*Disclaimer!* This story takes place in a world without COVID-19, where the 2020 baseball season happened as normal. Everything following is fictional (as far as we know).
Trevor Story [shortstop, Colorado Rockies]: Well, jeez, I guess it all started with Monfort.
On February 1, 2020, Rockies owner Dick Monfort was interviewed by Denver Post reporter Kyle Newman about his expectations for the Rockies’ 2020 season.
Kyle Newman: Yeah, it was a weird interview. Him [Monfort] and the Rockies had been in the news in the last few days, ‘cause him and Nolan Arenado were disagreeing over the direction of the Rockies in 2020. Nolan said something about feeling disrespected. Except Monfort and [Colorado general manager] Jeff Bridich couldn’t just trade him, ‘cause he had this opt-out in his contract, which meant they weren’t going to get a good return if they tried to trade him. So things were tense for a while. And then they sent me to go interview the Rockies’ owner. I wish I’d known what I was getting into.
Jeff Bridich [General Manager, Colorado Rockies]: Yeah, Dick can be a little… intense sometimes. He’s a very methodical guy, and he doesn’t always like explaining those methods to people. Something about “big doings” and “trade secrets,” those are his standard lines when he wants someone to leave him alone. Until 2020, I didn’t exactly figure there was much point in being so guarded. Like, we lost 91 games in 2019. Who’s trying to steal our trade secrets??
Newman: So I went to Monfort’s office. No one responded to my knock, so I let myself in and the place was pitch-black. I swear, that room was absorbing light. I tried the flashlight on my phone and it didn’t work. Then this… voice comes out of the darkness. Sounded like someone rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. It was just the word “interpolate,” repeated over and over again.
Bridich: Oh yeah, “interpolate.” That’s his favorite word. It showed up on his word-of-the-day calendar one day and he just never stopped saying it. Whenever he didn’t like the coffee in the break room, he’d talk about how he could interpolate better coffee. Whenever the internet slowed down in the office, he’d tell IT to go interpolate it and make it work again. It was just a quirk, I thought. I guess there was something to it after all.
Newman: Man, I’d never been more scared in my life. I was backing toward the door, and when I started backing out a piece of paper came floating out of the darkness. I grabbed it and never looked back. Man, that gave me the creeps.
Scott Monserud [sports editor, Denver Post]: So I’d sent Kyle out to go get some straightforward, boilerplate non-analysis. You know, something easy and digestible, where the owner says something about, like, having a really great group of guys who he believes can scrap their way to the postseason if things break right. And if whatever useless waiver claim they made in February can “perform to our standards” or whatever. I don’t even know why people bother reading it, it’s the same thing every offseason. But read it they do, so we churn it out. And then Kyle busts into my office looking like he’s one loud noise away from a heart attack. He shoves this scrap of paper in my face and runs out of there. Like, he actually ran. I never saw him again.
Newman: Like hell am I going back there. They need to warn people before they send them into places like that. See if I ever work for a newspaper again.
Monserud: So this paper’s just got “interpolation 94 wins Rockies 2020” on it. The word “interpolation” was written a few more times in the margins. What in the world am I supposed to do with that? Newman wasn’t answering his phone, so I made some creative assumptions about the content of the interview and published the story. Everyone laughed at Monfort, some snarky baseball people wrote some snarky baseball articles about the thing and that was that.
Fast-forward to the end of Spring Training 2020. The Colorado Rockies have just finished their final game of the spring and are sitting in the clubhouse trying to cool off and unwind a bit before packing their things and leaving for their opening series.
Raimel Tapia [outfielder, Colorado Rockies]: I’m sitting in front of my locker doing everything I can to cool off, at least a little bit. Why the hell do they make us play games in late March out in Arizona? At least the Diamondbacks get to close their roof during, like, August. It must have been 95 out there. Can’t we play in like, northern California? Or Montana? Somewhere with a decent climate? I can’t even imagine playing in Florida. Anyway, I’m sitting there and the GM walks in. And immediately I’m like, uh oh.
Bridich: I’d been talking with Dick about what we needed to do to make the team, uh, as good as possible in 2020. We promised Nolan [Arenado] we’d try to win, and we needed to keep our fans happy. We owe it to our fans to put a quality product on the field, and Dick had some ideas about how we could do that. They were… unconventional. Definitely unconventional, I’d never heard anything like what Dick had in mind. But I was desperate to win, and Dick wanted to win, and I wanted to keep my job. And I walked into that clubhouse and did what I had to do.
