Game 4 is on Cook's menu
Fully recovered, he gets a chance
It wasn't as if he'd become the invisible man. Aaron Cook still had a uniform, still had a locker at Coors Field, and still was drawing a paycheck. The Rockies brought him to Phoenix for the two National League Championship Series games there and he got sprayed with the same celebratory champagne as everybody else after Colorado swept the Diamondbacks to reach its first World Series. He just wasn't on the roster.
"It's a great experience whether you play or not," said the redheaded righthander. "It was fun." But watching his teammates wasn't nearly the same as joining them, and he'll admit that freely. "It's been tough," acknowledged Cook, who'd lived through five lean years in Denver, where October was an inactive month on the calendar. "You wait your whole career for a moment like this."
And this weekend, finally, it comes for him. Now that his nagging left oblique injury has healed, now that he's thrown a simulated game and been pronounced ready, Cook gets the ball, starting Game 4 at home Sunday night against Jon Lester.
"His health is no longer an issue for me," said manager Clint Hurdle. "His pitches - he's showed what he's shown us in the past. He has valuable experience I think will come into play. He's seen this team, he's faced the hitters. I just felt that it gave us the best opportunity to win Game 4."
Cook is no rook. He's 28, he started 57 games the last two seasons, and he got the ball on Opening Day. When the Rockies came here in June, he allowed just two runs in seven-plus innings but was outdueled, 2-1, by Tim Wakefield. Cook was the second guy behind lefty Jeff Francis, going 8-7 with a 4.12 ERA, and was coming off a terrific July when the oblique gave out against the Cubs Aug. 10 and put him on the disabled list.
His rehab start for Colorado Springs at Tacoma was a one-inning disaster, with the muscle betraying him again. "It got a little low then," Cook said, "because I thought that might be the season." By playoff time, he was reasonably ready, but not ready enough for the Division Series against the Phillies. Then, after wrestling with what he called the toughest decision of his managerial career, Hurdle decided to keep Cook off the roster for the Championship Series, too.
"We kept trying to find a fit," Hurdle said then. "Seemed to me the more we talked, it was more like we were trying to force something to happen because he was such a good man."
Cook took it professionally, as the skipper knew he would. "It was one of those things," Cook shrugged. "Of course, I would have liked and wanted to be part of it, but they made the decision they thought was best for them. I was able to be in the clubhouse, cheering them on, and it's been fun traveling with them, being on the bench, running on the field."
When the Rockies flew here from Denver, Cook still didn't know whether he'd be a spectator or a participant. He'd had a successful outing in a simulated game Saturday and his laminated name tag had been hung above a locker in the visitors' clubhouse, but it wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that Cook learned he was on the roster.
"The opportunity to tell him, 'You're going to get the ball in Game 4,' was very special," said Hurdle. "And it was meaningful, but again, for all the right reasons. If it was about sentiment, he would have pitched in the NLCS, and he understood that."
This was about the World Series, and Cook deserved the ball on merit. So Taylor Buchholz was deactivated and lefty Franklin Morales, who'd had two postseason starts, went to the bullpen. "I feel ready to go," Cook said. "I feel as strong as ever." Now, finally, he gets to do something about it.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.