Wednesday October 24th, 2007

One of the worst aspects of this sports writing gig is you are forced to become a quasi-market analyst, deconstructing events by off-the-field factors. For example, we feel compelled to note the NBA suffers when the franchise in New York (let's leave their name out of this) is so weak that Madison Avenue does not plug its resources into the sport.

We report how costly it is for the league when the San Antonio Spurs make the Finals instead of the Los Angeles Lakers. True as it might be, the purist in any of us should be offended by this sizzle-over-steak aspect that holds sway over our games.

Which brings us to the World Series. The prevailing theory is: Though the team from Boston will bring the collective passion and history of Red Sox Nation, all those tough-talking cabbies from Southie and deep-thinking professors who have inhaled the magical ether of Fenway, the team from Colorado is an unworthy foil -- no baseball history, no swaggering All-Stars like Big Papi and Manny, no hey-look-at-me gamers such as Curt Schilling, no enchanting home park (unless you happen to love right-wing brewers).

Ergo, America's television viewers, always in search of an accessible soap opera, turn to Dirty Sexy Money, on ABC or Killer Jellyfish on Animal Planet, just two of the countless Wednesday night World Series rivals.

In point of fact, this Series is one of the most compelling in recent memory because of the Colorado Rockies. And that comes from someone who would sooner watch, say, a show on killer jellyfish than a baseball game. The Rockies come into this thing having won 21 of their last 22 games. They haven't lost at Coors Field since Sept. 13, back when they weren't even considered a playoff team, much less a potential World Series winner.

That kind of streak just doesn't happen in baseball, not in the final month. An off-the-end-of-the-bat squib hits a speck of dirt and turns into a fair ball ... and you get beat. A wind-blown popup turns into a ninth-inning bloop hit ... and you get beat. One of your aces tweaks an elbow throwing a slider ... and you get beat. What these guys have done is right out of Damn Yankees, sell-your-soul-to-the-devil stuff.

Still, Boston is the favorite in this Sox-Rox showdown, and the team from Colorado has eagerly accepted the role of second banana, all the while having no doubt they can go all the way.

"We're not supposed to win a game," says first baseman Todd Helton.

"They've got the household names," says third baseman Garrett Atkins. "We're the anonymous guys. We're the underdogs."

And, yes, the Rockies' streak has been fashioned against presumably inferior National League competition. They haven't run into a starter as good as Josh Beckett or a postseason thespian such as Schilling or a string of middle-of-the-lineup hitters as formidable and experienced as Ortiz, Ramirez and Mike Lowell. A position-by-position breakdown by's John Donovan gives the edge to Boston at every position (including manager) except shortstop and center field (right field was considered a draw) and concludes, Sox in five.

But in a brief journalistic affair with postseason baseball a couple of weeks ago, I was drawn into this special feeling that has overtaken the Rockies clubhouse. I've seen it in basketball, when a team gets so hot it believes it can't lose. The players don't know how to explain it and don't want to explain it, but it's a shared conviction, elusive yet somehow as tenable as that roll of tape that sits in a locker.

Now, a sense of invincibility can disappear quickly on a postseason stage in a hostile environment. That's a big part of what make this Series irresistible. Three years ago it was all about the Red Sox finally breaking through, a comeback win over the Yankees and a sweep of the Cardinals that freed Red Sox Nation from decades of despair. The Rockies don't offer that kind of long-built storyline. But they have most assuredly latched onto something magical and eminently worth watching.

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