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Morales can help Rox to World Series

Morales can help Rox to World Series

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DENVER -- After Franklin Morales completed an impressive inning during July's Futures Game, there was little reason for him to realize he was just three months away from realizing a much greater opportunity, one that he and anybody who has ever stood on a pitcher's mound has dreamed of since childhood.

When Morales steps on the mound for the Rockies in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Coors Field on Monday night, those 17 starts he made for Double-A Tulsa at the start of this season will seem like a distant memory.

With a trip to the World Series just one win away for him and his Rockies teammates, the 21-year-old left-hander's full attention will be focused on the Diamondbacks lineup and recreating the success that he enjoyed during the regular season's final few weeks.

"It doesn't matter where I pitch, Minor Leagues or big leagues," Morales said through an interpreter. "I just keep my focus and I keep doing what got me here."

The Rockies have won seven of the nine games Morales has started this year, and if they're able to grab another victory on Monday against the D-backs, the city of Denver will celebrate the franchise's first trip to the World Series.

Having won 20 of their past 21 games, the Rockies have momentum and history on their side. The 2004 Red Sox are the only team since the LCS went to a seven-game format in 1985 to overcome the 3-0 deficit the Diamondbacks encountered after losing Game 3 on Sunday night.

Despite the fact that Morales has made just nine starts at the Major League level and will be the youngest pitcher since C.C. Sabathia in 2001 to start in the postseason, the Rockies enter the game filled with confidence.

"Franklin obviously has a lot of good stuff," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "He's young like a lot of other guys on our team, and that hasn't bothered us yet."

Morales will be the first pitcher to pitch in the Futures Game and start an LCS game in the same year. Francisco Rodriguez (2002) and Joel Pineiro (2001) made relief appearances in an LCS game during the same year that they pitched in the Futures Game.

The Futures Game, which has been annually played during All-Star festivities since 1999, pits the Minor League's top prospects against each other. During this year's game, Morales registered three strikeouts and completed a scoreless inning.

"He's been impressive for a guy that pitched mostly at Double-A this year," Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday said. "To come up to the Major Leagues and to have the impact that he's had ... Obviously, without he and Ubaldo [Jimenez], we probably wouldn't be here."

With an effective fastball and improving offspeed repertoire, Morales made a rapid rise to the Majors. Since his arrival on Aug. 18, he's proven that he can compete at the game's highest level. In eight regular-season starts with Colorado, he was 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA. Those numbers certainly were enhanced during his final four starts, in which he went 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA and limited opponents to a .147 batting average.

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"He has a short, quick arm," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think he's got some deception. So I look for him to be in real good form tomorrow night. I think it's an opportunity that he's going to embrace. I think he learned a lot from his first opportunity in postseason play."

Morales' first postseason start came in Game 2 of the Division Series, during which some nerves might have played a part in the fact that he surrendered three earned runs in just three innings against the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins touched him for a leadoff homer in the first inning and added a two-run triple in the second inning.

"He's going to be a little fidgety," Hurdle said. "But I thought that game maybe he was just a little over-fidgety than what we've seen. And I think it was a good lesson for him to learn to just be yourself and don't let the circumstances around you dictate how you're going to pitch."

Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton also participated in this year's Futures Game. Thus, he's the only Arizona player who has participated in a game in which Morales has pitched this year.

Whether Morales' deceptive delivery proves successful in his first career matchup against the Diamondbacks remains to be seen. But Hurdle has seen enough from his young hurler to know he has the potential to be effective against anybody at this level.

"From my history as a hitting coach, sometimes it can present some complications or some challenges," Hurdle said of facing a pitcher for the first time. "But when it comes down to the bottom line, the pitcher has to make pitches."

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

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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
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