The Rockies held a 3-1 lead through three innings and looked as if they were cruising. Jason Hammel had retired nine out of ten Phillies hitters and the offense was doing damage to Phillies starter J.A. Happ.
As dominant as Hammel was through three innings, he looked like a completely different pitcher in the fourth inning. He lost command of his fastball, allowing the Phillies to either sit on the off speed pitches, or wait for a walk. The right hander loaded the bases, then walked in the second run of the game. He never made it out of the fourth inning, giving up three runs in 3-2/3 innings.
After battling back, finding a way to score runs, including a game-tying home run off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies could not find a way to get the lead. Don’t blame Gonzalez for the offensive failures. All the Venezuelan lefty did was go 3-for-4 at the plate with a walk. He had the home run plus a double and a single. The NLDS has been a coming out party for the youngster, who has found his confidence on the Major League level, showing the Rockies and their fans that they are watching a five-tool player develop before their eyes.
After a hard-fought top of the eighth in which Rafael Betancourt allowed a walk and then a bloop double to Pedro Feliz with one out, Betancourt slammed the door, getting a Carlos Ruiz strikeout, followed by a huge Matt Stairs punchout. The problem for the Rockies, however, was that the walk and the double allowed the Phillies to turn their lineup over.
When Huston Street came on in the ninth inning with the score tied, instead of having to face the eight, nine and leadoff hitters, he was forced to face Jimmy Rollins leading off, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. Rollins led off with a single, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Victorino. As Utley stepped to the plate, the Rockies were forced to deal with another aspect of the game that may haunt Major League Baseball after the 2009 playoffs. The umpires.
With the tying run at second base, Utley hit a pitch that acted like a swinging bunt. Street fielded the ball and threw to first, where Todd Helton caught the ball for the out-or what should have been the out. First base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled that Helton was off the first base bag, awarding Utley the base. Replays not only showed that Helton was indeed on the bag, they also showed that the reason the ball was even in fair territory was because it had grazed off of Utley’s leg while he was in the batter’s box and should have been ruled a foul ball.
Instead, the Rockies were forced to face Ryan Howard with runners on first and third and one out. Howard hit a ball deep enough to score Rollins from third and the Rockies night was essentially over. After mounting a small rally in the ninth, Troy Tulowitzki popped out on a pitch that he could have driven. The Rockies had lost the game, and possibly their season.
One of the Rockies strengths is their depth. It seems as if potent bats pour out of their dugout like clowns pour out of a tiny car at the circus. They have great starting pitching and a phenomenal bullpen. However, the Rockies struggle to put teams away.
Jason Hammel was cruising. He was throwing strikes in the first three innings and had a lead. His offense was hitting behind him and it seemed as if the team was on their way to victory. Then the 27 year old found a way to melt down in the mid-20’s weather. He simply could not find the plate, and was forced to throw off speed pitches. He fell behind hitters in the fourth inning and ended up having to give in. The inability of Hammel to put his foot down and squash the Phillies allowed hope back into the visitors dugout. A dugout that realized their prized rookie pitcher did not have his best, or even his second best stuff on the mound. It gave them hope that they could put a few runs on the board and take back home field advantage.
The results will be tough to swallow for the Rockies. They now face an elimination game against Cliff Lee, the same starter who nearly shut them out in game one of this series.
While some may give up hope, this series is not over. If the Rockies can find a way to get to Lee, even to scratch out a couple of runs, and Ubaldo Jimenez pitches the way that he is capable of, this team could win game four and head back to Philadelphia for the do-or-die game five.
Game five, despite being at Citizen’s Bank Park, would be against Cole Hamels, the lefty that the Rockies bashed around for five runs in five innings in defeating the Phillies in game two of the series.
If there is a team in this league who knows what it is like to have their backs against the wall, it is these Rockies. They came from 12 games under .500 and marched all the way back into contention. They were 15-1/2 games back in the division race on June 3rd, but made the race go down to the final weekend before settling into the Wild Card spot. If there is a team that can win two elimination games, it is the Colorado Rockies.