Eight Years Ago Today, Ramon Ortiz Saved The Colorado Rockies


Jun 24, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; General view of Coors Field in the third inning of the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Colorado Rockies. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Eight years ago today, the Colorado Rockies played THAT game. Here’s one guy who I guarantee you don’t remember, but without him, the Rockies don’t win. 

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Yep. Nobody can forget that game. The Colorado Rockies’ 9-8 win over the San Diego Padres in the play-in game to the 2007 playoffs. Winner gets the wild card, loser goes home. The Rockies won.

Speaking of winning… go do me a favor and look at that box score, and tell me the pitcher of record for the Rockies that day. Ramon Ortiz. RAMON ORTIZ?!

Everybody remembers Jorge Julio messing everything up in the top of the 13th inning, giving up the home run to Scott Hairston and putting Rockies fans in a state of panic. Everybody remembers the bottom of that inning, the doubles by Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, the sacrifice fly by Jamey Carroll, that whole thing where Matt Holliday still hasn’t touched home plate.

Few people remember what happened in between those two things — or rather what didn’t happen, which allowed the Rockies to win that game eight years ago today. What didn’t happen between Julio’s blow-up and Holliday’s suspicious slide was a Padres’ blowout. Because Ramon Ortiz came in, faced three batters with the Rockies seemingly down and out of it, got three outs, and quite literally saved the day.

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Ramon Ortiz was acquired by the Rockies in a trade on August 15, 2007. He came over from the Minnesota Twins, in a swap for Matt Macri — an infielder from the University of Notre Dame who would only go on to record 36 big league plate appearances in his entire career (all in 2008).

By 2007, Ortiz wasn’t washed up, but he wasn’t far from it, either. He had already appeared in 248 Major League games — 210 starts — and after his brief tenure in Colorado in ’07, he wouldn’t appear in the big leagues for three more seasons. He ended his career in June of 2013 in San Diego, pitching for the Blue Jays, when he walked off the field in tears after injuring his elbow in a game.

But in ’07 he was already clearly on the down slope of his career, and despite the Rockies having him in their bullpen for six weeks by the time October 1st rolled around, he had thrown just ten times for the club — with no appearances since September 15. Pause and think about that one — Ortiz’s last game pitched was September 15, a 10-2 loss to the Florida Marlins. Starting the very next day, on September 16, the Rockies beat Florida 13-0 and won the first of what would be 21 of the next 22 games in a furious run to the World Series.

Ortiz was involved in none of those games. Except… this one.

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After more than two weeks off, sitting in the pen and watching everybody else on the team pitch in wild win after wild win, knowing he’d be a forgotten free agent come year’s end (he was granted free agency just ten days after the famous play-in game), Ortiz would’ve seen the writing on the wall in Denver. His future was not here, not on this team, the club with young stars like Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Ubaldo Jimenez, Garrett Atkins, Troy Tulowitzki. This ball club that was creating a youth movement that could (theoretically) win for a while.

But Ortiz was also a veteran for a reason; you don’t start more than 200 big league games by accident. And he kept himself in good enough shape and focus so that when October 1 rolled around, and the Rockies blew through nine pitchers in the 13 innings before Ortiz was called to warm up, he was ready. Emotionally, he came in at the lowest point in the Rockies’ game — arguably, since Denver fans were now emotionally invested in the team more than ever before, Julio’s 13th inning blow-up may have been the low point in the Rockies’ 2007 season. When Ortiz pitched in that game, very few people took note.

It’s only human nature to have ignored Ortiz’s outing, after all. I mean, think about it. Go back to you, the you of October 1, 2007, and try to remember where you were in the top of the 13th inning. Like my parents, in the second deck in right field for the game. Or me, in college in a small town in North Carolina, yelling at the TV at midnight. You were likely thinking one of two things: Damnit Jorge Julio, I HATE you, or perhaps I can’t wait to see what happens in the bottom half of this inning. We’ve gotta have some magic left.

