DENVER -- A great season and a spectacular game all came down to one bang-bang play at the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning on Monday night at Coors Field, spinning the Colorado Rockies into the postseason and sending the San Diego Padres home for the winter. Colorado's Matt Holliday scored by sliding through San Diego catcher Michael Barrett on Jamey Carroll's sacrifice fly to short right field, just beating a rainbow throw by Brian Giles. Barrett couldn't control the ball, and by the time he reached out to tag Holliday, plate umpire Tim McClelland had called him safe. The question will long linger whether Holliday actually touched the plate. Even Holliday, who scraped his chin and was spiked by Barrett on the left hand, wasn't sure.
"I think so," said Holliday, who only moments earlier had tripled in Troy Tulowitzki with the tying run. "I mean, the umpire called me safe, so I must have touched the plate. I was just trying to get in there and score the run." Regardless, what counts is that the Rockies came from behind to score three times in the 13th off Trevor Hoffman to win an epic battle, 9-8, in the first one-game Wild Card tiebreaker of the 21st century. They open their best-of-5 National League Division Series in Philadelphia on Wednesday, heading back to the postseason for only the second time in their history and first since 1995, on the strength of winning 14 times in their last 15 games. The Phillies haven't been there since 1993. The Padres, by virtue of Scott Hairston's two-run homer in the top of the 13th off Jorge Julio, had an 8-6 lead. And as Hoffman, the all-time leader with 524 saves, headed out to wrap up the game, they seemed primed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive October. It wasn't to be, as Hoffman blew the save for the second time in three games. On Saturday at Milwaukee, it was a two-out, ninth-inning double followed by a Tony Gwynn Jr. triple that sunk Hoffman as the Padres eventually lost in 11 innings. On Monday, Kazuo Matsui and Tulowitzki doubled. Holliday tripled. Todd Helton was walked intentionally. And Carroll, a late-inning replacement for Garrett Atkins, hit that sacrifice fly. It was all over in 19 pitches. "I got whacked around," said Hoffman, who had 42 saves this season. "What do you want me to say? I feel terrible about it." The game had everything, keeping a sellout crowd of 48,404 on the edge of its seats as early evening turned toward the witching hour. A potential Cy Young Award winner, Jake Peavy, was beaten around into the seventh inning. The shot that basically finally chased Peavy, a drive toward the left-field stands by Atkins, was ruled a double even though replays showed it might have hit off a seat and ricocheted back onto the field. The six umpires met on that one, and despite the protests of Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, ruled that it wasn't a home run. "He said it went over, but no way it went out," said Ed Montague, the first-base umpire and crew chief after the game. Even Holliday, a potential MVP candidate, botched a Giles fly ball to left field in the eighth inning, turning the play into a double that tied the score at 6. "I took a bad step," said Holliday, who won the NL batting title with a .340 average and edged Ryan Howard to finish with an NL-best 137 RBIs. "I took one step in. I didn't know how hard he hit it. I misjudged it. I tried to backtrack. By that time, it was over my head." But the best was yet to come. The 13th-inning comeback happened so fast that there was no time to really digest it. With the score tied at 8, Holliday on third and Helton at first, the Padres pulled the infield and outfield in to cut off the winning run at the plate. Carroll wasted no time launching Hoffman's first pitch on a line to short right. Giles grabbed it and let fly. "I didn't think [Holliday] would tag because it was a short line drive," Barrett said. "As soon as Brian caught the ball, I took one more look toward third and I saw that he was coming. I thought I was going to be absolutely crushed. I waited for the ball as long as I could and did as good a job as I could blocking the plate." The ball wasn't there when Holliday slid in head first. Barrett tried to block him with his foot, but he had to go after the ball, which bounced away. The question is whether Holliday got any part of the plate when he slid by it. Barrett never had control of the ball. By the time he tagged Holliday, McClelland signaled safe. Replays were inconclusive. Barrett said he wasn't sure, but he'd go with the call. "I've never, ever second-guessed Tim McClelland at home plate," Barrett said. "And when he told me he was safe, there was no argument in my mind." Ditto Padres manager, Bud Black: "I couldn't tell. It was just Holliday and Barrett. It looked to me as though he did [touch it]." McClelland wasn't made available, but Montague said simply: "I believe he did, yeah. But I'm at first base." With that, Coors Field turned volcanic as players and fans joined in a cathartic celebration. Holliday took his time getting up from home plate as a gaggle of teammates hovered over him. But when he did, and after entering the fray, he proclaimed himself ready to play on Wednesday. It may take a few days to shake off this one. For some, it may take a little while longer. The Padres were either ahead in the Wild Card race or in first place in the NL West every day since Aug. 2. Until late Monday. The Rockies were 4 1/2 games behind San Diego as late as Sept. 16. It's enough to even make an owner weep. "I still can't believe this," Padres majority owner John Moores said. "I'll remember this game as long as I live."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.