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Late-season healing helps Rockies get that September feeling


DENVER -- OK, Rockies.

Explain yourselves.

Because the rest of us ... it's just ... the Septembers ... and these streaks ... it's just not that easy and ... oh, forget it.

Troy Tulowitzki, who missed 33 games during midseason, hit eight home runs during Colorado's 10-game winning streak. (AP)  
Troy Tulowitzki, who missed 33 games during midseason, hit eight home runs during Colorado's 10-game winning streak. (AP)  
"We usually don't have a word to describe it. It just happens," outfielder Ryan Spilborghs says, as if Colorado's annual torrid Septembers are planned into the Rockies' schedule just like fireworks night and Todd Helton bobblehead giveaways.

"You come to the ballpark knowing you're going to win."

They didn't -- finally -- on Monday night here as a San Diego team badly in need of a win took the opener of this three-game series 6-4 behind Miguel Tejada's four RBI and some lockdown relief work from six relievers, including the end-game trio of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and closer Heath Bell.

But the loss -- which snapped the Rockies' 10-game winning streak -- still leaves Colorado only 2½ games behind the first-place Padres with 18 games left ... and with two still remaining this week against San Diego.

While the defeat was big for the Rockies, it wasn't quite life-threatening.

"We got to the point where we were not allowed to lose any more games because this division is so tough," says infielder Melvin Mora referring to the Rockies' 11-game deficit back in late August. "But we played pretty good the last 20 games. We came from a long way back. Now, we're right here ... but we need to get it."

Too-hot-to-touch Septembers have become as much a part of the Rockies' autumns as Labor Day and school buses. They run September as crisply as Grant wrapped up the Civil War.

Chris Nelson surprising everyone by stealing home to win a game against Cincinnati -- the first stolen base of his major-league career? Why not?

Jason Giambi cracking a pinch-hit, game-winning home run against Arizona on Sunday when he was 0 for 16 against the Diamondbacks this year? Sure.

More on Padres-Rockies

"Magic is a neat term," manager Jim Tracy says. "But you know something? Magic alone doesn't get it done. You need to do the things necessary to win games.

"I mean, let's face it, are you 100 percent lucky when you play three first-place clubs and go 10-0? I don't think that's pure luck."

Tracy was referring to a three-game sweep of Atlanta in a series that began Aug. 23, when the Rockies were 63-60 and trailed San Diego by 11 games. And a three-game sweep of the Padres that kicked off the 10-game winning streak Sept. 3-5. And a four-game sweep of Cincinnati that pulled them to within 3½ games of the NL West lead.

The Atlanta and Cincinnati series were in Colorado, where the Rockies (50-22) own the majors' second-best home record. Only Atlanta's (51-21) is better. The Padres sweep was in San Diego.

"I don't care where you're playing," Tracy says. "If you're playing in a Dutch Masters' cigar box, that's not easy to do."

Nothing completely explains the Rockies' latest 10-game winning streak, or the fact that they've won 13 of their past 16 home games, but a healthy mindset combined with a healthy roster can do wonders when you have the talent Tracy has in the clubhouse.

Why did this year's edition of the Rockies wait until September to crank it up?

If they're this good, why didn't they flex their muscles earlier?

For one thing, they've been decimated by injuries. They were without closer Huston Street for nearly three months. Starters Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel, Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis each have missed significant time. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the heart and soul of the Rockies and an annual MVP candidate if healthy, missed 33 games at midseason with a chip fracture in his wrist. Todd Helton missed a month. Infielders Eric Young and Ian Stewart ... on and on it went.

That contributed to a disappointing start. Still, the Rockies were only two games out at the All-Star break.

Problem was, Tulowitzki wouldn't return until July 27. And with him out, the Rockies emerged from the All-Star break and promptly went 2-9 on a three-city trip through Cincinnati, Florida and Philadelphia. They suffered two walk-off losses in four days in Florida.

"Absolutely brutal," Tracy says. "We lost games in every way imaginable."

MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez is having a season for the ages, leading the NL in batting average (.337 into Monday night's game), third in RBI (100) and tied for fourth in home runs (32), and ace Ubaldo Jimenez has become the first 18-game winner in Colorado history, but it wasn't until Tulowitzki was fully back that the Rockies started rolling.

Though he returned from the disabled list on July 27, it was only about two weeks ago that he really started feeling as if his left wrist was strong enough to, as he says, "let it fly."

"Before, my goal was to just put a good swing on the ball and shoot it to right field," Tulowitzki says.

When balls that would normally die in the outfield began carrying over the wall during batting practice, he knew he was back. And the numbers confirm it: Tulowitzki, in being named NL Player of the Week on Monday, batted .370 and led the majors with six home runs, a 1.148 slugging percentage and 31 total bases between Sept. 6-12 -- win Nos. four through 10 in the Rockies streak.

"This is a different player over the course of the last two or three weeks," Tracy says.

And this is a different team. Which is telling, in that the Rockies made no sexy additions at the July trade deadline, and they added only reliever Manny Delcarmen before the Aug. 31 waivers deadline.

When the Rockies suffered a couple of tough losses in Arizona, including another of those walk-off losses on Aug. 20 and trailed the Padres by 11 games, the manager held a team meeting to deliver a simple message: He reminded how they refused to cave earlier this season in the midst of the injuries. He told them there is one thing left that they could do, and that was to at least put themselves in position to make a move if the Padres slipped.

Tracy has reminded them that "we signed a sheet of paper that said the major-league season was 162 games, and we're going to play every pitch of every game. That's how we do it. That's what I demand.

"You never know. That's the mantra."

In all, the Rockies have endured eight walk-off losses this season and are 27-24 in one-run games. This group has built resiliency one day at a time, and it has positioned itself just as Tracy requests: One pitch at a time.

"I was looking around the room and I got goose bumps thinking of the unselfishness and cohesiveness of this group," Tracy says of the Rockies clubhouse, before recalling speaking to them back when they were 63-strong this spring and telling them, "I don't know when, but we're going to need a bunch of you."

When is now. And it's something the Rockies have become accustomed to.

From Helton, Tulowitzki, Spilborghs and Jimenez during the wild comeback in '07 to CarGo, Dexter Fowler and, yes, Nelson in '10, late-season runs are becoming as much a part of the club's lore as the Blake Street Bombers.

"I think it's the fact that we're always within striking distance at this point in time, and not every team can say that," Tulowitzki says. "Some teams are out of it by now and some teams are far ahead. These games are always meaningful, and with the energy we bring every year. ... "

Since 2007, the Rockies' 58-34 cumulative September mark is the best in the majors. They went 20-8 in September '07, part of a run that culminated with 21 wins over 22 games during the sprint to their first World Series. They were 18-9 last September. They are 10-3 this September. Quick, cue Earth, Wind and Fire.

"We feel the talent in our clubhouse is superior to most teams," Spilborghs says. "All year, people count us out. But you obviously don't know the Rockies.

"We're capable of ridiculous things."

"We finish," Helton says. "We finish."


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