Friday, August 14, 2009

Rockies Nearly No-Hit, Almost Win

The Colorado Rockies knew that they had a tough task on Friday night in Florida when they were slated to face Marlins ace Josh Johnson.

Coming into the game Johnson was 11-2 on the season with a 2.92 ERA. Going back to 2008, Johnson has won 18 of his last 21 decisions. This kid may be the best pitcher in the big leagues that no one has ever heard of.

While the Rockies knew that they would have a tough task ahead of them, they never saw this one coming. Johnson was nearly flawless, taking a no-hitter two outs into the seventh inning. Johnson looked like he had a good chance of completing the feat, keeping control and velocity all the way into the late innings.

With no one on base and two outs in the seventh inning, Garrett Atkins, playing first base for the resting Todd Helton, worked the count to 3-1. The next pitch looked low and away, but home plate umpire Mark Wegner called it a strike, running the count full. It looked like a tough break for the Rockies until Atkins launched the very next pitch deep down the left field line, ending the no-hitter and shutout with one swing of the bat.

While the Rockies were facing an ace, they countered with their starter who is struggling the most, Jason Hammel. Hammel has not been able to find his control over his last three starts. On Friday night he minimized damage, but still could not find the strike zone.

Hammel struggled through just four innings, giving up three runs on six hits. He struck out three, and walked four. One of those walks came in the second inning when Johnson was at the plate with a runner at first base. Johnson was clearly looking to sacrifice, but Hammel would not let him make an out, walking him on four pitches.

Adam Eaton did a good job in relief for Hammel, shutting down the Marlins for two plus innings before giving up a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, making any sort of comeback difficult for the Rockies.

In the ninth inning Troy Tulowitzki, intent on remaining hot, smoked a pitch from Marlins reliever Rich Donnelly to straight away center field. At 434 feet, the center field wall at Land Shark Stadium (Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphin Stadium, whatever you want to call it) is one of the longest center fields in the league. The ball hit off the wall and Tulo cruised into third with an easy stand up triple.

Tulowitzki's triple sparked a rally in the ninth, as Garrett Atkins reached on an error and then Ian Stewart hit a pop up that hit off the glove of diving shortstop Hanley Ramirez. That prompted Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez to go to the bullpen with the tying run on deck.

With two outs Chris Iannetta knocked a three run home run to make the score 6-5, Todd Helton pinch hit and flew out to center field to end the game.

The game is tough to swallow for the Rockies as they had a chance to gain another game on the Giants in the Wild Card race, and let the Marlins get within two games of their lead.

The silver lining for the Rockies is that they never quit. Earlier in the season, this same Rockies team would have quickly folded and waited for the next day instead of trying to scratch and claw their way back into the game. Even being down 6-1 going into the ninth the team continued to fight and made the game close.

Close is not good enough, however, when the playoffs are on the line.

The Rockies will look to regain their form on Saturday, with the return of Aaron Cook to the mound. With the humidity of Miami, Cook's sinker should be tough to hit.

Colorado simply needs to wash this one off and chalk the game up to facing a good young pitcher who may have had the best stuff that he has ever had. The bats need to be ready to return as the Rockies have their ace on the mound.

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