PHOENIX -- When Jeff Francis reminisces about the hours leading up to his first Major League start, he vividly remembers Rockies manager Clint Hurdle delivering a message to "respect everything, but be in awe of nothing." Three years later, Francis finds himself preparing to stand on a stage much greater than the one that he stepped upon at Turner Field that evening. It's one that could produce damaging awe. But at the same time, it's one that definitely could allow Francis to gain some widespread deserved respect. When the Rockies and Diamondbacks begin the National League Championship Series at Chase Field on Thursday night, Francis will find himself thrust further into the national spotlight. Whether he gains further respect will be determined by how he handles his nerves and the task of besting reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb.
"There is a big difference between regular-season and playoff baseball, especially on the road," said Francis, who has been given the assignment of pitching the first NLCS game in Rockies history. "People are yelling at you and the crowds are loud, obviously." While Diamondbacks fans are going to be roaring while watching their team compete in the NLCS for the first time since their 2001 world championship season, it might be hard for them to be any crueler or intimidating than those Philadelphia fans, who were subdued while watching Francis limit the Phillies to two earned runs and win Game 1 of last week's Division Series in enemy territory. Obviously, Francis didn't allow the awe of his first career postseason start affect him that afternoon, and the familiarity he has of the Diamondbacks may help relieve tension as he looks to lead the Rockies to an important win in their quest to turn an improbable regular-season finish into the organization's first world championship. Francis has made 14 career starts against the Diamondbacks and managed to go 7-2 with a 3.54 ERA in those games. In his seven career starts at Chase Field, the 26-year-old Canadian southpaw has gone 4-0 with a 3.24 ERA. "Maybe I've just gotten a few breaks here," said the humble and soft-spoken Francis, who has actually allowed just one earned run in the past 15 innings -- two starts -- that he's completed in the Diamondbacks' lair. Unfortunately for Francis, he didn't gain enough breaks when he last faced Webb and the Diamondbacks on Sept. 28 at Coors Field. While he surrendered four earned runs and seven hits in six innings that evening, the reigning Cy Young winner distinguished himself as the only pitcher who has beat the Rockies since Sept. 15. Without much surprise, Francis' nemesis that evening was Conor Jackson, who delivered a two-run, third-inning homer. In 23 career at-bats against the southpaw, the Diamondbacks first baseman has seven hits, and four of those have been homers. "It was one of those games where mistakes get magnified," Francis said. "I made a couple of mistakes and ended up losing the game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.