|Nolan Arenado won it for the Rockies on Tuesday night.|
In one sentence, say what is different about the 2014 Rockies than the 2013 club. That would be the answer. This team simply doesn't give in.
A year ago, the Rockies would have watched a 3-3 tie game against the National League West leaders evaporate into a 4-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning and the club would have folded. They would have conceded that a closer like Sergio Romo was going to come in and shut them down in order and they would hope for better results the next day.
Instead, this Rockies team looks determined to win. In fact, they look like they believe they are going to win.
On Tuesday, the Rockies walked off with another win. The dramatic victory came on the heels of Sunday's walk-off home run from Justin Morneau. This time it was the kid's turn to be the hero.
Nolan Arenado, scuffling since his 28-game hitting streak ended, came through with a phenomenal at-bat against one of the best closers in the game. With runners on 1st and 2nd base and two outs and two strikes, Arenado turned on a Romo two-seam fastball that was riding in on him. He drilled it to left field and over Tyler Colvin's head. The ball may have actually been a home run, but the umpires ruled it hit the yellow line and returned to the field. Regardless, it was enough to score both runs and give the Rockies a walk-off win.
Words can't describe how much Arenado has meant to this Rockies team. Not only his play, but his attitude. He is a gym rat. He works hard and plays the game the way it is meant to be played. On several occasions he has shown extreme maturity at the plate. He has taken walks when his hitting streak was on the line and he has fouled good pitches off until he gets the one that he wants to drive. He seems to understand how pitchers are trying to attack him.
The difference from year-to-year is noticeable in many aspects, but the biggest difference comes in one aspect of the game that has been missing from this franchise for a long time. That difference is the approach that the Rockies take at the plate. The lack of discipline in years past was incredible. The Rockies would take selfish at-bats, not looking to do what it took to help the team win, but to increase their own personal stats. This team works the count and waits for the pitcher to make a mistake.
What that approach does is put the pressure on the pitcher. He has to throw pitches over the plate to get outs instead of knowing that he can throw sliders a foot outside and get swings and misses. The more a pitcher has to challenge the batters, the better the chances the batter can drive the pitch.
With that approach, and as a team that seems to believe in themselves, the Rockies could make some noise in the National League West.
With the excitement of a walk-off, especially in consecutive games, an issue must be addressed. LaTroy Hawkins didn't blow a save, but he gave up the go-ahead run that painted the Rockies into a corner. He looks as far away from dominant as a closer, and no one is fooled by what he is doing. He has been playing with fire all season long and is starting to get burned.
Ironically, the last two wins he has picked up came in games in which he gave up the go-ahead run and the Rockies came back to walk-off on the opponent. On Sunday his blown save provided the way for Nick Massey to pick up the win when Morneau bailed him out.
The Rockies wins put a sugar coating on a harsh reality, this team can't compete with Hawkins closing out games. He doesn't have the stuff to make the opposition feel like they don't have a chance. He gives up too many hits, which leads to runs. The Rockies need to look in a different direction. That direction can be internal, even going to Adam Ottavino for the time being to see if he will work out.
Something else the drama will overshadow from Tuesday night is how embattled starter Franklin Morales dueled all night with Madison Bumgarner. He pitched six strong innings, giving up three runs. He struck out six and walked only one. As erratic as he was in his start a week ago in Kansas City, he looked like he had honed in his mechanics and found his release point. The start was pivotal in the Rockies victory.
This Rockies team may fade away. They may not contend in September. However, one this is certainly different. This team wins games that the 2013 team would have lost. They fight back when the previous Rockies teams would have folded. This Rockies team plays with more of an edge. The offense may be good enough to hide the issues that the team faces both in the rotation and in the bullpen.
If the Rockies can continue to play with an edge, believing that they are good enough to beat anyone, they very well may surprise everyone and stick around all season long.
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