DENVER -- Normally, by this time of the year, Todd Helton is in full decompress mode. As the first baseman of the newly crowned National League champions said, "My whole career, I've played on one winning team. And we ended up with only 82 wins that year [in 2000]. So this is all different." "This" means that a string of down days in the middle of October isn't the onset of the offseason, just an extended rest stop prior to the start of the World Series.
Being an NL champion on ice also means having more than idle interest in the ongoing Championship Series of the other league. It means watching ALCS games with a discerning eye, scouting your ultimate opponent, whether that turns out to be Cleveland or Boston. "I'm definitely paying closer attention," Helton said Friday afternoon, prior to joining his teammates in an elaborate workout at Coors Field. "Just because we haven't seen those guys that much. "I watch the pitchers, especially the relief pitchers to see what they do when they come in with men on base." Most of Helton's teammates have been equally attentive. "That's a great series," said outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. "Those two teams are playing really good ball, and Boston is especially a fun team to watch. It's nice to be able to sit back and watch and think, 'One of these guys are going to be playing us.'" "I definitely watch for what their hitters try to do," said Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. "I look for what they try to do with certain pitches. It's just obvious that I'd be watching differently at other times." As for expressing any preference for their next victim ... er, opponent ... forget it. That would be a certain way of furnishing both potential foes with bulletin-board fodder. This is the case with the Rockies, despite the significant difference that they played the Red Sox in June, but have not engaged the Indians in Interleague Play since 2005, when both squads were dramatically different. "I'm not going to say I rather play one or the other," Helton said. "They're both really good teams. Pick your poison.
"But, mentally, it helps that we had some success on that field [Fenway Park]. We know that we can win at that place."The Rockies, in fact, called out the Red Sox in that June 12-14 series in Boston. Not only did they take two-out-of-three (one of only four three-game series that Boston lost at home all season), but they manhandled Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett on consecutive days. The Yankees (Aug. 29-30) were the only other team able to beat the two right-handers back-to-back. In that series' rubber match, Jeff Francis showed up Beckett. Both pitchers went five innings, but the Colorado lefty blanked the Red Sox for a 7-1 victory as the Rockies touched up Beckett for 10 hits and six runs. "They're still a pretty good hitting ballclub," Francis said. "Either way, we'll have to do our homework." "Both teams are great," Tulowitzki said. "Either one, we'll have our work cut out, but we'll be ready." "Just because we played them doesn't mean we know a whole lot about them," Colorado right fielder Brad Hawpe said of the Red Sox. "I'm sure we'll have some video on whoever it turns out to be, and they'll have it on us. Right now, I'm sure they're worried about each other, not us. "My preference? The Rockies, that's my preference," Hawpe added. "I do watch their games a little differently. I'll catch myself thinking, 'Hey, we'll be playing one of these teams.' I watch for what guys like to do, how they handle pressure situations. "In the past, I'd watch as a fan, with a favorite team in mind. Now, I'm watching with us in mind."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.