Memorable Rockie Francis calls it a career
DENVER -- Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Jeff Francis would stay up past the end of postseason games. To him, the champagne-sprayed celebrations were even more special than the baseball.
Francis walked into a dream in 2007 with the miracle Rockies, who, in the process of winning 21 of 22 games, bathed themselves in celebration after a tiebreaker, the National League Division Series and the NL Championship Series. Francis, who went 17-7 during that regular season and 2-1 that postseason, was a major part of creating the occasions to celebrate.
"That was always one of my favorite parts of watching playoff baseball," Francis said Tuesday from his London, Ontario home. "To go through it three times, it was like a recurring dream for us. You got to act like a child.
"It was special to be able to be a champion -- I know we didn't win it all, but that was a team that came together, even though I don't know what was expected of us. We did special things in dramatic fashion. We felt unstoppable. It was almost as if the drama was too much to think about. Looking back, I'm sure there was a lot of pressure, but I don't think we felt it. We just rode a wave and took it as far as we could."
Francis, 34, who went 72-82 over 11 seasons with six teams, is retiring. He finished his career with 14 relief appearances this past season for the Blue Jays (1-2, 6.14 ERA). But the left-hander is remembered best for the early part of his career with the Rockies, who drafted him in the first round in 2002 and watched him help the franchise to its greatest moments.
Francis pitched for Colorado from 2004-10 and 2010-13. He ranks third in club history in wins (64), second in innings pitched (1,066) and fourth in strikeouts (742). Francis was at his best from 2005-07, when he went 44-32 with a 4.65 ERA and 401 strikeouts as a group of homegrown players developed into a squad that reached the 2007 World Series before being swept by the Red Sox. A shoulder injury limited him to 24 starts in 2008 and cost him the '09 season. Francis also pitched for the Royals ('10), Reds ('14), Athletics ('14), Yankees ('14) and Blue Jays ('15).
Francis, whose final season was highlighted by earning two saves and being a part of Canada's gold medal team in the 2015 Pan American Games, goes down as a rare successful pitcher who came up in the Rockies' organization. But overcoming the hitter friendliness of Coors Field and explaining it are two different things.
"I don't know how to answer that question," Francis said. "What I was able to do, what Aaron Cook did, what Jorge De La Rosa is doing and what Jason Jennings did before us, it's hard to do. Not many have done it more than two years in a row, including me. I don't know if there is an answer."
Still, Francis is a beloved figure in Denver.
"It's a special place," Francis said. "I spent the bulk of my time there. It was at times an up-and-down career, but to have the time in Denver playing in the World Series, and playing for a team that grew up together, that's pretty satisfying."