Midweek Morosi: Giants-Rockies a budding rivalry to believe in

If Tuesday night's thriller was any indication (and it sure looks like it was) we're in for a whole lot of fun between these clubs -- right up until the end of the season.

Looking for excitement? You'll find it whenever the Giants and Rockies square off this season.

Justin Edmonds / Getty Images North America

DENVER — The Giants and Dodgers, with their roots in New York during the National League’s nascent years, claim the West Coast’s preeminent baseball rivalry. That isn’t about to change. But at least in 2014, the greater entertainment value — and competitiveness — belongs to another series within the division.

The Rockies and Giants illustrated that Tuesday night, in a 3-hour, 33-minute thriller fit for September. The Rockies took the lead early, fell behind, tied the score, watched their closer give up the go-ahead run in the ninth, and finally won with a flourish. Nolan Arenado, the uncannily smooth 23-year-old, prevailed in a seven-pitch at-bat against Sergio Romo, the vexing closer who threw the final pitch of the World Series two seasons ago.

Romo moved ahead of Arenado, 1-2, and then threw four pitches that could have resulted in a game-ending strikeout. Arenado fouled off the first, took the second, fouled off the third and then rocketed the final one off the top of the wall in left. Troy Tulowitzki scored the tying run. Carlos Gonzalez scored the winning run. The Rockies improved to 26-20, two games behind the first-place Giants. And true baseball fans paused to consider our good fortune: These teams play another 12 games this season.

Giants fans can’t hate the Rockies the way they despise the Dodgers. There is neither the history nor the inherent geographic animus. In one sense, that makes the growing Giants-Rockies rivalry all the more enjoyable. This week at Coors Field, it’s about baseball, period.

So when Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning and barked angrily into the Rockies’ dugout, tensions didn’t escalate beyond that. The Rockies saw Bumgarner’s response for what it was — a manifestation of the competitiveness that has helped the Giants win two of the past four World Series.

“Everybody knows they’re really tough,” Gonzalez said. “They play really smart baseball. They’re really clutch. If you see their lineup, there’s not a lot of damage — not a lot of guys that hit like Tulo, .380, .390. But it seems like every guy in that lineup always comes out big. That gives you a lot of motivation. The Dodgers have a really good team, but the Giants, they always play really good baseball.”

On Bumgarner specifically, Gonzalez said, “He’s a guy who likes to compete, and he shows emotion when he’s frustrated — even when he’s going good. He’s going to battle. I don’t mind when I see guys like that. It kind of gets me going, because that’s the beauty of the game. He’s a great competitor. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

A perfect answer, really. The Rockies can’t mimic the Dodgers’ glitz, but they can emulate the Giants' grit. And, of course, they can hit. They can really hit, with a team OPS of .840. Tulowitzki is again one of the best players in the sport, but top-to-bottom depth is the lineup’s greatest strength. D.J. LeMahieu, who batted eighth on Tuesday, is hitting .296.

“That’s the unique thing about this lineup: There’s no one the other teams can feel good about pitching around,” veteran Justin Morneau observed. “Everyone’s a threat.”

The Rockies’ offensive numbers are staggering, but, within their clubhouse, there’s talk of less tangible factors behind their fast start. Michael Cuddyer, a perpetual winner during his time with the Twins and one of the game’s most respected players, said the Rockies have developed a “belief system.” Since some of our readers may question the verifiability of such a term, I asked him to elaborate. Naturally, he obliged.

"At the risk of sounding like one of those pompous athletes, you really can’t know unless you’re in the clubhouse,” Cuddyer said. “You can’t quantify it. There’s no equation you can put together. Unless you’re there, and with it, and around it, you can’t describe it.

At the risk of sounding like one of those pompous athletes, you really can’t know unless you’re in the clubhouse. You can’t quantify it. There’s no equation you can put together. Unless you’re there, and with it, and around it, you can’t describe it.

Michael Cuddyer

"The only way I can say, is when you truly believe in yourself and believe in each other, you have that confidence. Confidence in baseball is No. 1. There’s nothing that replaces confidence.”

That same quotation could have come from a member of the Giants in 2010 or 2012, when they toppled more talented teams in October and sprayed champagne after the last ballgame of the year. Those Giants won with pitching, a more reliable course than the Rockies’ slugging method. But the Rockies have been good students. They’ve observed the Giants’ professionalism, as if attending a master class during each of their 19 meetings per year. And now it looks as if the Rockies are ready to win. We’ll know for sure when the Giants make their final trip to Denver this season ... conveniently scheduled for September.

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