Home park's edge recalls Rockies' best days
Team's strong first month at Coors Field suggests big year may be in cards
DENVER -- Troy Tulowitzki has never doubted the power of LoDo Magic.
"I think I've always felt, since the first day I got to the big leagues, that Coors Field was our house and we were in control," Tulowitzki said.
Always? The Colorado Rockies had success when Tulo initially arrived, including his first full big league season -- 2007, when they made their only World Series appearance -- and two years later, when they claimed the National League Wild Card.
The Rockies were, however, only 38-43 at home in 2011 and 35-46 at Coors Field in '12, prompting manager Jim Tracy to turn down an offer to return for '13, and former Rockies shortstop Walt Weiss to give up his job coaching Regis Jesuit High School to become the team's manager.
"Even then, we felt confident in this park," said Tulowitzki.
But they didn't play like it.
There were signs of life in Weiss' debut season, with Colorado going 45-36 at home.
That aura has grown in the early days of this season, capped by an 11-10 walk-off win over the Mets at Coors Field on Saturday night in which the Rockies rallied from a 6-0 deficit in the fifth, and 10-9 in the ninth.
Colorado is now 11-4 at home this year, a key component in the club's 19-13 start, which matches the second-best start in franchise history and has allowed them to sit just one game back of NL West-leading San Francisco.
"What the difference could be," said Tulowitzki, "is that everybody else may be thinking it is real tough to play here. That may be the case."
Rest assured, the Mets are wondering what just hit them.
A team that had its starting pitcher work at least five innings in each of its first 26 games of the season hasn't had a starter get through five innings in the first three losses of this visit to Coors Field, where the Rockies will be looking for a sweep on Sunday.
And that included Saturday night, when Jenrry Mejia went into the fifth with a 6-0 lead. Nineteen pitches later, Mejia and the Mets were on the short side of an 8-6 contest. Rockies hitters reached safely on each of Mejia's final five pitches, off by the second grand slam of Nolan Arenado's career to give Colorado that two-run lead.
What adds to the lore of Coors Field, however, isn't that Arenado hit the slam, nor that Tulowitzki singled up the middle for the 1,000th hit of his career and then scored in the seventh to tie the game at 9.
It's that Ryan Wheeler, who was called up on Friday so that first baseman Justin Morneau could rest, led off that eight-run fifth with a home run.
"It only made it 6-1, but it got us rolling," said Weiss.
It's that backup catcher Jordan Pacheco, asked to carry the load because Wilin Rosario is in quarantine for a few days with a viral infection, singled after Wheeler's home run in the sixth, and he hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly that scored Tulowitzki and gave Colorado a 9-8 lead.
And it's that 25th man Charlie Culberson, who had three hits in 27 big league at-bats this season, got the call after Tulowitzki led off the ninth with a single, his 1,001st career hit, and Arenado flied out. Culberson followed with just the third home run of his career, and his first walk-off drive.
"I had a walk-off triple at [Class] A San Jose [in 2010], but that's the only other walk-off hit I've had in pro ball," said Culberson. "This is my best feeling in baseball so far, no doubt."
It's a bigger feeling that has Weiss excited.
"You are talking about big performances not only from the stars, but the other guys who have a role to fill and do it," Weiss said. "That's what it takes to win a division in this league."
It's a feeling of confidence Weiss sees growing in the Rockies' clubhouse. It's seeing a team starting to play with a renewed confidence at Coors Field, where on April 26, 1995, Dante Bichette provided that first moment of LoDo Magic in the ballpark's first game.
It was also against the Mets. Colorado rallied for single runs to erase deficits of 7-6 in the ninth and 8-7 in the 13th. And then, in the bottom of the 14th, with New York having taken a 9-8 lead in the top of the inning, Bichette delivered the walk-off three-run home run.
Next thing the Rockies, a third-year expansion team, knew, they had earned the NL Wild Card spot and advanced to the postseason quicker than any expansion team at that time.
Weiss was the starting shortstop back then. Colorado won 61.1 percent of their home games that year, matching NL East champion Atlanta and NL Central champion Cincinnati for the best home record in the NL.
And Weiss was living south of Denver, following the Rockies, when they returned to the postseason in both 2007 and '09. They had the second-best home record in the NL both times -- 51-31 in 2007, a half-game behind Milwaukee (51-30), and 51-30 in '09, a full game back of San Francisco.
Weiss is starting to get that feeling again.
"We talk a lot about how confident the club is here, and now we are seeing that confidence on the road, too," said Weiss. "These guys know we have a talented club. But we talk about how different is to have a talent group and get by with that. You have to have that mentality to win."
It takes time for that mentality to develop.
The signs, however, are surfacing at Coors Field.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.