Vintage Street shuffles, riffs in Fan Cave

Vintage Street shuffles, riffs in Fan Cave

Vintage Street shuffles, riffs in Fan Cave
NEW YORK -- Rockies closer Huston Street spent Tuesday afternoon at the MLB Fan Cave, playing some shuffleboard, strumming some Dave Matthews on the house guitar, watching some ball, and asking unsuspecting pedestrians outside: "Do you know where Huston Street is?" (They pointed him to nearby Houston Street.) He signed the now-traditional autograph wall, but when asked if he wanted to sign the same home plate Goose Gossage had signed two weeks earlier, Street proceeded to sign the clean plate next to it.

"No chance. No chance," he repeated, deferring humbly to greatness. "See that 'HOF' in Goose's signature? That clinches it.

"I went three innings the other day. It was an extra-inning game and it was whatever it took. I got off the mound and they were like, 'Dude, Goose Gossage, huh?' Three-inning, four-inning save situations. Then you think to yourself, 'Those guys did that every day.'"

The Rockies aren't looking for Gossage or any other closer in 2011. They are looking for the Street who is healthy and automatic with the changeup and slider as out pitches just like in 2009. That is exactly what they have gotten so far, and one of the many reasons Colorado (7-2) had matched its best nine-game start entering Tuesday night's game against the Mets.

Street improved to 5-for-5 in save opportunities with a perfect ninth in the series opener at Citi Field. That was his 60th save with Colorado. He is now tied with Bruce Ruffin for third on the franchise's all-time saves list. Street and Ruffin are 42 saves behind second-place Jose Jimenez on the list. Brian Fuentes has the club record with 115.

If you include last year -- when he missed the first 69 games of the regular season with right shoulder tightness and a groin issue that arose during Minor League rehab -- Street is now 60-for-67 (89.6 percent) in save opportunities with Colorado. That is the best rate in franchise history for any closer with at least 10 career save opportunities, and it is second best in the National League since 2009. Only the Padres' Heath Bell (91/100, 91 percent) has been better in the NL (minimum 40 save opportunities).

"This season was a breath of fresh air. It's a new start," Street said at the Fan Cave. "We get to put zeroes on the board and go from there. Last season ended so poorly that we spent the whole offseason thinking about it. But the best part of last season is, it's over. The best part about this year is, we get to play one day at a time. We've really got that focus. We've got that idea that just because we're off to a good start, it doesn't mean anything, it's not going to carry us the rest of the way. We're going to go play today and let the results take care of themselves."

It has been a fascinating season so far for Street. The three-inning stint he mentioned came Friday in that 14-inning loss at Pittsburgh, where, he now says proudly, he even got his first Major League at-bat. He required only 27 pitches over that stretch. That was five fewer pitches than he had thrown during his first save of the season, in the second game at home against Arizona. In each of the last two games heading into Tuesday, he struck out the first two batters in the ninth and then finished off a 1-2-3 inning.

"You always carry confidence out there. You always expect to get the job done," Street said. "It's frustrating when you don't. It's more so when you're not executing because of mechanics or a lack of a feel for a pitch at a certain time. I felt that this year I had the perfect Spring Training. No setbacks, just gradually build, turn up the velocity and the intensity, and it's allowed me to develop all three pitches nicely. At the same time you've got to go out and execute, and I've been making some good pitches, and I've had some good plays behind me to help out in some big spots. It's a team game and we're winning as a team.

"Truthfully, I don't think confidence ever changes. A lot of times other people's confidence wavers with your results. But the trick is to have your confidence never waver with your results, no matter what. The point is that you expect to get it done. Everyone [on the Rockies] can attest to that feeling. When they're at the plate, they expect to get a hit. When they're on the mound, they expect to get outs. That's the strength of consistency, not necessarily performance. On a given day, anything can happen. But over the long haul, if you maintain that consistent approach to expectation and preparation, usually the results take care of themselves."

In Monday's game, Rockies manager Jim Tracy watched Street whiff Scott Hairston on a 1-2, 81-mph slider, then strike out Jose Reyes swinging on an 82-mph changeup. Another 1-2 81-mph changeup got Daniel Murphy to fly out to left for Street's fifth save, and after the game Tracy noted that the changeup is "obviously back" in his arsenal, as it had been in 2009.

"A lot of it has to do with the weapons that he has available to him when he has hitters in counts that he wants to get them into," Tracy said. "It's a combination of two things, actually. His put-away pitches are there where we saw them in the past. That's No. 1. And No. 2, the fact that his ball is doing exactly what he wants it to do. I'm throwing it here, it goes there. That is what makes him so special. When the guy is right, he can thread needles. That's exactly what he's been doing these last few times out. The performance in Pittsburgh the other night, when he threw three innings and threw only 27 pitches, is indicative."

Ryan Wagner, the wingman to MLB Dream Job winner Mike O'Hara at the Fan Cave, found out on Tuesday that Street also can "thread needles" on a bar shuffleboard game. While Street was taking the tour of the three-floor cave at Fourth Street and Broadway in Manhattan, he stopped to play a quick game. Wagner told him it was a shorter shuffleboard tabletop than normal, and Street added quickly: "Standard shuffleboard is 23 feet."

"How do you know that?" Wagner asked him.

"I know that because a guy designed my house in Austin with a shuffleboard."

Speaking of Austin, the former Texas Longhorns pitcher gave the Cavemen the lowdown on why the "o" was omitted from his first name -- not something the average fan probably knows.

"They wanted something unique, something Texas," Street explained. "They didn't want to name me Austin or Dallas, or even El Paso. They gave me this and they took out the 'o' because they didn't want people to think I was named after the city."

Street was sitting in the living-room area watching Rangers-Tigers on the 15-screen Cave Monster board, and he impressed the building's inhabitants by asking to use the guitar hanging next to a banjo on the adjacent wall. Then Street proceeded to lay into some solid Dave Matthews Band riffs, and O'Hara -- lead singer for a Los Angeles punk-rock band before taking this gig -- joined in by mimicking Matthews' distinctive voice.

"I don't play during the season," Street said between strums, "because when you play too much, I get too much extension here (pointing to his right shoulder), it tweaks the shoulder a little bit. All it takes is just a little bit, to where you don't have that finish, and all of a sudden the ball stays out over [the plate] instead of falling."

For Street, who also taped some blog segments for MLBFanCave.com, this was a fun way to spend an hour or two before heading over to the ballpark. Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had stopped in a day earlier, and Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is planning to visit early on Wednesday. This has become part of the fabric of a new Major League Baseball season, a center of attention.

"It was really cool," Street said on his way out. "You're almost worried for them at first. 'They're stuck in a cave?' Then you see the cave they're stuck in, and it doesn't seem like they're that stuck. You want to come back because you're enjoying it. We play the Yankees this season and I'll definitely come back."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.