PHILADELPHIA -- "One day you're up, one day you're down," Rockies closer Huston Street, standing in the visitor's clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night, said of the high-wire act of finishing games. "There's no middle ground, really." Eleven months ago Street was shipped to Colorado in a package that sent Rockies franchise player Matt Holliday to Oakland. Street was a mess then: he couldn't locate his changeup, his fastball wasn't quite sinking the way it used to. The season began, and it wasn't clear if he'd be the Rockies closer --- or a closer for anyone.
But here he is, now one of the top ninth-inning finishers in baseball -- he saved 35 of 37 games this season -- and one of the biggest reasons why the Rockies hold a slight advantage as the National League Division Series between Colorado and Philadelphia shifts to Denver this weekend. In Street, the Rockies have something the Phillies don't: a lock-down closer. After Brad Lidge's well-documented struggles this season, Philadelphia fans still don't know who their team's postseason closer is (Lidge? Ryan Madson?). On Thursday, the Phillies faithful looked on in envy as Street took the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth. With two outs and men on first and second, the righthander threw a 2-2 changeup to Shane Victorino, who lined out to second base. The stadium-record crowd of 46,538 went silent: suddenly, the series was tied 1-1. "When Huston comes in, we have all the confidence in the world," second baseman Clint Barmes said of their closer. "We wouldn't be here without him."
The Rockies relied on unlikely heroes to even the series with their 5-4 Game 2 win. It was catcher Yorvit Torreabla, who had two home runs in 213 at bats this season and last hit one on May 6, with the big bomb before Street shut the door. Tracy has been criticized by analysts for playing Torrealba over Chris Iannetta (his OPS is 61 points higher than Torrealba's), but the skipper's decision to stick with the veteran paid off big. The longtime backup took a 76 mph curve and slammed a two-run home run into the leftfield seats to give the Rockies a 3-0 lead in the fourth. Torrealba spent most of the year a backup to Iannetta, but down the stretch he has, improbably, become a potent run producer. In September, Torrealba, while handling the pitching staff with aplomb, hit .313 and drove in 15 runs. "I don't even remember the last time I hit a home run," he said after the game. "I still can't believe it."
Phillies Nation still can't believe it, either. Less than 12 hours earlier, it was very sunny in Philadelphia. After the Phillies' 5-1 flattening of the Rockies in Game 1, the fans spilled out of the ballpark giddy and practically dancing along Broad Street. The Phillies were up 1-0, and with Cole Hamels, last October's hero, taking the mound for them in Game 2, they were seemingly in control on the series. But apparently Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't feel the same way, managing Game 2 as if everything were riding on it. The first two relievers he turned to following five shaky innings from Hamels (he allowed four runs in five innings) were his potential Game 3 starters, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ. Manuel will be roundly criticized for his handling of the pitching staff: by the sixth inning of the series' second game, he had used four different Phillies starters: Cliff Lee (in Game 1), Hamels, Blanton, and Happ, who left the game (he bruised his lower left leg on a line drive) after just four pitches in the seventh.
With Happ's status up in the air, with Blanton having worked in Game 2, with the back end of the bullpen in shambles, the Phillies' pitching staff is in a bit of disarray. Asked before Game 2 who he imagined his Game 3 starter would be, Manuel answered in the way only Manuel can: "I don't imagine nothing." It now looks as though Pedro Martinez will start Game 3, though late on Thursday Manuel was still noncommittal. "Pedro, he's definitely in the mix to pitch on Saturday. Right now, I'd say it's been Blanton and Pedro."
The Rockies, of course, have their own question marks, but at least they have a closer. Street, who has battled through elbow problems the last few seasons, says his career turned around when Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca advised him to shift from the left side to the right side of the rubber. The change resulted in Street having more of a sinking action on his fastball. Street got Ben Francisco to ground out on one of those fastballs to start the ninth. An eight-pitch at bat to all-or-nothing slugger Matt Stairs, who walked, followed. After Miguel Cairo flied to rightfield, Jimmy Rollins singled. With Victorino's line out, Street could finally exhale. He wasn't perfect, but he was good enough. In order for Colorado to topple the defending champs, in order for them to advance to their second World Series in two years, the Rockies will need Street to be as good as Lidge was for the Phillies last year.
And so the series shifts to Colorado, where the forecast, according to wunderground.com, calls for temperatures in the low 30s on Saturday night and "ice pellets." Said centerfielder Dexter Fowler, "It sounds like it's going to be freezing, but our fans will warm us up."
It's on to frigid Denver. It will be very cold, but the series is just starting to heat up.