Saturday, April 26, 2014

Colorado Rockies build character with extra inning win over Dodgers

Jordan Lyles was phenomenal again for the Rockies.
The Chicago Cubs have their billy goat, the Boston Red Sox had their Curse of the Bambino, the Colorado Rockies have their West Coast Road Swing.

Most people don't understand baseball. They don't understand how an event can snowball and effect a team mentally.

The Colorado Rockies have been snake bit on road trips through the West Coast throughout their history. They struggle in general away from Coors Field, but their issues on the road against the division foes has been remarkable.

For years, the Rockies have made even the most average pitcher look like an All-Star in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. They stand at the plate and look like they have a hole in their bats. Their body language is lethargic and their play seems slow.

The beauty of baseball is that a bad day can quickly be forgotten because there is usually another chance to go out and play better the next day. However, that can also be a negative. When the same thing happens again the next night, and even again the following night, it can become mental.

It could easily be argued that the Rockies are victims of their own disbelief when it comes to games in Los Angeles. The Rockies always have to scratch and claw for wins in that stadium. It certainly doesn't help that the Dodgers have generally been the more talented team, however, the fact that the bounces don't ever seem to go the Rockies way, and even when they are able to get to the Dodgers starting pitcher, the Rockies usually find a way to lose the game.

The problem is, the Rockies usually struggle in the first few games, then they are in a scenario in which a whole road trip can get out of hand. Instead of losing a series, or getting swept, then coming back strong in the next series, the Rockies seem to press after the first tough game. They end up taking really bad at bats, trying to do too much. Suddenly the Rockies limp home needing a huge swing in order to get back into the race.

With all of that in mind, the Rockies extra inning win in Los Angeles on Friday was about as big of a win as a team can have in April. The first step to breaking through the mental side of baseball is to grind through the struggles. The best thing a team can do is simply go out and play relaxed and forget about the history and start creating a new future. If the Rockies would have lost Friday night's game in traditional fashion on the first game of a six-game road trip, it easily could have snowballed into a terrible ending to April.

Brandon Barnes gets the spotlight on Friday night with his pinch-hit double with one out in the top of the 11th inning. The Rockies had struggled since the early going and couldn't get anything going. Barnes double started the rally, and Charlie Blackmon, who has had possibly the best April of any Rockie since Clint Barmes in 2005, dribbled a single up the middle to give the Rockies the lead. The Rockies would add two more runs that ended up being very important in getting the win.

With Barnes and Blackmon making the highlight reels, Jordan Lyles phenomenal performance will be an afterthought. The reality is, Lyles has been far better than advertised. His poise has been incredible. He pitched seven strong innings, giving up just two runs. He only allowed six hits and struck out four. With great numbers, the biggest might be the fact that he only walked one batter. That fact means he was pounding the strike zone and getting outs. He induced 11 ground ball outs while only recording one through the air.

Another play that changed the game came in the 7th inning. Juan Uribe led off the inning with a single. It quickly was looking like Lyles was running out of gas and the game easily could have gotten away from the Rockies. In fact, according to the script that the Rockies usually follow on the West Coast, this would have been the time when the Dodgers put up four or five runs and buried the Rockies. Catcher Tim Federowicz came up to bat to move Uribe to second base with a bunt. However, when he laid it down, Wilin Rosario bounced out of the box so fast that he was able to nail Uribe at second and still have time for Tulowitzki to make the turn.

The play from Rosario was jaw-dropping. His quickness was incredible and his throw to second base couldn't have been any better. With momentum hanging in the balance, Rosario quickly shut the Dodgers rally down and changed the course of the inning.

The importance of winning at Dodger Stadium may sound like it is being overstated. However, the reality is this, the Rockies have been absolutely awful away from Coors Field and particularly on the West Coast. To allow that trend to continue could have spelled doom for the Rockies. However, to go out and get game one allows the Rockies to find a way to win one of the next two and get to Arizona with a series win and confidence. If they can go home with a 3-3 road trip, it would be a big step for this franchise.

The fact that the Rockies kept themselves in Friday night's game is a huge statement about their character. It was the gut-check that they would have failed in 2013.

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