D-backs face mile-high challenge

D-backs face mile-high challenge

DENVER -- When faced with daunting circumstances, people in sports, and all walks of life, are proverbially encouraged to "play it as it lies."

That should be no problem for the Arizona D-backs, who don't know any other way. They are a collective lie.

In fact, it may be appropriate to update that famous remark, alternately attributed to former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain, that there are three kinds of lies in the world:

"Lies, damn lies and statistics."

National League 2007 version: "Lies, damn lies and D-backs."

There is a reason having to fight back from an 0-2 National League Championship Series deficit, beginning with Sunday night's Game 3 at 8:37 p.m. ET, doesn't vex the D-backs. They've been playing from a hole all season.

They've certainly been batting from one. It isn't just their NL-low .250 batting average, familiar to everyone by now. You would assume that to be a burden overcome by truckloads of other baserunners and, most importantly, getting those few hits when they mean the most.

You'd be wrong, because the D-backs were also last in the NL in on-base percentage (.321) and batting with runners in scoring position (.249). About the only things in which they were first were wins, and place in the West Division.

"I can't really explain any of that," Arizona manager Bob Melvin confessed during Saturday's off-day workouts in Coors Field. "The only thing I can explain is, we take it day-to-day and 90 times out of 162 we were timely enough. I really don't know how to answer the question that would support those numbers."

Four more times out of five, and the D-backs would complete a comeback managed by only 20 percent of the teams in their current predicament.

"Guess we've got to win it in six now, huh?" Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds had mused bravely following the 11th-inning, 3-2 loss in Friday night's Game 2.

Emphasizing his team's resolve and resilience, D-backs outfielder Eric Byrnes said Saturday, "This is a team that's scratched and clawed for everything that we've gotten all year."

Byrnes went on to echo his manager's viewpoint: "This is a team that's pretty much defied baseball logic, and nothing's come easy, and we don't expect this to come easy."

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The D-comeback road will begin Sunday night, under the guidance of postseason veteran Livan Hernandez, who will oppose the Rockies' Josh Fogg.

Coming back from 0-2 is difficult enough. Since 1985 -- when the LCS switched to a best-of-seven format -- 17 teams have fallen behind 0-2. Only three of those teams came back to win the series: the Cardinals and Royals in 1985 and the Red Sox in 2004. It should be noted too, that those three teams all lost the first two games on the road.

Extending the handicap to historical lengths, including World Series, only 13 of 66 teams facing the deficit have rallied to win.

"The overall spectrum of it looks daunting," Melvin agreed, "but I think we've been pretty good about going game to game. And that's just basically the way we have to look at it and the way we've looked at it all year."

But the D-backs face a compounded challenge to come back on a team riding a 19-1 wave.

"We've got to think about winning one," said Arizona first baseman Tony Clark, alluding to his teammates' narrow focus. "Not thinking about two, three or four."

Even in pieces, the thought of Colorado losing four of its next five games after having dropped only one of the last 20 seems discouraging.

"I'm sure you guys are all probably writing us off," Byrnes said in addressing the media. "I don't blame you. We haven't done a whole lot to make you guys think we're going to win this series.

"But I think we're a good team. I also don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't. Not even close. "

The NLCS will now shed some degrees but perhaps gain some wattage. Denver game-time temperatures are forecast in the 50s, about 30 degrees lower than the Phoenix norm. But the relative cool won't chill the suddenly zealous Rockies fans, who have stormed the bandwagon in the tracks of the team's phenomenal streak.

Rally caps: 0-2 deficit not insurmountable
In postseason history of Major League Baseball, 66 teams have faced an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series, with only 13 of those clubs coming back to win the series.
Year/Series Winner Loser Games
2004 ALCS Red Sox Yankees 7
1996 WS Yankees Braves 6
1986 WS Mets Red Sox 7
1985 WS Royals Cardinals 7
1985 NLCS Cardinals Dodgers 6
1985 ALCS Royals Blue Jays 7
1981 WS Dodgers Yankees 6
1978 WS Yankees Dodgers 6
1971 WS Pirates Orioles 7
1965 WS Dodgers Twins 7
1958 WS Yankees Braves 7
1956 WS Yankees Dodgers 7
1955 WS Dodgers Yankees 7

Denver, a baseball town? Right now, so help John Elway, that is the reported case, assisted by the Broncos' slow start. During the regular season, the Rockies out-drew the D-backs by a mere 51,000 -- yet another department in which the teams are incredibly close. But Coors Field denizens have been a wild-and-crazy bunch through the chaotic stretch, the Wild Card playoff and the Division Series clincher.

"Everyone's played there more than enough. We're familiar with the park and the players," said Arizona outfielder Jeff Salazar. "It'll be a lot of fun. The fans will be crazy there.

"We just have to keep doing what we've done so far. There's no need to change. Just hope things turn our way."

The D-backs and Rockies, along with the long-gone Angels, were the only teams in the 2007 playoff field who had losing records on the road.

The Rockies clearly aced that test with two methodical nights in Chase Field. Now it's the D-backs' turn to prove road-worthy.

The historical perception is that the offenses will click in the Mile High City's ballpark. Two games in Arizona produced a total of 11 runs, many of them of the scratch variety. No long balls, no sustained rallies.

Coors Field could jolt both lineups. The D-backs, trailing despite having out-hit Colorado in both games (9-8 and 9-7), look forward to that one key hit able to unleash their attack. The Rockies look forward to hitting off Hernandez, whose opponents' average of .308 was the third-highest among 75 Major Leaguers with 10-plus wins (ranking ahead of only Scott Olsen's .315 and Mike Mussina's .311).

"But he steps up when he needs to and makes a big pitch," Melvin reasoned. "But this guy's earned this, he pitches his way out of jams and he's done that his whole career. The confidence this team has in him, the track record in the postseason, his track record as a big-game pitcher would suggest he's going to get some leeway with runners on base out there on the mound."

The Rox have the luxury of being able to anticipate breaking out of a batting lull -- while looking for their 20th win 21 games.

"It's very exciting. There's no doubt about it," said Colorado veteran Todd Helton. "But we realize there's more work to be done. It's a good ballclub over there. They're going to come out battling. But we're excited to be in the situation we're in.

"Denver's going to be a crazy place this weekend, and we're excited to go home and keep playing the way we've been playing. But we still have work to do."

Either the Rockies will work over the D-backs a little more -- or Arizona will go to work and make them put in some overtime.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.