Tony Wolters [catcher]: So the general manager walks into our clubhouse, after a spring training game. That is impossibly weird. And what was weirder, he had this, like, axe with him. It was huge, and it had these, like, runes on it. And I swear I saw Babe Ruth’s face carved into it. And I thought the GM was gonna do a pep talk about next season. Like he was gonna get a crash test dummy with a Dodgers jersey on it and cut it up or something. Now that I think about it, that would have been pretty neat. Damn, I really want to see him do that now.
Tapia: That clubhouse went silent. We could see the sweat on Jeff’s face. I saw tears in his eyes. And then…
Eyewitnesses claim that Jeff Bridich walked up to [second base prospect] Brendan Rodgers’s locker and put a hand on his shoulder. When Rodgers turned around, Bridich cut his head off with the ceremonial axe. Then he turned to the rest of the team.
Bridich: I could see that the guys were pretty upset. I really can’t blame them. There was blood everywhere, Brendan’s body was twitching all over the place. His head had rolled to the middle of the room. [Outfielder Charlie] Blackmon stood up, but I told him to sit down again. Then I explained. You see, when baseball players and writers talk about the baseball gods, they’re not speaking idly. The gods are real, and they demand sacrifices. Every time a player on your favorite team breaks out- that’s a sacrifice. How do you think Max Muncy became one of the best hitters in baseball a couple years ago? Max freaking .973 OPS Muncy, All-Star Max Muncy? Does that sound like a normal thing that happened naturally, free of divine intervention? I didn’t think so. Someone got blood-sacrificed to make that happen. But basically, Monfort had figured out the exact price of a 94-win season for the Rox, and that was a promising young prospect at a premium position. To be blunt, Brendan Rodgers. People figured we were gonna finish around 72 wins or so again, so we needed to make a prime-O sacrifice to get all the way to 94. We’ll just say he tore his ACL or something and “send him down to AAA.” Guarantee you no one ever thinks about him again.
Nolan Arenado [third baseman]: I was definitely surprised by what Dick and Jeff decided to do, but seriously, how else were we supposed to win 94 that year? If you think you can get the Rockies to 94 wins without some kind of ritualistic blood sacrifice, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
The season got underway, and by the All-Star break, the Rockies were in second place in the National League West. They were 52-38, on pace for exactly 94 wins.
Antonio Senzatela [pitcher]: Yeah, I can’t explain it. Well, I mean I can, but you know what I mean. Injuries happened less often, and when they did happen, they healed really quickly. Like, [pitcher] Jon Gray had this, like, really gnarly oblique strain or something he got, and that’s supposed to put you out of commission for a long time. Obliques are tough, man. I don’t think anyone on our training staff even knows what they are or where they are, and whenever some player stubs his toe or gives himself carpal tunnel from playing too many video games, PR reports it as an oblique problem. I think they want our guys to avoid embarrassment. Anyway, Gray’s got this oblique problem or something, and usually he’d be out for months. And he misses one start, and shows up next week ready to go. Threw seven innings, never got hurt the rest of the way.
German Marquez [pitcher]: And my arm felt unbelievable, seriously unbelievable. I tacked two miles per hour onto my fastball, and my slider was so heavy. No one could touch me. For the first time in history, a Colorado Rockies pitcher was invincible.
Ian Desmond [utility]: It wasn’t just player health, it was balls in play. Bloops fell in, fly balls carried further. And it seemed like the opposite was happening to the other teams.
David Dahl [utility]: I remember [manager] Bud [Black] had me out in left one day, I think it was in May or something. Beautiful day outside, like, it was really something. We were hosting the Padres, I remember, and Manny Machado’s up, and so of course I’m playing back. I remember [pitcher Ubaldo] Jimenez was on the mound- I don’t know why we signed him, not even the sacrifice could save his season. He got cut in June with like a 7.50 ERA. Anyway, he serves up this total meatball to Manny and Manny just crushes it. I mean, my God. I looked at the exit velo on that ball between innings. 110.4 MPH off the bat, would you believe. And a 27-degree launch angle. This ball is going 470 feet deep. And then this ridiculous wind kicks up out of the stands, we’re talking hurricane-level wind speeds. My hat blew all the way out to shortstop, I had to get it back from Trevor after the play. And the ball just dies on the track. I backed up, did a little bunny hop and caught it. One out. And then the wind went away, and everything went back to normal.
