|Hurdle pushes all the right buttons for red-hot Rockies|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 07 October 2007 12:05|
Managing a mix of mostly young players and a couple of wily veterans, the sixth-year manager said he's listened as much to his gut as he has his coaching staff.
``Sometimes they work and sometimes it's indigestion,'' cracked Hurdle, Colorado's cutup commander who has guided the Rockies into their first NLCS in the franchise's 15-year history.
Hurdle's been popping wads of Bazooka bubble gum into his mouth way more than Rolaids tablets for the last three weeks.
In the wild card tiebreaker against San Diego, he used 10 pitchers in the Rockies' nearly five-hour win and sent in pinch-runner Jamey Carroll for slugger Garrett Atkins in the seventh. Carroll's sacrifice fly won it in the 13th.
His moves were magnificent in the Rockies' sweep of Philadelphia in the NL Division Series.
From letting ace Jeff Francis bat in the seventh before pulling him in the bottom half to save a position player, to pinch-hitting for Franklin Morales in the fourth inning of Game 2, which set up Kaz Matsui's grand slam, all his decisions have been golden.
The topper came Saturday night when pinch-hitter Jeff Baker punched across the winning run in the clincher that set up Colorado's trip to the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hurdle has been quick to deflect any praise back onto his players.
``I never get outside of myself to think I'm a difference maker,'' he said. ``These guys are the ones who keep things in place.''
Hurdle spent six seasons managing in the Mets' farm system from 1988-93 before joining the Rockies organization in 1994. He was into his sixth season as the club's hitting coach when he was promoted to manager on April 26, 2002.
His first five seasons were marked by a diminishing payroll and declining attendance.
Last fall, team owner Charlie Monfort said he was inclined to allow general manager Dan O'Dowd and Hurdle go into the final seasons of their contracts without an extension so they'd be held accountable.
On opening day, Monfort stunned everybody - including Hurdle - when he authorized team president Keli McGregor to extend O'Dowd's deal for two years, and O'Dowd in turn extended Hurdle through 2009.
The Rockies hadn't had a winning season since 2000, and the extensions were heavily criticized.
``I think you have to keep faith in what you're doing,'' McGregor told The Associated Press recently. ``We wanted results. They weren't there. But we kept doing what we thought was right. We had faith in it and that makes this even more special, when you believe and no one else does.''
Hurdle gets a gauge on how he's doing during his ``Saturdays at Starbucks'' trips with his 4-year-old daughter Madison, who suffers from seizures and a rare genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome that causes low muscle tone, morbid obesity and other problems.
Fans have been known to walk up during this daddy-daughter time and criticize his moves that didn't work out. Those critics have had nothing to harp on lately.
``I get a lot of high-fives,'' Hurdle said. ``A lot of them are shaking their heads and a lot of them are happy, they're truly happy. I think they're like a lot of people. We had a lot of baseball fans here for a long time that lost interest, and in a lot of cases, rightfully so. And we've had a lot of fans that have not lost interest through it all.''
Hurdle welcomes them all.
``No bandwagon is too big,'' he said. ``These guys, you know, they're acting a little different now than they did in May. It's OK. It's no big deal. I'm not here to analyze. I just enjoy seeing them and enjoy seeing them smile.''
After stumbling to a 17-25 start, the Rockies have had the best record in the NL over the last four months and are a major league-best 40-15 at home since June 2. Their 11-game winning streak to get back into the wild card race last month was the longest in team history and the longest in the majors this season.
Slugger Matt Holliday credited Hurdle for not changing things during a 1-9 trip in June.
``We didn't stop believing in ourselves,'' Holliday said, ``and neither did he.''
Unlike many managers, Hurdle doesn't have the benefit of big bucks and big-name free agents.
With a $55 million payroll, the Rockies have been forced to improve from within, and a stellar farm system has produced the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Atkins and Francis.
As the prospects began arriving, Hurdle turned his attention to patching up a dismal defense. For the last three springs he harped on it, and that focus paid dividends when the Rockies set a major league record this season with the highest fielding percentage in major league history.
Hurdle also saw the need for a major shift in his approach this year: He let up on the pedal and allowed the clubhouse to develop a chemistry of its own.
``As this group has come together, I've tried to get more out of the way and give them ownership of the club,'' Hurdle said. ``It's kind of like there comes a point when you stop telling your kid what they need to do, regardless of whether they're listening or not, because they're tired of hearing it.
``So flip 'em the keys and let 'em drive and see where it takes you.''
It's taken them to a franchise-high 90 wins in the regular season, their first playoff series success and four wins away from Colorado's first World Series.
``So far, it's been a pretty good ride,'' Hurdle said. ``I think we're going to let them hold the keys a little longer.''