When I began covering the postseason for MLB.com, I would always scour the floor of the winning clubhouse. Somewhere on that carpet caked in infield dirt, and puddled with champagne and beer for the celebration would be corks. I'd grab a few pieces, and usually a friend who is a fan of that given team would receive one as a gift.
Others would end up in my drawer. I rarely drink, but I like the scent of a wine or champagne. Every now and then, a whiff would conjure a memory, whether it was the ear-to-ear grin of Brad Lidge going to the World Series with the Astros in 2005, or the pride in the face of Jeff Weaver after his winning Game 5 performance in the '06 National League Championship Series.
I'm not sure if I still have a cork from the 2007 Game 163. It was the greatest sporting event I've ever covered or seen in person: the Rockies' 13-inning, 9-8 victory over the Padres at Coors Field to secure a Wild Card berth and keep a miracle going. I ran across an unmarked cork during a recent home renovation, and I didn't bother to sniff it. But I don't need the scent for that day to come back to me. I can still close my eyes, and all the memories from that game, which happened eight years ago today, return.
Actually, I spent much of that postgame with my eyes closed.
Usually, reporters and broadcasters have to watch out for champagne dousings, and media members who have been around a while tend to get targeted. I remember Troy Renck from the Denver Post looking as if he'd gone swimming. It can make you smelly and wet on a cold evening, but as then-Rockies managers Clint Hurdle said to some of us, "You guys got it … But there's a lot of 'like' in that."
Troy Tulowitzki, the brash rookie shortstop, spotted me from a joyous huddle and came over with a bottle and a smile.
"Thomas!" Tulowitzki yelled as my shower began. "You said the Rockies suck!"
Right after writing that paragraph, I Googled "Thomas Harding, Rockies suck, 2007" -- no hits. I didn't even write that accidentally. I found it funny then, and it's still funny. I have never corrected Tulo. He got me after the NL Division Series and NL Championship Series as well.
But my mission went deeper than happy quotes and corks. I needed relief pitcher Jorge Julio.
I needed the interviews with those who brought the Rockies victory. There was Matt Holliday, still dazed from the collision with Padres catcher Michael Barrett while scoring the winning run on Jamey Carroll's sacrifice fly. Todd Helton -- who went to the hitters due up in the 13th and reminded them to have sound, fundamental at-bats against Padres closer Trevor Hoffman -- was a must-interview. So was third baseman Garrett Atkins.
Hurdle, himself, struggled to put the game into words, but he was eloquent about teamwork and competitiveness.
But I truly needed Julio. After enduring another bath somewhere around Brian Fuentes' locker, and finding the one dry corner of a towel to clear my specs and my eyes, there was Julio.
Julio had a bottle in his hand, maybe because he participated in one of the media dousings. His eyes were redder than mine, but from the softness and cracking in his voice, it was clear his look was induced by something more than champagne.
The dramatic bottom of the 13th was necessary because Julio had given up Scott Hairston's two-run homer with no outs in the top of the frame. After the homer, Chase Headley singled, then Julio left the game, never to pitch for Colorado again. An emotional Julio thought he'd be wearing goat horns, rather than a cap celebrating the Wild Card.
Rockies fans know the rest.
Ramon Ortiz put down the inning. Then, the crowd at Coors broke into a thunderous applause as if to tell Julio all was OK, to tell the Padres that they were in trouble, and even to tell Ortiz that this was the night of his only victory in a Colorado uniform.
Julio shook his head softly. His quotes weren't memorable. They were just about how his pitches either missed, like during the five-pitch walk to Brian Giles to open the inning, or went right into the hitting zone. This is a guy who had struck out 50 and walked 20 in 50 2/3 innings. Something was wrong, besides his feelings being hurt. I pressed and Julio revealed that he'd been dealing with pain in the neck area.
Julio winced in pain while throwing during the workout before the first game of the NLDS in Philadelphia, and he was not placed on the playoff roster. He would never pitch for the Rockies again.
Crazily, Julio's misfortune actually worked out for Colorado. Late-season callup Seth Smith took Julio's spot, and he hit .500 -- 3-for-6 in a pinch-hitting role -- for the postseason. Smith was a big part of putting the Rockies in the World Series, where they lost to the Red Sox.
Julio was around, and he got to participate in the celebrations after the sweeps of the Phillies and the D-backs. In his own odd, not-so-happy way, he helped make both victories possible.
I hope when Julio closes his eyes and looks back, the champagne smells as sweet as it does for me.