|Remember when Tulo wasn't a clutch hitter? He's one of the best now.|
On Tuesday night in Cincinnati, the All-Star shortstop heaved the other 24 members of the Colorado Rockies onto his back and snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat. Tulowitzki tomahawked a full count fastball just over the left field wall in the 8th inning with Carlos Gonzalez on base to give the Rockies a 5-4 lead that would hold up.
It was another reminder of just how much the Rockies missed their best player a year ago. Those following the Rockies knew that things weren't looking good. The team had scored three 2nd inning runs, then couldn't buy a base hit. With Juan Nicasio on the mound, a three-run lead was almost certain to dissolve.
With the lead gone, the Rockies had a chance to score in the top of the 7th inning. With runners at first and third base with one out, pinch hitter Jordan Pacheco hit a ball hard, but right to third baseman Todd Frazier who quickly started the inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
At that point, the Rockies were in trouble. The Reds have the best home record in baseball, one of the best closers in the game, and the Rockies notoriously struggle on the road, especially in recent years.
However, Tuesday night was different, just as the majority of 2013 has been different.
The biggest difference doesn't end with the fact that Tulowitzki is healthy. There is also a noticeable difference in his game. Tulo was notorious for taking terrible at-bats late in the game. He tried to do too much and squeezed the bat too hard. He tried to hit three run homers with no one on base. With runners on, he would often roll over a good pitch to hit and hit into a weak double play.
Even with his immense talent, Tulowitzki was so bad in clutch situations that no one rooting for the Rockies wanted to see him come up to the plate with the game on the line.
After sitting out most of 2012 with a groin injury, Tulo has suddenly emerged as not only a great baseball player, but as a phenomenal late-inning hitter. He isn't trying to do too much. In previous seasons he would wave at pitches outside of the strike zone, in 2013, Tulo is very patient. He is waiting for the pitcher to throw him a pitch to hit instead of swinging at the first pitch.
Throughout the first six years of his career, comments were made about how good he is, but how much better he could be if he were ever to get patient at the plate just how good he could be. It appears that the day when he realized that the pressure is on the pitcher and not on him has arrived. With it has come production that puts Tulowitzki in the talk for the best player in the game.
While Tulowitzki has proven to be one of the elite players in the game, one of the least talented players in the league made just as big of an impact on Tuesday night's game.
In order to give Nolan Arenado a breather, Jonathan Herrera was inserted at second base, with DJ LeMahieu sliding over to third. Herrera, the last guy off of the bench for the Rockies, made the most of his start.
With runners at second and third and one out in the 2nd inning, Herrera lined a fastball past Joey Votto at first base and into right field, scoring both runs. The hit came after Yorvit Torrealba caught a bad break as his double hopped into the seats and kept Michael Cuddyer at third base, rather than scoring him, which he would have done easily had the ball stayed in play. Herrera's hit, however, scored both runs and got the Rockies on the scoreboard after being blanked on Monday night.
Herrera didn't stop there, he ended the night with three hits, including a crazy pop bunt that landed behind the pitchers mound. The ball landed five feet behind the rubber, in a perfect spot for no one to be able to make a play on it.
Good teams lean on their best players to win games for them. Bad teams don't have very good players to lean on. Great teams will get contributions from different players every night. The Rockies aren't to the great category yet, but with a guy like Herrera, marginally talented, who can come in and deliver a big hit, the Rockies are closing the gap to where they need to be.
On Tuesday night, the Rockies had major contributions from both their best player, and their least utilized player. When that happens, a team is going to win on a regular basis.
For the Rockies, there is plenty of reason to be excited about a season in which Tulowitzki is healthy. If he can continue to play at the level that he has been at all year long, there is no reason to think that this Rockies team won't be in the hunt when September rolls around. The Rockies, despite only decent pitching, are very good. They have a chance. They believe that they have a chance. Winning games like they won in Cincinnati on Tuesday night show that they believe they can win. That is great news for Rockies fans.
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