|As a rookie in 2005, Willy Taveras hit .333 as the Astros lost the World Series. Now with the Rockies, he's hoping for the same individual success, but a different result. (STAN GROSSFELD/GLOBE STAFF)|
Taveras quickly has gotten back on stage
He is in just his third full season in the major leagues, so it would seem incongruous to characterize 25-year-old Willy Taveras as a veteran of anything. But Taveras is the ranking member of the two World Series veterans - catcher Yorvit Torrealba being the other - on Colorado's youthful roster.
While Torrealba was on the San Francisco Giants' roster in the 2002 World Series, Taveras had the advantage of having played in a World Series when he was a rookie outfielder with the Houston Astros in 2005, hitting .333 (5 for 15) with a pair of doubles and a triple in four games against the champion Chicago White Sox.
"It's fun to be in the World Series again," said Taveras. "I guess it's a dream."
While he has counseled his inexperienced teammates to soak up as much of the atmosphere as they can, Taveras never imagined he would get back to the World Series so quickly after being traded by the Astros to Colorado last season.
"I spoke with Cecil Cooper, who is managing now for the Astros, and we keep in touch," Taveras said before last night's Game 1 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. "He told me how lucky I was to be in my second World Series in three years in the big leagues. He said he knew a ton of Hall of Famers who had never got a chance to even be in one World Series and here I am in my second one. So I guess I'm real lucky to be in my second World Series."
Taveras was fortunate in more ways than one.
Before the Rockies won 13 of their last 14 at the end of the regular season to force a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres for the National League wild card, there was some question about Taveras's availability for the postseason. He sat out the last 21 games of the regular season after he aggravated a right quadriceps injury while stealing a base against the Padres Sept. 8.
When the Rockies swept the Phillies in their best-of-five Division Series, Taveras was not on the roster. Instead, he remained in the Instructional League on an extended rehab assignment.
"I was feeling better," the center fielder said. "But when they were on that winning streak, I was running and doing my treatment. I was working every day, but I wasn't ready until I went to the Instructional League for the first round.
"So we sat down and spoke [with Rockies officials] and [determined] if I was ready for the second round, then I would be there. So I was able to get on the roster and contribute in the National League Championship [Series]."
There was nothing subtle about the contribution Taveras made in Colorado's 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks in Game 2 at Chase Field. Making a catch that showcased his speed and ability to cover all fields, Taveras tracked down a Tony Clark fly ball, sprinting from left-center to near right, to make a diving catch in the seventh inning of a 2-1 game that prevented Arizona from pushing across the tying run.
"That was huge," said Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. "That was like a punch in the stomach to the Diamondbacks. They were trying to claw their way back when that happened. Again, our defense showed why we were the best; anybody on the team defensively can make a great play. Willy's unbelievably fast out there and a gifted center fielder, and so for him to do that play was huge for our team."
It was overshadowed by the bases-loaded walk Taveras drew in the 11th off Arizona reliever Jose Valverde to score Spilborghs with the deciding run.
"When we got Willy back, we were a better team, there's no doubt," said Spilborghs, the designated hitter last night. "I mean, you got a guy who steals 30 bases every time, every year, and he has all those bunt hits [a league-leading 37], and that puts a lot of pressure on a defense. And then when he's in the outfield, he's great. He's able to catch those balls like Superman. He's able to run down those balls and make catches most guys can't."
Clearly, Taveras showed no signs of rust after coming off rehab.
"I was working real hard and I was running real hard before that to make sure that my leg was OK," Taveras said. "And, actually, it was OK for the first game in Arizona. When I ran a lot to catch that ball, people who watched me knew I was running pretty well."
Taveras gives the Rockies a leadoff hitter with the dangerous combination of speed to turn a bunt into a single and the World Series savvy to do it in games that matter.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.