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Nobody — don’t lie about this, you weren’t thinking this either — nobody saw Ramon Ortiz jog out of the ‘pen with the Rockies down two runs in the 13th inning and thought oh good! Ramon Ortiz is here now! Problem solved, we’ll be fine. The Rockies weren’t fine. Ortiz could’ve given up ten more runs, and it wouldn’t have mattered because the Rockies already weren’t fine.

Only with everybody’s mind focused on the recent past (Julio) or the prospective near future (Hoffman and Holliday), Ortiz did exactly what he should have done, despite being a nobody in Denver. Despite a two week lay-off in the ‘pen. Despite waiting in the cold for over four hours as nine other guys were called out of the ‘pen before him.

Look, Ramon Ortiz doesn’t deserve canonization for his inning of scoreless work with the Rockies down two runs, and he certainly wasn’t the most important pitcher that night. Many other guys could’ve theoretically stepped forward and completed that game. It would’ve been nice if Jorge Julio hadn’t, ya know, blown up in the first place.

But Ortiz’s critically important role in arguably the Rockies’ most important and nationally visible game gets too consistently overlooked. Remember, Julio allowed a single after Hairston’s home run and before Clint Hurdle removed him in favor of Ortiz. Had Julio stayed in, who knows what would’ve happened next. But Ortiz came in, after more than two weeks in the ‘pen with no action, and did his job like a pro.

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There are a lot of nice memories from the fateful game eight years ago today. This will always be my personal favorite, though. Without Ramon Ortiz doing what he did with such efficient anonymity, we’d remember this day very, very differently.

On a full count, with a runner on first base (thanks, Jorge Julio), Ortiz struck out Adrian Gonzalez. Then, on an 0-1 count, he induced Khalil Greene to fly out to left field. And after throwing ball one to Morgan Ensberg, Ortiz got him to pop up to shallow left. Ten of the most forgettable pitches you can imagine, by one of the hundreds of insignificant, short-term players to put on the Rockies’ uniform since 1993, and just minutes later the club’s going to the playoffs.

Look, I get it. There were about 30 guys more important to the Rockies that year than Ramon Ortiz. The team had superstars, and budding superstars, and significant role players, and decent starters, Dragon Slayers, even halfway decent relief pitchers. And for the last six weeks of the year, they also had Ramon Ortiz.

Ortiz isn’t a hero in the sense of how we usually see athletes as heroes. He didn’t throw a gutsy 130-pitch complete game on short rest, he didn’t hit the game-winning walk-off home run, and as far as I know, he didn’t overcome some personal family/health/whatever struggle to make his on-field accomplishments eight years ago that much more impressive and/or meaningful.

But Ortiz — and really, guys like Ortiz — is part of the weird fabric of this game that inexplicably bonds all of us together, from players, to fans, to writers, and, yes, Twitterers. (Tweeters?) We love the super stars, the everyday starters, the hot shots and must-see players that make must-see plays. But we (maybe we? at least I) cheer harder for the anonymous reliever, the struggling utility player, the guy on the margin hustling to stick somewhere, anywhere.

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I don’t know what Ortiz is doing now. I can guess the Rockies are relatively low on his list of baseball memories, though. He was in Denver for six weeks. He started hundreds of games for the Anaheim Angels (including a game in the 2002 World Series that he won!). This play-in game may well have been just another game for him, one more jog out to the mound in a professional career that lasted two decades and left him just on the right side of .500 (87-86) when the dust settled on his final day walking off the field in June of 2013.

Different paths cross at seemingly random times, though, and Ortiz’s veteran consistency met the Rockies’ biggest moment in history on October 1, 2007. Top of the 13th inning: over. Damage: contained. Enter: Hoffman. Save: blown. Home plate: still not touched. Call: doesn’t matter, safe anyways. History: made.

Winning pitcher in the most important game in Rockies’ history: Ramon Ortiz.

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