Wednesday, January 8, 2014

San Diego vs. Denver in the Postseason

After going through the Indianapolis-Boston playoff history prior to this weekend's Colts-Patriots game, let's also take a look at San Diego vs. Denver. The Chargers head to Mile High to face the Broncos in the first playoff game between these two AFC West foes. While it's also the first Big Four playoff meeting between the two cities, there have been two close calls in the form of a one-game playoff.

In 1974, the ABA had two divisions of five teams, with the top four in each division making the postseason. With only the last-place teams missing out, you could still make it even if you were really bad. That was the case in '74 when the San Diego Conquistadors and Denver Rockets tied for the fourth spot at 37-47.

The Conquistadors pulled off a major acquisition before the season, signing Wilt Chamberlain to be their player-coach. His NBA team, the Lakers, sued to keep him to keep him from playing and won, meaning that Wilt could only coach for San Diego. He was unenthusiastic in that role, one time even skipping a game to do an autograph signing.

The tiebreaker game would be played in Denver and despite being the road team, the Conquistadors beat the Rockets 131-111 to claim the final playoff slot. San Diego hung in with the division champion Utah Stars in the first round with two wins, but the Stars won in six games.

It was the final game for the Denver Rockets as they'd change their name to the Denver Nuggets before joining the NBA two years later. The Conquistadors days in the ABA were numbered. After changing their name to the Sails, the team folded 11 games into the 1975-76 season.

The other one-game playoff is much more well known. On September 15, 2007 the Colorado Rockies were four and a half games behind the San Diego Padres in the N.L. Wild Card standings with only 14 games to play. Then they went on one of the greatest closing stretches ever, winning 11 straight during a 13-1 run to pull into an 89-73 tie with the Friars to set up a winner-take-all game in Denver.

Padres ace Jake Peavy took the ball for San Diego. In '07 he led the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP while winning the Pitching Triple Crown and was a unanimous Cy Young choice. He was roughed up in this big game though as he was touched for two runs in the first inning before Yorvit Torrealba and Todd Helton added solo homers in the second and third, respectively. Josh Fogg wasn't very good on the hill either for Colorado. He served up a grand slam to Adrian Gonzalez in a five-run third inning and departed in the fifth trailing 5-4.

The Rockies rallied off of Peavy with a run in the fifth to tie the game and another in the sixth to move back in front. It stayed 6-5 until the eighth when Brian Fuentes, four outs from closing out the victory, gave up a tying double to Brian Giles. Great relief work from both teams (Heath Bell, Doug Brocail and Joe Thatcher for San Diego, Manny Corpas and Matt Herges for Colorado) kept the game even through 12 innings.

The Padres broke through in the 13th. Giles led off with a walk against Jorge Julio and the next batter, Scott Hairston, belted a two-run homer that made it an 8-6 game. Handed a two-run lead, the great Trevor Hoffman came in for the bottom of the 13th to close it out.

But these Rockies saved their greatest comeback for last. Kaz Matsui opened the inning with a double and Troy Tulowitzki doubled him in. Matt Holliday followed with a triple to tie the game and send Coors Field into a frenzy. The RBI was his 137th of the season, breaking a tie with Ryan Howard for the league lead. With nobody out and the winning run at third, Hoffman intentionally walked Helton to bring up Jamey Carroll.

His sacrifice fly brought home Holliday with the winning run (or did it?) and the "Rocktober" miracle surge continued. They ran through the Phillies and Diamondbacks as they reached the World Series on a historic 21-1 tear. They fell short in the World Series, however, when the Red Sox swept them in four games.

With San Diego and Denver finally playing in a Big Four postseason, these are the only NFL division-rival cities that haven't played each other in the playoffs in any of the Big Four sports:

New Orleans-Tampa
New Orleans-Charlotte

Come on pick it up, Souths.

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