Rockies keep playoff hopes alive

Rockies keep playoff hopes alive

DENVER -- The night of the biggest victory of the Rockies' season, which was also the eve of a game that could be even bigger, had a just-another-night feel around rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's clubhouse cubicle at Coors Field.

Ever-alert teammates had already updated the hand-made flip cards to 2,098 -- the total of hits in the 22-year-old's life, which count a well-thought Little League estimate. Tulowitzki's team had won, and he would soon dream of more victory.

The hit that went on the tally board was a grand slam in the fifth inning of an 11-1 victory over the Diamondbacks on Saturday night that kept the Rockies' National League Wild Card dream alive.

The Rockies need to beat the D-backs on Sunday -- with an impressive late-season callup, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4) starting -- and hope the Padres lose to the Brewers, in a game that starts an hour before the 1:05 MT first pitch at Coors.

Even that would merely qualify the Rockies for some potentially complicated tiebreaker action, which could result in their second trip to the playoffs in their 15-year history, and first since 1995.

If Sunday goes as the Rockies want, the many tiebreaking possibilities will involve the Rockies and Padres, and would include the Mets and the Phillies, should those teams win Sunday to finish tied in the NL East with 89 wins, to match the Rockies and Padres.

Such success is rare in these parts. It's the first winning season since 2000. But it's common for Tulowitzki, who was born addicted to winning and won't go to rehab.

"Anytime you're on a team, you want to bring a winning mentality and play the game hard," said Tulowitzki, who improved his NL rookie shortstop-record home run total to 24. "I knew we had some good players. There wasn't any thought in my mind that we were going to lose at all."

Winning hasn't been a problem for the Rockies, who were picked to finish last in the NL West in many quarters, but have won 12 of their last 13 and are 88-73. The problem on Saturday, as it will be Sunday, was hoping their winning was good enough.

The Rockies entered Saturday needing two wins and two Padres losses to stay alive. Many of the Rockies gathered to watch the main clubhouse big screen -- some found TVs in other quarters -- and watched hope nearly slip away.

The Padres had a one-run lead with two out and two strikes in the ninth, and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman on the mound. Yet, Tony Gwynn Jr. -- of all people the son of the Padres Hall of Famer -- drove in the tying run, eliciting clapping and yelling.

Closer to game time, after the media had left the Rockies alone to watch as others controlled their hope, Vinny Rottino's 11th-inning single gave the Brewers a 4-3 victory. No doubt, the players yelped, as did the sellout crowd of 47,368 that watched on the video board.

"It's hard to watch," said Matt Holliday, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run double in a four-run first inning, and lifted his average to an NL-leading .340, one point higher than that of the Braves' Chipper Jones. "Your fate lies in other teams' hands.

"If we'd played better in April, we'd have our own control. But we didn't and now we're the biggest Brewer fans around."

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, "The closest I've ever been, being in limbo, we had won the division with the Royals [in 1978] and we had to wait and see the playoff game with the Red Sox and the Yankees for where we were going to go. But, I've never seen anything like this."

The crowd would celebrate the team scoring five runs in three innings against Edgar Gonzalez (8-4), and cheer Mark Redman (2-4 but 2-0 since his Sept. 7 Rockies debut) through five innings during which he gave up seven hits and one unearned run. Finally, fans would deliver a "Tulo! Tulo!" serenade after the slam.

The fans had enough lung to cheer Garrett Atkins, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and is on a 9-for-12 surge, and longtime leader Todd Helton, who went 2-for-3.

"To win one is nice," said Brad Hawpe, who knocked an RBI triple. "But we're only halfway there."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.