Holliday, Rollins Among New Stars In Postseason

Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 7:43 am
By: News On 6

Matt Holliday and the streaking Colorado Rockies are in _ from out of nowhere. With all four playoff pairings finally set, now it's on with October.

A postseason full of surprising entries starts Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia, where the NL East champions host Colorado in the first playoff game for the Fightin' Phils since 1993.

A few hours later, the first AL division series gets underway with Josh Beckett and the Boston Red Sox hosting John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park in a matchup of Cy Young contenders.

The final game of the day is a desert duel between aces out in Arizona, where sinkerball specialist Brandon Webb opposes Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs.

``I don't want to be pumped up,'' said Zambrano, prone to emotional outbursts. ``I just want to be calm and let the moment come, let the game come and pitch my game. I don't want to be too excited. Sometimes when you are too excited, you're trying to do too much, that's when the problem comes, when you don't have control of yourself.''

The other best-of-five series starts Thursday night when the wild-card New York Yankees are in Cleveland to face C.C. Sabathia and the Indians. All eyes will be on Alex Rodriguez to see if he can put an end to his playoff failures after a huge regular season.

``Don't ask him about it,'' teammate Derek Jeter told the assembled media mob at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. ``Just leave him alone and let him play.''

The young Rockies came from way off the pace, going 14-1 down the stretch and rallying against career saves leader Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the 13th inning to beat San Diego 9-8 late Monday night in a wild-card tiebreaker.

Many who stayed awake long enough to see it are still wondering if Holliday ever touched the plate on that headfirst dive for the winning run. No matter, the call was safe.

Now, a team known as Todd Helton and the Toddlers not long ago is all grown up and on the big stage. And their matchup with the Phillies could be an all-out slugfest.

The two highest-scoring teams in the National League will be taking their hacks in two of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball: Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park and Coors Field in Colorado.

``Regardless of where you play, you still have to get it and hit it,'' said Phillies bopper Ryan Howard, last year's NL MVP. ``Sometimes the wind may be blowing in at a field that's considered to play large and if you hit in the air, it might go out. You still have to hit it. You still have to put a good swing on it for it to go.''

Pitchers, beware.

Especially Jeff Francis, Colorado's top starter. The 17-game winner was tattooed in two starts against the Phillies this year, going 0-1 with a 15.12 ERA. He allowed 14 earned runs, 20 hits and five walks in 8 1-3 innings.

He'll pitch the opener against fellow lefty Cole Hamels. The series also pits two of the top candidates for NL MVP: Holliday and Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

``If you worry about the fences instead of getting people out, you definitely aren't going to have a good game,'' Phillies closer Brett Myers said. ``I don't think any ballpark is an issue about anything. Yeah, they're hitter-friendly, so they say, but if you go out and think about that, you're just going to choke.''

Runs could be much harder to come by in Boston with a pair of big-game pitchers on the mound.

Beckett was the World Series MVP for Florida in 2003 after pitching a shutout at Yankee Stadium on three days' rest to clinch the title.

Lackey was a rookie when he won Game 7 of the 2002 Series for the Angels.

Don't expect either one to crumble under the pressure.

``He's been in these big games just like I have, and done extremely well,'' Lackey said. ``I mean, throwing a shutout to win a World Series, it doesn't get much better than that. He's obviously got great stuff and it's going to be a great challenge for us. I'm going to have to pitch well to give our guys a chance.''

Three key players will be missing in that series: Tim Wakefield, Gary Matthews Jr. and Bartolo Colon.

The Red Sox left Wakefield off the first-round roster because of the knuckleballer's ailing back. The Angels scratched Matthews because of an injured left knee, and Colon won't pitch for Los Angeles after feeling pain in his right elbow during Tuesday's workout.

``We all know Wake. He bleeds for us,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said. ``But he understands this is the right thing to do. We were going to possibly put him in a situation that was not fair to him or the team.''

Matthews, who has never been in the playoffs since breaking into the majors in 1999, will be replaced in center field by Reggie Willits, and on the Angels' roster by Erick Aybar.