguably more dominant over the past four games that it had been at any point during the year.
"I think it says a lot about their staff and how they performed all year," Clark said of the Colorado starting pitchers, which finished the series with an ERA of 1.66. "They pitched it and caught it in the Philadelphia series and they did the exact same thing in this series."
But the D-backs will have all season to wonder -- wondering what would have happened if a handful of umpire's calls had gone their way; wondering what catching one good break could have done to get the offense rolling; wondering what the outcome would have been if defensive plays had been made and if big hits hadn't been elusive.
As it usually is in October, the series was a classic case of being able to capitalize when needed. And with that, Arizona learned a lesson by watching a team who did it so consistently well.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.