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Cook's perseverance pays off with tonight's start

DENVER - Trips to Boston serve as fitting bookends to the story that is Aaron Cook. Last week he joined the Rockies at Fenway Park for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, and certainly that visit was a reward for the perseverance he has shown in his career.

The other trip to Boston? It came in the winter of 2006 when he received the Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, an honor that paid tribute to the spirit and determination that sits at the heart of this 28-year-old righthander.

Back in 2004, Cook left a game against the Cincinnati Reds, complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with blood clots in his right shoulder that had spread to his lungs. Not only was the season over, but so, too, were there fears that he'd never pitch again, though never did Cook focus on that. He said he always had faith he'd return, that he put his trust in God. "I believe that God has a plan for us all," said Cook.

If so, the plan was for Cook to deal with even more turmoil in his life, because after working through those blood clots to become a key member of the team's pitching rotation in 2005-06 and its Opening Day starter in 2007, the righthander in August was sidelined with an oblique injury. At 8-7, Cook was forced to the disabled list, but if he needed any more motivation to get back, he got it from teammates who caught fire and went on a late-season tear to earn a wild-card spot in the playoffs.

"I've been working my butt off even with the injury to my oblique," said Cook, whose commitment will be rewarded with a start in Game 4 of the World Series tonight at Coors Field. "It's very gratifying. I never gave up. I kept looking forward to having a chance to pitch in the postseason, and here it is."

Cook was not on the team's active roster for either the National League Divisional Series, nor for the NL Championship Series, and some have wondered how ready he'll be. After all, he hasn't pitched since Aug. 10, a reality that leads skeptics to suggest the team seems to be bowing to sentimentality and rewarding Cook for his dedicated service to the organization since 1997.

Manager Clint Hurdle dismisses such fears.

"If it was all about sentimentality, he would have had pitched in the League Championship Series," said Hurdle. "We want to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time."

And tonight is the right time.

"The rust? I'm not worried about that," said Cook, who is 36-35 and 4.47 for his career. "I'm here, so we'll go out there and compete and I think I'll be fine."

Baseball fever

Always, this mile-high city with the big-market passion and small-town feel is awash in orange, its love of the Broncos unquestioned. In recent years, the Avalanche have secured a good piece of the fan base and some down years made it tough for the Rockies to seize the public's attention.

"You were threatened to be beat up six years ago if you had a Rockies shirt on," said Hurdle. "I know for a fact, because I was threatened several times. 'What are you doing with a shirt?' [people would ask] and I'd tell them, 'I'm the coach. I've got to.' "

Fast-forward a few seasons and it's amazing how much difference a National League pennant can make, especially one that was produced in such a shocking manner. The town, Hurdle concedes, has come full circle. No one is suggesting that orange has been replaced by purple as the city's official color, but surely it's everywhere.

"We've done the Super Bowl thing and we've had a team win the Stanley Cup. This [World Series] puts a third sport into play," said Hurdle, who related some personal experiences that have made this trip so enjoyable. "The cul-de-sac I live on, when we got back from Starbucks, there was a tailgate party [going on]. They had 'Hurdles Homeys' T-shirts made up, 30 kids and the barbecue pit going, balloons and streamers. My world? It's past sky-high."

Clearly in a fog

In last night's Game 3, Josh Fogg was making his third start against the Red Sox. He was the winning pitcher in June at Fenway when the Rockies beat the Sox, 12-2, and had a no-decision back in 1995 when the Sox edged the visiting Pirates, 6-5, but he didn't make much of an impression this time around. The 10 hits and six runs allowed in just 2 2/3 innings means that Colorado's three starting pitchers - Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Fogg - combined for numbers that tell a grim story for Rockies fans: 11 2/3 innings, 23 hits, 14 runs, 7 strikeouts, 9 walks. They threw 261 pitches, 149 for strikes, just 57 percent. With an 11.81 ERA, it's the worst starting pitching in a World Series since the 1984 Pirates went 0-3 with a 13.94 ERA . . . The Red Sox apparently enjoy this NL starting pitching, because if you take the four-game sweep of St. Louis in 2004 and these three games, the Red Sox have scored 32 runs in 28 innings against seven starters who have recorded an 0-6 mark and 10.29 ERA . . . Their starting pitching shelled, the Rockies' bullpen has been overworked. Jeremy Affeldt has pitched in all three games, as has Matt Herges . . . Fogg became the first starting pitcher to yield 10 hits in less than three innings since San Diego's Andy Ashby did it in a 9-3 loss to the Yankees in 1998.

New look

Heralded rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was moved into the No. 2 spot in the order in an effort to jump-start a stagnant offense, but he went 1 for 4 . . . Hurdle also replaced Willy Taveras (on a 1-for-18 skid in the postseason and hitless in Games 1 and 2 in Boston) in center field with Cory Sullivan. As leadoff hitter, Taveras had gotten on base once in eight at-bats in Games 1 and 2. Later in the game, Taveras lined out to second base as a pinch hitter . . . Garrett Atkins, who knocked home 111 runs during the regular season, has but one in the playoffs. Though he got on base three times (two walks, hit-by-pitch), Atkins was up with the tying run on first in the seventh, but struck out, then he flew out to left in the ninth . . . Rookie Seth Smith had a pinch-hit single in the fifth and is now 7 for 12 since being called up from the minors in September . . . Matt Holliday's three-run blast in the seventh was his fifth home run of the postseason and he's got a team-high 10 RBIs.

Jim McCabe can be reached at

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