Rox

Trevor Story greets Connor Joe at the plate after Joe crushed a grand slam  — his first in the bigs — against the Chicago Cubs in the second game of a double-header Wednesday in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Colorado Rockies/Matthew Dirksen)

Welcome to LoDo on the Loop! Though they lost two-of-three to the Cubs in Chicago, the Rockies added to their legendary lore at Wrigley Field with an epic extra-innings double-header that had all the explosive unpredictability of Coors Field and most of the hits and runs that have been missing when the team packs its purple pinstripes and heads down from the mountains in search of the success they’re wallowing in at home.

Wrigley Field is always a destination series for Colorado, a contending poster child for references to the hallowed ground in any encyclopedia of baseball.

“For me there’s three: old Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field,” manager Bud Black told the Daily Planet in an exclusive interview in the visiting dugout in the heart of Wrigleyville.  “I spent a lot of time in Fenway, 10 years as a visiting player, seven years going in there as a pitching coach. A lot of time in both old Yankee Stadium and Fenway. I love them all.  But, I think, gun to my head, I’d take Wrigley Field.”

The Rockies have made their own mark on the ivy-covered bricks confining the friendly field.  Perhaps the highwater mark in Rockies road history came in the Wild Card Playoff game in 2018, with Kyle Freeland getting the nod for a winner-take-all post season game against a Cubs club that still strongly resembled their 2016 World Championship edition.  

Freeland started the game on short rest — three days — and pitched six and two-thirds shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six to advance to the Division Series with a 2-1 victory in the 13th inning.  He’s the only pitcher in Rockies history to pitch at least six scoreless innings in a postseason game, and he finished the season fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

“Wrigley Field is pretty special to me,” Freeland told the Planet in another exclusive. “Coming back here brings back a lot of those 2018 Wild Card memories, the excitement, and an overall fun time with a group of guys that did something special that night.  It was 13 innings, back and forth, great baseball game, playoffs — everything you wanted and one of most historic ballparks”

He wasn’t scheduled to pitch on the Chicago trip, but with his past glory at Wrigley, you’d think he might have longed to toe the rubber again.

“Oh, yeah, a little bit,” the Denver native admitted.  “But at the same time, it's also a bit of a crackerjack box,” he added, noting that there were worse things than missing the chance to pitch in the Windy City.

But in the night cap of Wednesday’s double-header, Freeman was called on to pinch-hit in extra innings, laying down a beautiful bunt single and setting up a pair of key runs before taking part in a triple switch that saw him play the final frame of three extra innings in right field to help preserve a 13-10 win that took three extra innings to secure.

“At Coors Field there's some grinders, right? Back and forth, high run totals, you never know how it's gonna play out, you're never comfortable,” Black said of the elusive quality they keep losing with their luggage when they land in another city desperate to conjure up a win on the road.  “I sort of felt that way today.  When the game started, the wind was blowing in, then the rains came a little bit.  You saw the wind shifted going in, it was blowing out, and it was great.  But this was a type of game where you never felt comfortable, and I'm sure the Cubs felt the same way.”

Early in the second game, a Chicago writer asked me if the sloppy plays undoing the Rockies in a four-run second inning was indicative of what it’s like to watch the Rockies every day. No, no, and especially not with Rockies’ ace German Marquez on the mound. But different cities mean different stories for Colorado, and this story was barely through its preamble.

Brendan Rodgers staked the Rockies to an early lead after Connor Joe walked to open the first, with B-Rod driving a two-run shot over the centerfield fence of what musician Steve Goodman called their “ivy-covered burial ground.” Trailing 5-2 after two, pinch-hitter Charlie Blackmon was nailed by a pitch to load the bases, setting Joe up to obliterate the ball with a smash to center for an emphatic first grand slam in his irresistibly joy-filled young career. Joe rarely tries to hide his emotion, and it was bubbling over as circled the bases with the Rockies back on top.

“It was really cool to see us take some punches there,” Joe said of the mounting frustration and the slam that vanquished any questions about his club’s stick-to-it-iveness. “After the last couple of games, there was a lot of emotions. We're down three, and then with the Grand Slam, we were really excited, really happy.”  

He was also face-first in the dirt at home plate after the next pitch he saw following his slam knocked him off his feet. But vengeance is a dish best marinated in an August rainstorm, and wet Wrigley didn’t disappoint the men from Denver.

