Monday, September 7, 2009

Small Ball Helps Rockies Get Past Reds

Ubaldo Jimenez had one bad inning and was bailed out by a great defensive play by Clint Barmes, but the Rockies rallied on an eighth inning home run off the bat of Ian Stewart.

Stewart had been a strikeout victim his first three times at the plate but got redemption when he swung at the first pitch he saw from reliever Carlos Fisher. The blast came an inning after the Rockies had rallied for two runs to tie the score in the previous inning.

The seventh inning was a classic example of the different mentality that this Rockies club has that has helped them win games. Even with their ace Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, they needed a little bit of small ball to help them with this game.

In the seventh inning Eric Young Jr. led off the inning with a pinch hit bunt single. Carlos Gonzalez then worked a walk to get men on first and second base with no one out. Up to the plate strolled Seth Smith, quite possibly the hottest hitter in baseball over the past 10 days. Everyone in the park was looking for Smith to drive a ball in the gap, scoring the two runners. Instead, Smith surprised everyone by wisely laying down a sacrifice bunt, moving the Rockies two speediest runners into scoring position.

Todd Helton strolled to the plate and promptly hit a sacrifice fly, scoring the run from third and bringing Troy Tulowitzki to the plate with the tying run in scoring position. Tulowitzki delivered, lining a single into right field, scoring the tying run. The single was costly, however, as Tulo was visibly hurt by the swing and removed by Jim Tracy after being examined at first base by trainer Keith Dugger. The injury will keep the shortstop sidelined for at least a day. The Rockies are officially calling the injury back spasms.

Despite the injury, the damage was done, and the Rockies were tied, awaiting Stewart to come through in the next inning to seal the victory.

The seventh was impressive for the Rockies because it truly showed the shift in philosophy of this Rockies organization that is helping them win games. In the past a hitter like Seth Smith, on a tear and a top candidate for National League Player of the Week, with two runners on base and down by two runs would have been doing nothing short of swinging for the fences. The thought would have been that there may not be an opportunity for the Rockies to score again, so may as well wait for the home run.

Instead Smith laid down a bunt that moved two runners into scoring position for the teams two best hitters in Helton and Tulowitzki with one out and no possibility of the classic double play ball. Helton was able to plate the first run and Tulowitzki successfully delivered the second run.

Despite Smith being as hot as he is, the odds of him driving a pitch out of the park are not as great as either Tulowitzki or Helton delivering with a simple base hit. It was a selfless move on the part of Smith who knew that the franchise's greatest player was standing in the on deck circle behind him.

Many fans may not realize it, but that kind of play is exactly why this team is playing games in September that have meaning, instead of being excited about the upcoming Broncos season.

If the Rockies continue to do the little things to win games, they may just find themselves extending their Wild Card lead and looking forward to October baseball at Coors Field.

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