Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rockies Win Another Drama Filled Game, Extend Wild Card Lead

A win is a win. Every win counts the same, but some are larger than others. This one was as big as it gets.

The Colorado Rockies picked up their 86th win of the season, defeating the Padres 11-10 at Coors Field. The win, coupled with the Giants loss in Arizona, gives the Rockies a five game lead in the National League Wild Card race. With 11 games to go, the Rockies should be able to smell the postseason. The Rockies magic number now sits at seven, which could allow them to celebrate a postseason berth before the end of the home stand.

The win, in typical Rockies fashion, did not come without drama. Entering the ninth inning with the lead at 11-6 Juan Rincon was unable to get his fastball across the plate, walking three batters. After getting only one out Franklin Morales was summonsed from the bullpen in the most stressful non-save situation of the 2009 season.

Morales gave up two hits, allowing two of Rincon’s runs to score and a run of his own. Suddenly the Rockies were staring at the tying run at the plate with two outs. Pinch hitter Nick Hundley, the batter at the plate when Morales walked in the game winning run less than two weeks ago in San Diego, tattooed a ball that looked like it was going to tie the game up. Fortunately, the ball was hit right at left fielder Seth Smith, who looked like he had trouble reading it but was able to make the play.

There is no doubt that Rockies fans have the greatest capacity of any fans in the league to hold their breath for long periods of time. Colorado seemingly have a nail biter twice a week.

The bottom line, however, is that the game goes into the win column and the Rockies gain another game in the standings.

A huge highlight of the game came in the seventh inning for the Rockies. Huston Street, out since September 3rd with tendinitis in his right elbow. Manager Jim Tracy made it clear that his first action would not come in a save situation. Street strolled to the mound with a two run lead. He left after throwing just eight pitches, six for strikes, with a strikeout. There was not a spot of rust to be seen on the closer’s golden arm.

While injuries are never a good thing (just ask the New York Mets), the Rockies may have received a blessing in disguise. On August 28th against the Giants, Rockies starter Aaron Cook came out of the game with a shoulder strain. He had been battling a sprained big toe, and throwing through that caused him to overcompensate and strain the shoulder.

Cook has worked his way back and the Rockies announced on Tuesday that Cook will start the opener of the Cardinals series on Friday night at Coors Field.

Cook, along with Street, are now healthy and ready to contribute to the playoff run.

Why were the injuries a blessing in disguise?

Cook has a history of tiring out at the end of the season. In 2007 Cook strained his oblique in early August, holding him out until game four of the World Series. In 2008, Cook’s first All Star season, the red head faded in August and later admitted that he was dealing with a dead arm along with a sore back.

The time off should have been long enough to give Cook’s arm a chance to get fresh again. He will have a chance to start two games before the postseason, allowing him to get sharp just in time for when it will really count.

The same goes for Street. While other relievers have been pitching in high stress situations, pitching on back-to-back days, Street has been resting his arm. The three weeks that Street had off has saved his arm at least 10 innings. While other contenders bullpens are wearing down and having to dig deeper for arm strength, the Rockies have a fresh arm to anchor their bullpen.

If Cook is indeed healthy, as Street proved he is on Tuesday, the Rockies essentially have two additional weapons that they can use down the stretch and into the postseason. That gives them a distinct advantage over teams like the Dodgers, who have had pitchers like Jonathan Broxton pitching almost on what seems like a daily basis. Broxton has thrown 71-2/3 innings so far this season, compared to Street’s 55-1/3 innings.

While looking ahead may be fun for Rockies fans, the focus must remain on beating the teams that they are playing on a daily basis. Being realistic, they need to win five more games on this home stand so that they do not have to worry about trying to clinch the Wild Card in Los Angeles.

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