Game 163

Game 163: The Epic ’07 Wild Card Tiebreaker, and the Rockies Team That Went to the World Series

From Kevin Cook, author of Ten Innings at Wrigley, Tommy’s Honor and Electric October:

“A fun, fascinating deep dive into thirteen unforgettable innings, Denny Dressman's Game 163  delves into front-office maneuvers, clubhouse chemistry, umpiring, groundskeeping and all the other factors that decide baseball seasons—even hitting and pitching. Rockies fans will love Dressman's sketches of Tulo and the Toddfather and be tempted to add "Gags" Gallego to the Mile High pantheon. Anybody who follows the game will enjoy this smart, heartfelt, often funny book—the latest proof that there's no better story than a great ballgame.”   

From Terry Frei, author of 77: Denver, The Broncos and a Coming of Age, Olympic Affair and numerous other titles:

“Denny Dressman long has been a respected voice and leader in Colorado's journalism and literary communities. So, his terrific Game 163 is no surprise. The Rockies' 2007 run down the regular-season stretch to the World Series was the damndest thing I've ever witnessed in decades of covering Denver sports and Dressman more than does it justice. His decision to make the dramatic play-in game against the Padres the pivot (not the sole focus) of his book was risky, but ultimately rewarding. Time after time, you'll go, "I didn't know that." His narrative is democratic -- little "d" -- with all from eventual Hall of Famers, managers, utilitymen, executives and umpires having their time in the spotlight. As he has in his previous books, both sports-oriented and otherwise, Dressman doesn't settle for a serviceable rehash. You don't have to, either. (And by the way, on the issue of whether Matt Holliday touched the plate...)“

From Denny Dressman’s Author’s Note in Game 163:

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is the history.”

The quote from Bill Klem at the beginning of this book—“It ain’t nothin’ till I call it.”—and the quote above from Jim Abbott are the best I could find to capture the classic nature of the 2007 season’s Game 163 between the Rockies and Padres. And the speakers are representative in themselves.

Bill Klem was a major league umpire (National League) across five decades, from 1905 to 1941, and is known as “the father of baseball umpires.” He worked a record 18 World Series, and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted posthumously in 1953.

Holder of the major-league record for ejections by an umpire with 251, he once said of the pressure of umpiring: “Most baseball fans... feel that these verbal and physical public humiliations [umpires endure] go in one ear and out the other. Well, they don’t. They go in one ear and go straight to the nervous system, eating away coordination, self-confidence and self-respect.” Perhaps this explains why Tim McClelland, when he retired, told the Des Moines Register, “I’m putting baseball behind me.”

Born without his right hand and a stub of forearm just below his elbow, Jim Abbott nonetheless became a part of baseball history, just like 2007’s Game 163.

Tucking his glove in his armpit as he threw, then quickly putting his left hand in the glove to be ready to field his position, Abbott pitched for four teams in a 10-year career—the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers—and won 87 games. (He also lost 112.) He was an 18-game winner for the Angels in 1991 and threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993. (He also lost 18 one year with California.) His earned run average was as low as 2.89, when he won 18, and 2.77 the next year, when he went 7-15. Yet the year he lost 18, it was 7.48.

In short, his decade in the major leagues had as many highs and lows as the 13-inning marathon between Colorado and San Diego on October 1, 2007.

Writing about a baseball game more than a decade after it was played has its advantages and its disadvantages.

The advantages are that everyone who was involved (and will talk about the game) is far enough removed from the moment that they speak freely and openly. And in most cases, they have vivid recollections—particularly if the game was memorable, as with Game 163 between the Rockies and Padres.

The disadvantages are finding those people, and reaching them to gather their memories, after they’ve moved into private life, or at least are no longer associated with the Rockies or Padres. (Not all who were contacted responded, and some who did declined to be interviewed.)

As for the many who graciously and generously revisited the game, their revealing words within this book speak for themselves. (And, as often is the case, the best stories come from unlikely sources.) Those words, though, don’t capture the friendliness and enthusiasm they all communicated as they answered question after question. Nor do they, in all cases, include personal stories that made writing this book even more fun.

One of my favorites came from pitcher Matt Herges, whose resolve carried the Rockies from the 10th to the 13th inning. He’s relating a time when he was watching a replay of Game 163 with his son. He’s trying to pass on some wisdom about pitching as they watch his first inning of work. It’s classic “Doas-I-say-not-as-I-do.”

“I’m sitting there with my son, who pitches now in high school. And I tell him: ‘Two outs, 2-0 counts; they kill you. Two-out walks are absolutely never something you can do.’ I’m going over all this stuff, and he’s sitting there, watching the replay, and he says, ‘Holy cow. You just got two quick outs, and you’ve got a 2-0 count on Sledge.’”

Another, revealing the personal side of Rockies ace Jeff Francis, came from Ron Gross, who got to know many Rockies players while directing what he called the club’s comedy commercials for seven seasons.

“Jeff Francis was fantastic. The big Canadian was very interested in filmmaking. He would actually show up and watch us shoot other commercials, which is really rare, just because he was interested in the process.”

I asked each person I interviewed if Game 163 was the highlight of his career in baseball. A couple of responses that did not fit into the narrative are worth sharing here for the broader perspective they provide.

Jamey Carroll, whose liner drove in the winning run, said:

“For me, it’s hard to say. I was fortunate to get to play in a spring training game with my younger brother Wes (against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida). First time that we ever played a game together. He’s five years younger, so we always missed each other in high school and college. We got to turn a double play together.

“I was playing short and he was playing second. We were losing 8-0. It was a bases-loaded double play ball that, in the world, was meaningless. But to me, it was everything.”

And Clint Hurdle, who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates for nine years after leading the Rockies from early 2002 to mid2009, said:

“Two games are etched in my heart, that being one of them. The other was the blackout game we had in Pittsburgh in 2013. We snapped a 20-year losing streakfirst time we had a winning season in 21 years. It was sold out; everyone showed up in black. That was a very significantly impactful game.”

Sportscaster Don Orsillo added still another dimension:

“My first Red Sox game was the Hideo Nomo no-hitter at Camden Yards vs. the Orioles, April 4, 2001. My first game. A no-hitter. Tough to beat that.”

One other realization is worth noting. I found truly remarkable the many connections between opponents in Game 163 who were former teammates, as well as the times during the final days of the 2007 season when two people with shared pasts crossed paths. What a small world professional baseball is!

And can there be any greater irony than Padres manager Bud Black, who 10 years later managed the Rockies to the Wild Card—in his first season in Colorado!

In a Game 163 10th anniversary story, Black admitted to “mixed emotions” then said: “The older I get, the more I appreciate that game, as far as being a great game. I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves, partially because of the two teams, a little bit under-the-market-type teams. What a great game.”

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