Tapia: Just crazy stuff like that, all season long. I slugged .550 on the year, that’s how crazy it was. Our team BABIP was over .350. The only thing keeping us from a perfect record was our bullpen.
Wade Davis [reliever]: Yeah, apparently it’s some kind of in-joke among the baseball gods. Or something. Colorado’s bullpen always has to be terrible. We get to have a couple decent relievers every now and again, but it’s apparently some kinda universal, unbreakable rule. I used to be like the best reliever in baseball! Seriously! I’m like the third-biggest reason why the Royals won it all a few years ago. But like, frankly though, I’m cool with the whole joke thing. We’re winning and I’m getting paid to play baseball. Just because my ERA’s over eight doesn’t mean I’m a bad pitcher, it just means I play for the Rockies.
The Rockies coasted through the rest of the season and finished 2020 with a 94-68 record, thanks to the incomprehensible eldritch powers of the baseball gods. Bud Black won Manager of the Year, Nolan Arenado won a Platinum Glove, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon were MVP candidates and Antonio Senzatela finished fifth in Cy Young voting. The Los Angeles Dodgers won 112 games, however, so a Wild Card game was in order. And suddenly the Rockies’ season was in trouble.
Jeff Bridich: Well, of course the baseball gods’ power doesn’t extend to the postseason. The postseason is something unholy, an abomination that not even the baseball gods have control over. We were going to have to play a playoff game without divine intervention, at our true talent level.
Trevor Story: Well, it’s obvious why the gods can’t mess with the playoffs. What sense does it make to play only five games in a series to decide which team is better? That’s just insane, you can’t get a sense of actual talent in five freaking games. The true postseason solution is to play a best of, like, seventy. Then you’ll know the loser deserved it. You might say something unhelpful like, I dunno, it’s baseball, isn’t it? Why don’t the baseball gods do something about it? The answer is that postseason baseball isn’t baseball. It’s Russian roulette, in a super-elaborate disguise. There’s no skill, no design- only chaos.
Bryan Shaw [reliever]: You want to have your faith in the game destroyed? Rewatch the 2006 World Series. Read about the 1987 Twins, who allowed more runs than they scored and won the World Series. Postseason baseball is completely awful and sacreligious, so the gods don’t touch it. Take your “clutch,” take your “mystique,” take your “Mr. October” and shove it. Postseason baseball is nothing but endless collisions of random particles, and it’s inevitable that sometimes those particles spit out a Kirk Gibson home run or an Edgar Martinez double by accident. We had a 50/50 shot against the 92-win Reds at Coors, even though we were playing at our true 72-win talent level. And damn, we felt good about it. The gods weren’t on our side, but they weren’t on anyone’s side. They never are, at least in the postseason.
The Rockies managed to beat the Reds at Coors, 7-4, in a completely nondescript baseball game. Nolan Arenado and Garrett Hampson homered, Antonio Senzatela provided six serviceable innings. Wade Davis gave up a home run in the top of the ninth, but that was normal and nothing to be concerned about. And the Rockies moved on to the NLDS.
Raimel Tapia: Okay, so now we have to play the Dodgers. And a lot of the guys are thinking like, okay, we had a great run. That talk about how anything can happen in a five-game series is great and true and all, but like… L.A. won 112 games. Mookie Betts had a 9.6-WAR season. Cody Bellinger repeated as NL MVP. Kenley Jansen found his 2017 cutter again, Will Smith became an All-Star, David Price was a Cy Young runner-up. Clayton Kershaw pitched 215 innings and won the thing for the fourth time. We have three All-Stars and one pitcher who’s a good number-two starter when he’s not getting bailed out by blood sacrifices. There was some gloom in the clubhouse.
Jeff Bridich: Honestly, I was ecstatic with our season. The national media was freaking out over how Dick was able to predict a 94-win season for this squad. Like, the only change we made to our 71-win team during the 2019-20 offseason was signing Jose Mujica. Don’t look him up, the point is that you’ve never heard of him. To the rest of the baseball world, a 94-win season was totally unprecedented. Of course, we knew differently. Even when we lost, and we were so totally going to lose, our 2020 season was an incredible success.
Nolan Arenado: I guess that’s why we play the games.
