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Rockies take 2-0 lead in NLCS

PHOENIX __ Well, this Rockies streak has now earned its way among cockroaches, Dick Clark, and reality TV. No matter what, it just won’t die.

This makes 19 wins in 20 games, which has been done a handful of times in the 100-plus years of baseball history, but never like this, never with each of the wins so crucial, never with five (and counting) in the playoffs.

No. 19 came on a four-pitch, bases loaded walk issued in the 11th inning by Arizona closer Jose Valverde, who led all of baseball with 47 saves in the regular season. And you know what? All things considered, that seems like as believable a way as any to keep this thing going.

Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 2. Colorado takes a 2-0 lead in this NLCS back to Coors Field, and it’s worth noting that no team has ever lost a best-of-seven LCS after winning the first two games on the road.

“We’ve just got to keep it going a little longer,” said first baseman Todd Helton. “Ride it out a little longer.”

For a more scientific perspective of what the Rockies are doing, we turn to Sean Forman, who has a doctorate in math and runs the statistical website www.baseball-reference.com. There are imperfections in doing calculations like this, but assuming the Rockies’ regular season winning percentage, Forman calculates the Rockies with a one in 8,890 chance at winning 19 of 20 games.

To give you an idea, the probability of a woman giving birth to triplets is only one in 8,000.

“There’s no explanation for it,” said Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes. “Every night, we have to come out and bring it. Taking that attitude has gotten us where we’re at. We’re not about winning 19 of 20, or five in a row, or six in a row. When you go out and try to win every night, you look back a week later and you strung together five in a row. That’s how it is.”

After game one, the venom here from D-Backs fans was directed at the umpires. Now, with today off and the team in a hole they’d need Inspector Gadget to reach out of, it will be interesting if the second-guessing turns to Arizona manager Bob Melvin.

He left Valverde in for two innings and 42 pitches, when the closer had gone more than one inning just three times this season and never beyond 32 pitches.

By the last few batters, Valverde was obviously spent. He walked in the game-winning run on four pitches, his second consecutive walk and third in four batters. The velocity on his fastball was down, and his body language was more of an eight-year-old kid who didn’t get cake.

More than a few times, catcher Chris Snyder was visibly annoyed in trying to calm the combustible Valverde.

“You’ve got to leave him in until he gives up a run,” Melvin said. “He’s our closer.”

Valverde’s meltdown was only the last in a string of unexpected turns. Colorado’s Manny Corpas, who until game two had pitched more like Dennis Eckersley than a first-year closer, blew his first save in four playoff tries on a play that needs two paragraphs.

First, the situation: Arizona’s Stephen Drew is at first, Chris Young at third, one out, bottom of the ninth, down by one. Colorado is playing for the double play, and Eric Byrnes hits a slow grounder to second. Kaz Matsui’s flip is a little off to Troy Tulowitzki, who rushes and gets neither or the throw to first, so Young scores the tying run.

Drew assumes he’s out, so he drifts off the back and wanders toward Arizona’s dugout. He’s tagged out easily between second and third, and officially the play is ruled as an error on Matsui with Drew out 6-5. Credit Byrnes with a bizarre RBI.

“(Drew) took his eye off the umpire, was coming off the field,” Melvin said. “And unfortunately that happened.”

There was also a spectacular diving catch in center field by Taveras that robbed the D-Backs of one run, and a through-the-five-hole error by Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds that led to a Colorado score.

Someday, the Rockies’ streak will end, of course. But when it does, the team that stops it will need to play a heck of a lot better than Arizona’s been these last two games.

The D-Backs have now scored three runs and left 34 runners on base in 20 innings. They’ve given up an unearned run in each game, and their pitchers have walked 11.

“In these types of games, those end up biting you a bit,” Melvin said. “Walks, whether it’s a defensive miscue, it’s situational hitting. Those are the things that end up costing you games.”

No wonder several hundred D-Backs fans __ including Suns star Amare Stoudemire __ left early.

While Melvin spoke, players on both teams changed from sweaty uniforms to pressed suits. Busses waited outside Chase Field, ready to take the teams to their respective charter flights to Denver.

If you believe in the long-term history that says nobody’s ever lost the first two games at home and won an LCS, then you believe the D-Backs are done. If you believe in the more recent history that Colorado has now lost once in four weeks, then you believe the Rockies can’t be beat.

Either way, on their way out of the clubhouse last night, the Rockies walked by a dry erase board with an all-caps message on it:

To reach Sam Mellinger, national baseball reporter for The Star, call 816-234-4365 or send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com.

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