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Opponent on a mad dash from obscurity

We asked Boston what it knows about the Red Sox's opponent in the World Series.; ALCS; baseball;; red sox; sports; video page;

They play a mile high and keep their baseballs in a humidor. They were tossing snowballs during practice this week. Their entire payroll is not much more than what the Red Sox paid for the privilege of eating sushi with Daisuke Matsuzaka. And they're on an odds-defying run that would have made a billionaire out of a Vegas dice-roller.

The Colorado Rockies, who begin their first World Series at Fenway Park tonight, were the longest of long shots just six weeks ago but went on to win 21 of their last 22 games, including the last 10 in a row, the best stretch of any National League club since the 1936 Giants.

"Rocktober" has been a giddy ride for a club that hadn't had a winning season since 2000, that lost 95 games just two years ago and that had won only one postseason game in its 15-year history.

It's an ongoing magical mystery tour that has dropped the Rockies on the doorstep of the brick bandbox on Yawkey Way and thrust its players into an unfamiliar spotlight.

"Once we get out on the field, it might sink in a little bit," said Jeff Francis, the Canadian lefthander who'll take the mound tonight against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. "You know, it's the biggest stage in baseball."

These Rockies, unlike their carmine-hosed rivals, need an introduction. There's Todd Helton, the goateed cleanup hitter who is the club's Grand Old Man and designated spokesman. There's Matt Holliday, the hammering outfielder who led the league in hitting and RBIs. There's Troy Trevor Tulowitzki, the alliterative rookie shortstop who's made a huge splash. There's Ubaldo Jimenez, the righthanded flamethrower who has hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. There's Kaz Matsui, the second baseman who played with Matsuzaka on the Seibu Lions. There's Yorvit Torrealba, the catcher whose parents couldn't decide between naming him Yorman or Victor, so they compromised. And there's Manny "Habeas" Corpas, the lights-out closer from Panama.

The players may come from a half-dozen countries, but they've developed a collective chemistry and a family approach that emphasizes clean-cut values, with multiple players attending chapel and Bible study. "It turned into more of a fraternity than anything else," said manager Clint Hurdle. "It's been a very unselfish club. They spend a lot of time with one another away from the park, which is different, at least from my days. I had a few buddies I would run with. These guys run in packs."

Other than Helton, who played quarterback at Tennessee with Colts star Peyton Manning, the Rockies don't have big names because they can't afford them. Their payroll is only $54 million, and more than $16 million of that goes to Helton. Their entire four-man pitching rotation makes roughly half of what Sox pitcher Curt Schilling does.

The Rockies largely are home-grown, heavily flavored with Latin ballplayers, and they got this far by playing old-school baseball. "You want to win late and play late, you need to have a team that can pitch and a team that can play defense," said Hurdle. "That's what wins championships. All you've got to do is pick up the old books and read."

The old books have nothing about the Rockies in them. This is a franchise that didn't exist until seven years after the ball went between Bill Buckner's legs in New York, from a state that was admitted to the Union less than two decades before Babe Ruth was born. It's a club that hasn't been around long enough to have a Hall of Famer or retire a jersey.

Until the Rockies made their mad autumnal dash, they were largely anonymous, a losing team in the shadow of the mountains. "It's what we've always known," shrugged pitcher Aaron Cook. "People have always taken us lightly, and understandably. We play in the Mountain Time Zone. It is what it is. We play where we play."

Except for 1995, when they made their only playoff appearance, the Rockies always were done playing in September. This year, they were all but dismissed in May, when their record was 18-27. On Sept. 10, the club still was in fourth place, seven games out of first. Just to make it to the playoffs, Colorado had to win virtually every day until October.

"Every game could have been that game that kept us out of the playoffs," said Francis. "To think that we had to win 13 out of 14 just to get to a playoff game, that might scare you just to think about it."

It was like playing in the longest loser's bracket in history, observed Hurdle. When the Rockies lost that one game - to Arizona Sept. 28 - they thought the season likely was finished. But when San Diego dropped its final two to Milwaukee, Colorado got a reprieve - and hasn't stopped since.

The Rockies came from two runs down in the 13th inning to beat the Padres in a playoff, then swept the Phillies in the Division Series and the Diamondbacks in the League Championship Series and sprayed champagne.

"I'm sure the Red Sox are used to this every day, but we've never seen anything like this," said Francis. "The bus pulling up into the parking lot and the trailers and the satellite dishes. That's what really tells you."

The Rockies may have come down to sea level this week but they have yet to come down to earth. "Do you think America is rooting for you?" Helton was asked. "I have no idea," he replied. "I haven't asked them. I know my mom and dad are, and my brother."

John Powers can be reached at

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