Game One went fairly predictably. The Dodgers threw Clayton Kershaw on seven days’ rest against Peter Lambert, who had muscled his way into a third-starter role with a completely improbable 3.91 ERA campaign. Unfortunately for the Rockies, Clayton Kershaw cannot help who he truly is any more than Peter Lambert cannot help who he truly is. The Rockies lost 12-0 on a Kershaw two-hitter.
Bud Black [manager]: Then Game Two happened. It was another pretty unremarkable game, except we won. Trevor [Story] jumped on [Walker] Buehler in the first with a home run, we strung together some more hits, [starting pitcher] German [Marquez] held them to only a couple runs through seven, and our bullpen couldn’t completely blow it. We won 5-3. And then we did it again the next night, 6-1. The Dodgers were on the ropes, and we were holding them there.
Daniel Murphy [first baseman]: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Dave Roberts’s face when he’s writing a lineup in a game against a left-handed pitcher, but it’s a sight. One eyebrow goes up, the other goes down and vice versa. Then both go up, then both go down. Then Roberts takes a couple of Advil. Repeat at least three times, and I guarantee there will be no left-handed hitters in the starting lineup. Even the pitcher will be right-handed. Doesn’t matter who the opposing starter is- as long as he’s left-handed, that’s what Roberts’s lineup will look like.
Dave Roberts [manager, Los Angeles Dodgers]: Yeah, that’s the great thing about having the kind of positional flexibility we have on this ballclub. I really like to play the percentages, and it’s important to have a couple of impact guys available off the bench in the later innings. That’s why I felt really, uh, really good about sitting Cody [Bellinger], Max [Muncy], Corey [Seager], Joc [Pederson] and Gavin [Lux] in an elimination game against Kyle Freeland. It’s a strategical gamble. Sometimes those don’t work out.
Black: So Davey skipped David Price’s turn in the rotation to pitch Ross Stripling, who had a platoon advantage at the plate against Kyle. It was… definitely an interesting decision. But I think the real turning point in this game came in the seventh.
Ernie Johnson, Jr. [TBS sportscaster]: So Kyle Freeland is rolling, he’s given up one run through six and a third. The Rockies are up 3-1, but the Dodgers have the bases loaded and no one out. Chris Taylor’s up, but he’s struck out twice today. Roberts pinch hits for him and brings in… Joc Pederson, who has some of the very worst platoon splits in baseball history.
Roberts: Joc had a couple of hits in the series, I wanted to ride the hot hand. I felt good about it.
Joc Pederson [Dodgers outfielder]: I had a couple of hits off of righties, OFF OF RIGHTIES. I had no business being in that batter’s box. I hate facing lefties. Have ever since I was a kid, when there’s like one left-handed kid per Little League team. I guess I just never got used to it. Like, you’ve got the NL MVP on the bench. You’ve got two All-Stars [Muncy and Lux] and a solid offensive shortstop with Seager. Why the hell do you put me in? Anyway, I struck out on three pitches. I probably could have struck out in five, but I was feeling spiteful. I wanted people to really rip into Roberts for this one. God, I hate facing lefties.
Trevor Story: And then Roberts brings in Muncy to hit for Stripling. And on the first pitch he chops a perfect double-play ball right at me, like you couldn’t draw it up any better. I was just drooling waiting to field that thing. Honestly, it felt like time slowed down a little there, and I wondered if the baseball gods were still on our side. And then we rolled it up, inning over. Roberts brings in Adam Kolarek to face down Charlie [Blackmon] and we win 18-2. NLCS, here we come.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s magic carpet ride had to end somewhere. The Rockies went to St. Louis and got obliterated by the Cardinals in five games. Despite the loss, players and management were optimistic about the season and the future.
Nolan Arenado: Yeah, I think we had a great run. I know we had a great run, and Dick and Buddy and Jeff absolutely showed me that they’re prepared to do anything it takes to win. I’d say I can see myself wearing Rockie purple for the foreseeable future. Or is it Rocky purple? Rockies purple? Someone should clarify this.
Jeff Bridich: I really feel like we accomplished something with our 2020 season. It didn’t end with a ring, but no one thought we were gonna go to the postseason either. It was an incredible ride all the way, and call it a hunch, you know, I have a funny feeling we’ll do really well next year too.
Garrett Hampson [exciting young prospect, Colorado Rockies]: Yeah, can’t wait for next year. Really excited to help the team, any way I can.