Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rockies Win, Increase Wild Card Lead

Finally, a well played baseball game.

The Colorado Rockies, struggling on a very important road trip, played a complete ball game. The bats finally broke out as the team beat the Diamondbacks 10-4 at Chase Field on Saturday night.

The Rockies took the early lead on a Carlos Gonzalez home run to lead off the game, then added another run on Troy Tulowitzki's 29th home run of the season in the same inning. Everything looked like it was going to be a good night for the Rockies until starting pitcher Jason Hammel made his one mistake. On a 3-2 pitch with two outs and two on in the bottom of the third inning, Hammel gave up a no-doubter home run to Justin Upton, giving the Diamondbacks a 3-2 advantage.

For the past week and a half this would be the point where the Rockies would quit. They would figure that their starting pitcher does not have his stuff and that there was no way to score more runs off the oppositions starter and plus-side bullpen.

Instead the Colorado Rockies took a page from themselves in June and found a way to crawl back into the game. The offense put up two runs in the top of the fourth, courtesy of a terrible throw from left fielder Manny Parra on an Ian Stewart sacrifice fly. From there Hammel made the Diamondbacks look silly.

With his curveball working well, Hammel has shown his maturity. He has turned the corner in the second half of the season, and despite not getting a win in his last five starts, he has pitched extremely well. Besides the pitch to Upton that was hit for a home run, Hammel really was on his game. He pitched seven innings, giving up the three runs on the home run, on four hits. He struck out five and walked two. It was Hammel's ninth victory of the season.

Hammel has turned out to be another example of the genius of general manager Dan O'Dowd. Hammel was on the trading block late in Spring Training due to the fact that he had lost the fifth starter battle in Tampa. The Rockies acquired him for Double-A reliever Anury Rodriguez.

While Hammel has had his struggles at Coors Field he has been able to do good things of late, giving up only one hit going into the seventh inning against the Reds his last time at home.

On the road however, he has been phenomenal. He has drawn some of the most difficult pitching matchups in baseball. On Monday he went head-to-head with Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and held his own. Unfortunately the Rockies offense was not good enough to keep the team in the game.

Hammel's hammer, his curve ball with a huge 12-6 break on it, has become on of his best pitches. He can throw it on any count and it is has such an enormous break on it that hitters have a difficult time hitting it even if they picked it up.

A fifth starter's job is to do exactly what Hammel has been very good at doing this season, keep the team in the game long enough for the offense to strike. The 27-year-old does a great job at showing confidence in himself. Often times when a pitcher gives up a couple of base hits, or walks a batter it is evident that they are wondering how they are going to get a single person out. That is when the big inning happens and it seems like the inning will never end.

Hammel is nothing like that. Even when he gives up a hit or two, or like Saturday's game, when he gives up a home run, the inning does not snow ball. Hammel regains his composure and finds a way to get out of the inning so that his offense can go get the runs back.

That kind of maturity will help the Rockies make the best run at the postseason that they possibly can.

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