Rejuvenated Herges' unusual journey

Rejuvenated Herges took unusual path to WS

DENVER -- Matt Herges, 37, was washed up, damaged goods in the offseason.

Next week, that so-called washed-up pitcher will be one of the key relievers for the Rockies in the World Series. Herges went from begging for a job this offseason, to Triple-A Colorado Springs' closer, to one of the reasons the Rockies are the hottest team in baseball history.

"No one else even gave me a sniff," Herges said. "This is the only team that did. Is this chance? I don't think so. When 29 teams say, 'No, we think you're done,' and then the Rockies say, 'We'll give you a shot,' and next thing you know, we're in the World Series, you've got to be kidding me."

Herges has baseball scouts everywhere shaking their heads this October. Last season with the Marlins, he had a 4.31 ERA and went 2-3. It wasn't a season to be ashamed of, but it wasn't good enough to land him a big league job.

The Rockies decided to take a chance, and signed Herges to a Minor League contract with a chance to make the big league team in Spring Training. But after he posted an 8.10 ERA in seven Spring Training games, he started the season with the Sky Sox.

Herges knew to get back to the big leagues that he needed to reinvent himself, a transformation he had been undergoing for several years. In his 20s, Herges was a power pitcher.

"I'm 37 now -- I don't have that in the tank anymore, and I've taken my lumps reinventing my style," he said. "I can't just [use] brute force and ignorance, hurl it in there and get outs. I've got to locate that baby."

It turned out the best location to find his location was in Colorado Springs, where breaking pitches don't break, balls that break foul at sea level stay fair and deep pop flies go over the fence.

Herges spent his evenings huddled by a heater in the bullpen, coming in to close out games throwing a ball that felt like an "ice cube," and he excelled. He had a 1.27 ERA in 32 games and was selected to play in the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game.

"That's the toughest place to pitch on the planet," Herges said. "That being said, it made me better. It flat-out made me better. It shouldn't take that. It shouldn't take extreme conditions, but it did."

When Herges got called up July 3 -- his second stint with the Rockies after two games in April -- he almost had it easy. Pitching at a Mile High doesn't seem so bad after Colorado Springs. His breaking pitches broke. Foul balls stayed foul. And Herges was pitching better than he ever had in his career.

In August, he went 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA, and the Rockies started to trust him in pressure situations.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle has called on Herges in some of the Rockies' biggest games this season. He pitched a season-high three scoreless innings -- all in extra innings -- in the Wild Card tiebreaker victory against the Padres Oct. 1. He pitched three scoreless innings in the National League Championship Series, including two innings in the series-clinching 6-4 victory on Monday.

"I think it all stems from confidence," Herges said. "When you get the ball in a tight situation and you continue to get that ball in a tight situation, you have no choice but to be confident, because that's just the manager telling you, 'I believe in you.'

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"Being an undrafted free agent initially, saying, 'There's no guarantee, we need a spot in Short-Season [Class] A' and now all this stuff, I've had to prove myself every time out. And I still have that mentality, because I know if I have a bad outing, I may not get called on again."

Herges had battled with a lack of commitment from his manager and from teams throughout his career. He would come into a game and strike out the side, then go nine days without pitching. This offseason, he almost retired because no one even wanted him to pitch at all.

"There have been times when I go home and I talk to my wife and I say, 'I do not understand what's going on,'" he said. "A lot of frustration, a lot of frustrating times.

"You never know what kind of favor you're going to have with your manager. You just hope when he gives you the ball, you can't panic, you can't stress, you have to do everything you can to impress him, to get the ball again, because all we want is to get the ball."

Herges has the confidence of the Rockies and his manager now. And next week he'll be pitching in the World Series, no longer a has-been, but as a 37-year-old pitching wonder.

"We would not be here without Matt Herges," pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. "When he came up the last time, it was for good, because he just showed the character in him that he was willing to go down to Triple-A, come back here and he knew it was either succeed or go home again. Talk about being under the gun, he was under the gun. He has been a delight and been a fabulous teammate."

C.J. Moore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.