DENVER -- With champagne, tears and screams.
That's how the Rockies celebrated their first playoff berth since 2009. The grind of baseball amplifies the suffering of postseason droughts. Summer grows longer than the last day of school, players forced to focus on stats rather than victories.
"This group," Rockies pitcher Jon Gray said, "was different."
It takes a certain level of talent to cross the finish line. And manager Bud Black told me he knew in mid May the Rockies had the type of pitching depth to play beyond 162 games. Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez provided quality innings, creating a comfortable lead before the return of the injured Gray.
And the lineup, while maddening, fielded three All-Stars at the top, and a former standout in Carlos Gonzalez, who caught fire in September after changing the grip on the bat and seeing a sleep therapist to allow him to rest his mind.
It starts at the start. Charlie Blackmon set an MLB single-season record for RBIs by a leadoff hitter. He remains an MVP candidate in every way, blending Rickey Henderson power with the daily grit of David Eckstein. He survived foot injuries, a projected life as a fourth outfielder, only to become the catalyst of the Rockies' rebirth.
"I am really proud of the guys. We have a lot of really good players on this team," Blackmon told Denver7. "It's a long time coming. A dream come true."
D.J. Lemahieu, the second base and No. 2 hitter, is as consistent as Boulder's atomic clock. His value comes from his reliability. He makes the routine plays. He hits behind runners. He does all the small things to win games. It didn't stand out as much until this season because his team didn't, um, win enough games. All that changed with a remarkable six-week launch in April and May with accompanying gulps of Dramamine.
Next up, the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday in Phoenix. No one expects the purple haze to make it to the desert.
"We have nothing to lose. Everyone is already writing Arizona in to play the Dodgers," LeMahieu said. "We are excited to get there and give it our best shot."
For Gonzalez, this weekend represented likely his last as a Rockie at Coors Field without a victory Wednesday. He awoke from a five-month hibernation in September. He makes no excuses. He wasn't, however, sleeping, agonizing over his struggles. Visits with a sleep therapist put his mind at ease and left him free to enjoy the stretch run.
"It's been a long time. I thought when I got there in 2009 that it would happen every year. I was young. Now I am the old guy," Gonzalez said. "This has made every year worth it."
The Rockies have not won a playoff series since 2007's magical run to the World Series. Given Nolan Arenado's penchant for bathing in the spotlight, it creates intrigue. And with Gray taking the ball, Colorado will not lack for confidence. He is 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA in September and has beaten the Diamondbacks twice this season.
"We had high expectations this year," Gray said. "To see the way the young guys stepped up, and see how we bounced back from our struggles, it tells you we have a really good team. And we aren't done yet."