The Colorado Rockies once again walked off with a victory when it looked like they had been beaten. On Wednesday night the victim was the Cincinnati Reds, a team who stormed into Coors Field winners of their last seven ball games, now they are hoping to salvage the day game on Thursday in order to avoid being swept.
On Wednesday night the hero was Seth Smith, but he was really only the ninth inning hero.
The real hero was unheralded number five starter Jason Hammel.
Hammel pitched brilliantly, meticulously carving his way through the Reds lineup. He was pitching with a pace that seemed to put the Rockies defense back in the dugout just moments after they had stepped onto the field. After giving up a first inning double to Paul Janish, Hammel held the Reds hitless until the eighth inning.
He gave up back-to-back doubles to start the eighth, which led to his departure after 98 pitches. Unfortunately for Hammel, Rafael Betancourt gave up the third double in a row, tying the game and eliminating Hammel from factoring in the decision.
Despite picking up the no decision, Hammel won the confidence of the clubhouse and the fans with his performance. Known for his struggles at Coors Field, Hammel rose to the occasion, outpitching Bronson Arroyo and doing exactly what his job as a fifth starter is, to keep his team in the ball game. In all Hammel threw 7-1/3 innings, giving up three hits, all doubles, while striking out a season-high eight and walking just one batter. Hammel got 11 outs via the ground ball to only three fly ball outs.
After Hammel’s departure the Rockies picked up right where they left off, finding a way to scratch out a big win.
The Giants had lost earlier in the day to the Padres so a win would extend the Rockies Wild Card lead to four games, a lead puts San Francisco in a spot where they are going to really play well down the stretch to catch the Rockies, especially considering how hot the Rockies have been.
After a Scott Rolen bullet home run to left field, giving the Reds a 3-2 lead, the Rockies sent the bottom third of their lineup to the plate to face Reds closer Francisco Cordero. Cordero proved to be too much for Yorvit Torrealba, ending his 16 game hitting streak, but then with two strikes, Clint Barmes lined a ball down the left field line for a double.
With Jason Giambi pinch hitting in the pitcher’s spot, Cordero clearly wanted nothing to do with giving up a walk off blast to the lefty with more than 6oo career home runs. He walked him on four pitches, sending to the plate pinch hitter Ryan Spilborghs, who proceeded to walk on four pitches. Carlos Gonzalez, one of the Rockies hottest hitters over the last month strolled to the plate knowing that with one out, a sacrifice fly would tie the game.
Gonzalez could not get the ball in play, however, striking out and leaving the game up to Smith. After fouling off four fastballs, Smith hit a hard grounder up the middle that gold glover Brandon Phillips could not handle. If Phillips at least gloved the ball, the Rockies would have only scored one run, but since the ball trickled away, it allowed Jason Marquis, pinch running for Giambi, to score from second base.
The game was another classic example of how this Rockies team is not the type of team that sits back and waits for its hero to deliver. Each member of this team seems to have made a special play at some point in the season that secured a victory for the club.
On Wednesday night, with a four-game lead over San Francisco on the line with a win, Jason Hammel stepped to the mound and kept the Rockies in the game long enough for the offense to take control of the game and win it. His effort put the Rockies in a place where instead of watching the scoreboard every night, they can now focus on winning as many games as they possibly can.
Every win makes it that much more difficult for the Giants to crawl back into the race. If the Rockies were simply to play .500 baseball over the final 24 games, the Giants would need to go 16-8 over their final 24 games, which would only tie them for the wild card lead.
The Rockies can simply focus on picking up as many wins as they possibly can down the stretch and finishing off the Giants.