Rockies 9, Dodgers 7
News flash: The Rockies just won back-to-back games for the first time since their two-game sweep of the Giants on May 16th and 17th! Man that feels good. And it feels even better because these games featured pitching performances that were not exactly top-shelf. In recent weeks, it has seemed as though nothing less than perfection from our pitchers would secure the win. In these games, the Rockies proved that they can mount an offensive comeback large enough to help a pitcher out when he's having a tough outing. I always knew they could do it, but lately it looked like they didn't know they could. It's so refreshing to see them get back a bit of their confidence.
As we all know, the team's offensive capabilities often stand or fall on the output of Troy Tulowitzki. He's the most talented hitter on the team, which is why he will never hit anything other than clean-up (at least not until he's pushing 40 and the next young superstar is anchoring the team). In Wednesday and Thursday's games, he earned that clean-up spot in a way he really hasn't since I saw him in New York in April. He's a streaky player, but to go nearly two months with long stretches of time between quality at-bats was really too much, and the team suffered for it. They suffer no longer, because Tulo is finally hitting in the clutch again.
The best part about last night's game was that the Dodgers had the lead for most of it, and at one point they significantly increased it. The Rockies stayed in it, though. There was no conceding. They also found creative ways to bring runners across, another thing that's been lacking lately. The surprise clutch player of the game, other than Tulo, might actually have been Jason Giambi. Jim Tracy sent him up to pinch hit in the 7th with the bases loaded and 1 out. Seth Smith was called back for Giambi, so you know Tracy was looking for a grand slam and nothing less. The game was tied, and in my opinion a single or a double from Smith was by far the better bet. But Giambi, instead of swinging away, patiently took a walk, which plated the go-ahead run. MUCH better than a strikeout, which is what we were probably in line for otherwise.
Juan Nicasio took the ball for his third major league start, and it was his toughest by far. He only had 1 inning in which he retired all three batters in order. Through the first 4 innings, however, his only real mistake was the pitch that Matt Kemp hit out of the park. Otherwise, he handled his traffic and kept smoking the Dodgers with his 97-mph fastball. In the 5th inning, things got a little dicier. He gave up a single to pitcher Clayton Kershaw (never okay) with 1 out, and then Dee Gordon singled. Casey Blake grounded into a force out that erased Gordon, so it was the perfect opportunity for an easy flyout to end the inning. Instead, Andre Ethier singled home Kershaw and Matt Kemp tripled to score Blake and Ethier. If Nicasio had gotten Kershaw out, that inning would never have happened. So some rookie mistakes, but his velocity is excellent and he is showing great control, painting the corners of the strike zone like a master.
Rex Brothers came on in the 6th and had a 1-2-3 inning with a couple of strikeouts. He has yet to give up a run as a major leaguer; he's only pitched 2 2/3 innings, but still, I like what I'm seeing! In the bottom of the inning, the Rockies' bats came alive. They were down by 4, but showed some serious fight. Carlos Gonzalez, perhaps finally finding a home in the lead-off spot, singled, as did Chris Nelson (the Rox got a stroke of luck there; Kershaw deflected it, and if he hadn't it might have been a double play ball). Todd Helton walked to load the bases with 1 out. Tulo has frequently hit into double plays in these situations of late, but he took charge and laced the ball to left for a 2-run double. Ty Wigginton followed that with an actual productive out: a ground ball down the first base side that allowed Helton to score. Just like that, the Rockies were within 1.
Of course, then Matt Reynolds came on to pitch in the 7th, and had an uncharacteristically rough time. He gave up a single to Kershaw as well, followed by a single to Gordon. Gordon bunted it, and Morales tried to throw him out from his knees. The ball skipped into the outfield and Kershaw scored. It was one of those "really??" moments the Rockies like to have. As in, "Really? You pull within one run and then you fall further behind on a run scored by the opposing pitcher because of a horrible throwing error? Do you even want to win this game?" The carnage wouldn't stop there. Blake doubled to score Gordon, then moved to 3rd on a wild pitch. (Rockies pitchers have thrown 32 wild pitches this season, good for 2nd in the league behind the Blue Jays, who have thrown 33). Ethier hit a deep fly ball that scored Blake easily. Just like that, the Rockies were down 4 runs again. And it all started with a lead-off hit by the pitcher.
Once again, however, nobody laid down and died. Perhaps their confidence was a function of the depleted status of the Dodgers' bullpen, but this was the same bullpen they faced in three games back in LA, only one of which they managed to win. They faced 4 members of the Dodgers' pitching staff in the 7th inning: Kershaw, Scott Elbert, Mike MacDougal, and Blake Hawksworth. Charlie Blackmon and Jose Morales hit back-to-back singles, and Eric Young Jr. walked to load the bases with nobody out. With Cargo coming up, it was nail-biting time, but he came through with a single that scored Blackmon. Bases still loaded, still nobody out. Chris Nelson struck out swinging for the first out, but then Helton came up and drew a walk that scored Morales. Rockies were within 2. It was Tulo's turn to be clutch again, and he did it, singling home EY and Cargo. Suddenly the game was tied. And then Giambi took that walk, and the Rockies were winning. Blackmon and Morales both got to hit again, and I guess they decided they were tired of this inning, because they both managed to leave the bases loaded. However, this is the kind of inning we've been so used to seeing from the Rockies, and that they've struggled so much to have lately.
Rafael Betancourt pitched a perfect 8th, and the Rockies came back in the bottom inning determined to get some insurance runs. Pinch hitter Seth Smith singled, and Cargo doubled (he's shown a lot more discipline the past few days, which means he's finally getting pitches to hit again). Nelson hit a sacrifice fly that scored Smith. Nobody else would score in the game, but nobody needed to. Huston Street, despite giving up a double to Ethier, saved the game without allowing a run (helped by a truly fantastic defensive play from Tulo).
What a satisfying game. I have restrained from saying perhaps we've turned over a new leaf for a long time now, because every time we have a game like that we seem to follow it up with a terrible one. But this was the second win in a row, and in many ways the Rockies really did look like they had their mojo back. The guys who are supposed to hit were hitting, against a great pitcher like Kershaw. This homestand would be the perfect time to get a winning streak going before they head into interleague play. The division is still well within reach. And the LoDo magic is alive!
Tweet of the Game: I'm stepping outside the Rockies family briefly to bring you the following exchange between my Cardinals friend @rodneyknuppel and me: 6th inning - @rodneyknuppel: "What in the world is wrong with the Rockies offense?" @rockieswoman1: "That's the million dollar question. Nobody knows. If they know they aren't telling." 7th inning - @rodneyknuppel: "See what happens when I question the Rockies offense?" @rockieswoman1: "Yes, would you please do so every day for the rest of the season??" Thanks for the good luck!!