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Rox games exude playoff-like drama

Rox games exude playoff-like drama

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DENVER -- For years, the Rockies have set their sights on playing meaningful games in September as a stepping-stone into October baseball. This year, however, they've adjusted their calendar, bumping up those red-letter days of significance to August.

The homestand with the Giants and Dodgers has had all the intensity of playoff baseball, as they started the Giants series two games ahead of their opponents in the Wild Card race, and pulled to within two games of the National League West-leading Dodgers after winning the series opener against them Tuesday. Thursday's finale has all the makings of a critical contest with playoff implications as the teams play the rubber match of the series before saying farewell until the final three games of the season.

"It's not even September, and we've been involved in some baseball games that have the drama of the last week to three or four days of the season," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said after a pair of extra-inning games Monday and Tuesday that brought out the best in his players. "They're never going to back off, that's for sure. This entire homestand, these have obviously been some very significant games, and they've embraced it all."

The echoes of the 2007 pennant chase are unmistakable, and though the Rockies' circumstance is greatly enhanced by their position atop the Wild Card standings this year, the greatest similarity may be in the team's sense of itself as a winner after suffering an identity crisis for a season and a half.

"The big message that I got from the players towards the latter part of May was basically this: 2007 is over with," Tracy said, struck by the distance the team had put between itself and its World Series berth. "One of the things that I had impressed upon them was the hard work that they had put in to establish the identity for themselves; they'd surrendered that for whatever reason. The excitement that went into the latter part of the 2007 season, it just seemed like it wasn't there anymore.

"You've surrendered your identity," Tracy told the club soon after taking over as manager at the end of May. "You need to do the things that you were doing back there to recapture it. And once you recapture it and realize the work ethic and the accountability that goes into being that, don't ever turn loose of it again."

DIGGING OUT OF A BIG HOLE
These three teams overcame the largest deficits to finish in first place. No team has ever overcome a 15 1/2-game deficit to win a division or a league title, which is what the Rockies are threatening to do.
TEAM
YEAR
DEFICIT
Boston Braves191415 games
New York Yankees197814 games
New York Giants195113 games

Fifteen players on the active roster played a hand in the historic '07 drive, with four other key players -- pitchers Jeff Francis, Manuel Corpas, Taylor Buchholz and Aaron Cook -- currently on the disabled list. The experience of having played meaningful games in late October, on the ultimate stage of the Fall Classic, is clearly coming into play as the current club handles the pressure and intensity of feeling like every game is of critical importance.

"You hear this cliché all the time: We have to wait and see how they're going to do, because whichever team it is, they've never been to this point before. How are they going to respond?" Tracy said. "The suggestion is there's not a full understanding of the magnitude and what goes into games like this as you get deeper and deeper into a season. We don't have to feel that way. We've already shown that over the course of this entire homestand, with the magnitude of the games and what was at stake in those situations. They're embracing it. They're relishing it. It's a beautiful thing to watch."

Pitching matchup
COL: LHP Jorge De La Rosa (12-8, 4.76 ERA)
In his last start, De La Rosa lacked his put-away slider. He gave up a pair of two-run homers in six innings. He gave up six runs. But he earned a win in a 14-11 game with the Giants on Saturday night. That was a huge step for De La Rosa, who has pitched well more often than not since the latter part of last season but still must overcome a reputation for falling apart when things go wrong early. That certainly wasn't the case Saturday.

LAD: RHP Vicente Padilla (8-6, 4.92 ERA)
He's not even on the 40-man roster yet, but Padilla is expected to be promoted to make his Dodgers debut in the series finale in Denver, replacing injured right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Padilla hasn't pitched in a Major League game since Aug. 5, as a member of the Rangers. He's allowed six runs in nine innings at Coors Field over his career.

Tidbits
Jason Giambi went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his debut for the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox on Wednesday. He was activated Tuesday, but the Sky Sox game was rained out. The Sox won 6-2 over Salt Lake City. ... The Rockies reached a season high by hitting homers in 10 consecutive games with Ryan Spilborghs' third-inning solo shot on Wednesday. ... Reliever Juan Rincon grounded out in the fifth inning on Wednesday in his first at-bat in more than five years. He last batted on June 16, 2004, in Montreal. "I was happy to put the ball in play without striking out," he said. "I knew bunting was going to be tough, but they gave me a sign to hit. The pitch was right there, and I swung at it. Unfortunately, it was a ground ball to the pitcher, but that's all right." ... Troy Tulowitzki's two infield singles extended his hitting streak to seven games. He's hitting .345 (10-for-29) in the stretch.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN, MLBN

On radio
• KOA 850

Up next
• Friday: Rockies (Ubaldo Jimenez, 12-9, 3.36) at Giants (Tim Lincecum, 12-4, 2.43), 8:15 p.m. MT
• Saturday: Rockies (Jason Marquis, 14-8, 3.47) at Giants (Barry Zito, 8-11, 4.09), 7:05 p.m. MT
• Sunday: Rockies (Jason Hammel, 8-7, 4.43) at Giants (Matt Cain, 12-4, 2.39), 2:05 p.m. MT

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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