Tonight, the Colorado Rockies will try to forestall what increasingly looks like the inevitable: a fresh round of World Series rings for the Boston nine. How could they do it? Some thoughts:
1. Their Opening Day starter, Aaron Cook, will make his first start since August 10, and he needs to come up huge. The Red Sox offense is on fire right now. Can Cook smother them? Personally, I doubt it. But you know what they say; momentum is that day’s starting pitcher. Cook has a daunting task in front of himself: leave the ball too much over the plate, and these Red Sox will give it a ride. But miss the plate, and these Red Sox are happy to take the walk. He’ll have to find the tiny scrap of middle ground.
2. Their offense needs to wake up. Last night they showed some promising signs and managed to hit the ball hard off the Red Sox bullpen, but they ultimately fell short. They need every hit they can get at this point, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re hitting end-of-the-bat dying quails or tearing the cover off the ball. How can they accomplish this? For one, by taking a page from Boston’s playbook: wear out the opposing pitcher. Despite spending parts of two seasons in the majors, Jon Lester has not yet settled in as the Red Sox organization hoped he would. When they were prospects together, his stuff was considered on par with Jonathan Papelbon’s. But in the big leagues, Lester has struggled with his command. Despite having an 11 and 2 record, he has a career 4.68 ERA and an average walk rate of about 4.4 walks-per-game. He also relies on a huge curveball that may be harder to deploy in that Rocky Mountain altitude. Plus, he’s spent the last month coming out of the bullpen. How many pitches can he really throw tonight? The Rockies showed last night they can hit the Boston bullpen, so if the Rockies hitters relax, face Lester with patience, and chase him early, they have an excellent shot at keeping Boston’s champagne on ice.
3. Speaking of relaxing, that will be the main key for the Rockies in this game. They need to take it one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time. The looks on their faces last night were understandable—-and they’ve looked lost this whole Series—-but that’s not the way to win ballgames. They need to remember that, by rights, they don’t even belong here. At the beginning of September, they weren’t even on the radar screen. The Rockies need to have fun out there—they need to play like they have nothing to lose. At this point, the pressure should be all on the Red Sox to close the deal (or at least, that’s what the Rox should tell themselves). And though they haven’t looked like it this Series, if there’s one team that could recreate Boston’s 2004 feat of returning from a 3-0 series deficit, it is this masters-of-the-improbable Colorado ballclub.
Now, what do I think will actually happen tonight? I think the Red Sox will win. I think Jon Lester has been aching to pitch this game ever since he was in Little League. I think this is the game he dreamed of pitching when he was undergoing chemotherapy just 12 short months ago. I think Jon Lester was pissed about moving to the bullpen for the postseason and is burning to show his bosses what a mistake that was. I think Jon Lester is going to come up big tonight.