Somewhere, People Cheer

The national pastime has passed the Rockies by -- again.

Post-mortem, manager Clint Hurdle allowed that his top priority in the off-season would be to shore up the Rockies bullpen. This is a bit like the captain of the Hindenburg telling his passengers that the first thing he'll do when they get to New Jersey is install fire extinguishers. First baseman Helton batted .347 (second only to Bonds in the NL) and scored at the top of five more hitting categories; Jeromy Burnitz hit 37 home runs (eighth in the league); and fan favorite Vinny Castilla, who returned to Denver for more punishment after stints in Atlanta and Tampa, led the NL with 131 RBIs. But the Rockies team earned run average was a grotesque 5.55, and the man everyone loved to hate, recently deposed closer Shawn Chacon, gave up 71 hits, 52 walks and 52 runs in just 63 innings pitched and lost nine games while winning only one. Chacon is not the only problem toeing the slab for the Rockies -- the bullpen lost a league-leading forty games, overall -- but if you want a poster boy for futility, Chac's your man.

Looking for a ray of light? Pitching coach Bob Apodaca sent two decent starting pitchers out there this year: Shawn Estes (15-8, 5.84) and Joe Kennedy (9-7, 3.66). But what does it say about 2005 that the shining hope is young Jason Jennings, who went 11-12 over 201 innings this season and nailed the team ERA mark with 5.51? Look for the dirigible to get almost to the docking tower again next season.

Meanwhile, real baseball, October baseball at the highest level, is being contested in other time zones this week. While the cash-strapped, pitcher-poor, suddenly youth-obsessed Rockies have no chance of returning to contention in the next five years -- the only time they had a winning record in 2004 was after their opening-day win -- clubs with authentic talent and actual tradition are duking it out for the big prize. If there's a God, the Yankees will manage the near-impossible and fail to reach the World Series again -- making way for the Bambino-cursed, long-suffering strivers from Boston. The Big Guy's already retired the Braves and their red foam tomahawks for another season, and He's dismissed all those sushi-munching L.A. Dodger fans with a Rose Bowl wave. And he'll probably remind Clemens and Andy Pettitte that, yes, they already own World Series rings, so the rest of the Astros will just have to suffer, too.

Fred Harper

The Best and the Brightest? The St. Louis Cardinals, decorated these days by our own ex-hero, Larry Walker, and by three MVP candidates, versus the Red Sox, who haven't won the Series since 1918. The finale? Boston in six -- Babe Ruth and the Yanks be damned.

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