The Colorado Rockies spent 38 days in first place before the trap door swung open that sent them plummeting to the most disappointing season in their history.
Colorado committed $273 million to contracts last offseason, including deals that locked up young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. They kept Jorge De La Rosa in purple pinstripes and added Matt Lindstrom to their powerhouse bullpen.
All of this created expectations both inside and outside Colorados clubhouse that the Rockies would win their second pennant and maybe even hoist their first World Series banner.
Instead, they went 73-89.
The Rockies starting rotation imploded after ace Ubaldo Jimenez showed up ill-prepared for the rigors of the season after skipping winter ball and taking a European vacation just before pitchers and catchers reported to their new spring training digs in Phoenix.
Jimenez, the NL starter in the 2010 All-Star game, didnt win his first game until June, and by then, the Rockies new ace, De La Rosa, had gone down with a torn ligament in his left elbow that required Tommy John surgery.
The hard-throwing lefty hopes to be back by the middle of next year, providing an anchor to a rotation that will be led by Jhoulys Chacin and include Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, two prospects who came over from Cleveland in the Jimenez trade in July.
From poor pitching to a lack of timely hitting, the Rockies cratered under the weight of heavy expectations in 2011.
Yeah, I say they were too much, Tulowitzki said. You look at our record and what we did this year, and it wasnt very good. People had high expectations, so it was too much because we were not very good.
But I dont believe were far away. I believe there are some pieces and young kids in here with talent who, if they figure it out, can really help us.
Manager Jim Tracy decided to bring back all his coaches as he enters the final season of his contract in 2012, but the roster could be in for a major makeover.
The Rockies need a corner infielder and a corner outfielder who can provide some power at the plate.
While first baseman Todd Helton had a resurgent season, nobody else lived up to expectations.
Second and third base were sinkholes most of the summer, and center fielder Dexter Fowler struggled until late in the season when the Rockies fate already was decided.
Third baseman Ian Stewart, who avoided arbitration by signing a $2.3 million deal last winter, got hurt in the first spring training game and never was the same hitter hed been in years past. After averaging 17 homers over his previous three seasons, Stewart didnt go deep at all in 2011, hitting just .156 over 48 games and spending most of his season in the minors trying to locate his lost swing.
The Rockies finally shored up second base when they traded for Oaklands Mark Ellis, but he likely will test the free agent market if Colorado only offers him a one-year deal this winter.
By the time September rolled around, instead of playing meaningful games, the Rockies were playing prospects such as Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco, two players who could help reshape next years roster.
There will be no Rocktober this year because Colorado couldnt get the crucial hit when it mattered most, especially at home, where they went 38-43 a year after winning 52 times at Coors Field.
Some of that magic in our ballpark, it just wasnt there because we couldnt get the hit, Tracy said. You couple that with the fact that the two top guys in your rotation ... by early May, one was not performing, and the other was out for the year and will go into some of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, youre basically then to the point where youre pitching with four young guys in your rotation.
Tulowitzki said he likes the teams foundation, but theres a lot of refurbishing that needs to be done.
I think position-player wise we have some pretty special pieces here, he said. I think pitching is where we really faltered this year. It would be nice to get someone in here who really made an instant impact. I think if you were to go up to our pitchers and to a man they would say they didnt perform above what was kind of anticipated. Thats tough.
Having De La Rosa get hurt really hurt us, trading Jimenez to kind of go young at that time set us back. There were some things that really gave us no choice but to feel like things were going in the wrong direction.
Jason Hammel went 7-13, and Aaron Cook went 3-10.
I speak for everybody when I say it was a very disappointing season, Hammel said. We had high expectations that we didnt even come close to.
They also had a near tragedy on the mound when hard-throwing rookie right-hander Juan Nicasio was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Washingtons Ian Desmond that broke his neck Aug. 5.
Im lucky. The ball hit me right there, said Nicasio, who pointed to his right temple. A lot of people who have that injury dont live.
Nicasio recently had his neck brace removed, and his goal is to be pitching again by spring training, although there is no blueprint. Team trainer Keith Dugger noted there is no known previous case of a professional baseball player suffering or coming back from a fractured C-1 vertebra, an injury thats usually associated with automobile or diving accidents that usually leave victims paralyzed or dead.
Many felt the Rockies would be battling the Giants for playoff positioning over the final weekend of the season. Instead, both were looking up at the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks, who went from worst to first under manager Kirk Gibson.
Baseball is a weird game, Pacheco said after the Rockies 6-3 win in San Francisco on Wednesday kept them from the ignominy of a 90-loss season. You have to play 162 games; its a long season. You never know whats going to happen.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.