In the innings to come, the Rockies used every position player on the roster, and over the course of the two-fer set, they used every reliever in the bullpen. Marquez was uncharacteristically porous, yielding five runs in the second and leaving the game after three innings. Garrett Hampson made a great diving catch in center, only to have the ground knock the ball free. Trevor Story sailed what would have been the final out of the game in the first extra inning, allowing the Cubs to tie and extend the game. He later left in the 10th as the Rockies hoped his leg injury suffered trying to beat out a grounder would heal up in time to face the Dodgers Friday, necessitating the Quadruple switch that moved Brendon Rodgers from second to short, Hampson from center to second, Hilliard from right to center, and Freeland to right for the first time in his career. Daniel Bard blew his second save in two attempts over three days at Wrigley, and Joshua Fuentes came back from the minors to pinch hit in the nightcap, only to be replaced by Chuck Nazty before seeing a pitch when the Cubs countered with a right-handed reliever.   

That’s what it’s like watching the Rockies every day! And between the two teams mired near their respective cellars, it was gratifying to see that neither team would stay down on the mat.

“That's good baseball,” said Ryan McMahon, who tied the game in the 10th with a two-run homer to left. “It’s no secret, but these teams aren't playing for a playoff spot right now. We're still professionals.  Their side was pushing through, and I knew our guys were going to also. That's just kind of how we are. So it was kind of fun to be a part of it honestly.”

In the seventh inning a message went up on the digital scoreboard advising fans to clear the seating bowl immediately due to lightening.  As if Cubs fans hadn’t already abandoned their seats a month ago when the club traded virtually every recognizable Cubbie — and apparently their press box pencil sharpener — for a gaggle of players to be named later and a superfluous copy machine for their neo-neuvo 21st century makeover complete with three digital scoreboards (and nary a score to be found through 17 innings of search) to replace their old manual scoreboard of yore.  

The announced attendance for Game 2 looked to be inflated by about 20,000, but there were a few soaking souls dying-inside and scattered amongst the rain-splashed seats, with each rooftop bar atop a neighboring row house turned into a private suite for three. If you like socially-distant seating, you’ll love watching the uniforms formally inhabited by the Cubs with elbow room to spare.

Jim Belushi was on hand to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in Wednesday’s early game, but by the fifth and 10th inning of the scheduled-for-7-innings second game, the Cubs called on their archives, with the late greats Ernie Banks and Ron Santo leading the dripping masses.  

Dates, dogs, and deadlines be damned – I’m with Ernie when it comes to playing two! 

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Rockies split the double-header. How can you root against Steve Goodman, a Telluride Bluegrass early years veteran and fan favorite who was banned from Wrigley for writing the classic “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” but penned the sequel, “Go, Cubs, Go” to place himself back in the eternal good graces with their enduring victory song. When he died too early of leukemia in 1984 — weeks before the Cubs’ first playoff game in 39 years — his family scattered some of his ashes in Wrigley Field and some in Cooperstown, apparently hopping the fence at night to complete his last request.

 

Ironically, my first trip to Wrigley since the Cubs lost to the Marlins in the 2003 National League Championship Series is a busman’s holiday, a “Travels with Charley” trip across the country with my mom’s 16-year-old dog Willy, for a family wedding, funeral, and celebration of life. I don’t expect to hop any fences (at least until the statute of limitations runs out on some previous climbs after getting stuck in ballparks long after hours), but by happy coincidence, the journey joins the Rockies in Wrigley, Larry Walker in Cooperstown, a journey home to Babe Ruth’s boyhood stomping grounds, and perhaps a chance encounter with his Orioles, Red Sox, and Yankees. Willy’s riding shotgun, prompting swims from Wash Park to the Chesapeake Bay. We spent the best two hours between games of a double header when I took the El from Wrigley to Willy, jumped in Lake Michigan with him, and made it back for the first pitch of the twin bill’s second serving. We’re writing today from the banks of Lake Onondaga, a county I haven’t been in since the day I was born here. When I told that to a passerby who stopped to make friends with Willy, he said the same thing to me that I surmise Charlie Blackmon said to Connor Joe when the rookie touched the plate after his first grand slam.“Welcome home.”