Saturday, June 14, 2014

Colorado Rockies pick up improbable win in San Francisco behind late rally and strong bullpen performance

Ryan Wheeler put together a huge pinch hit RBI single in the 9th.
Seven runs? Seven runs in San Francisco? In one game?

Colorado Rockies fans who couldn't stay up late enough to watch the end of the game on Friday night will wake up to a huge surprise on Saturday morning when they check the score.

The Rockies beat the odds and scored five runs in the 9th inning off of Sergio Romo to secure a 7-4 win in the opener against the Giants on Friday night.

Usually, when the Rockies head to the West Coast, Rockies fans brace for a disappearing offense and a bullpen that can't hold a late lead, if one exists. The story is usually written before the game starts when the Rockies play the Giants. It usually goes as follows; the Rockies score a run or two early, the Giants come back and tie it up, the Rockies then go several innings without a base runner, then the Giants rally late against the Rockies bullpen and blow things open late.

Instead, with Sergio Romo on the mound, the Rockies rallied. Down 4-2, Troy Tulowitzki lined a single to center field. Justin Morneau then poked an 0-2 count into a base hit to move Charlie Culberson, who had pinch-ran for an suddenly lame Tulowitzki, to second base. Wilin Rosario did his job, flying out to center field and allowing the runners to second and third base. With one out, Romo intentionally walked Corey Dickerson to get to Josh Rutledge. The chess match began as Walt Weiss pulled Rutledge back and used Ryan Wheeler in his place. Wheeler struggles against lefties, but has hit righties very well. He did it again, singling up the middle and tying up the game.

The Rockies don't rally in San Francisco. They just don't. Usually they pack it in and hope for better results the next day, which usually doesn't happen. However, the Wheeler single tied the game and the Rockies had a chance. With the game tied, DJ LeMahieu punched a single of his own, giving the Rockies a lead. Two runs later and a perfect 9th inning from the LaTroy Hawkins and suddenly the Rockies left the park with a win.

The script got flipped on Friday night. That doesn't happen in that park. In fact, worn out Rockies fans almost prepare themselves to not see the Rockies score seven runs in an entire three game series when they play in San Francisco. With the clock drawing near midnight in Colorado, there may have been fans pinching themselves, believing that they were dreaming as they watched the final frame.

A 9th inning surprise rally made it easy to forget that Rockies ace Jorge De La Rosa left after the 3rd inning with stiffness in his lower back. He has dealt with this same issue once already in 2014. He had a start pushed back in May because of the issue. De La Rosa has dealt with back pain, as well as swelling in his middle finger on his pitching hand all season.

With De La Rosa out early, the game seemed like it may as well have been chalked up as a loss. The confidence in the bullpen has never been lower. On Thursday when Jhoulys Chacin left the game after seven innings and an 8-0 lead, fans would be lying if they said they weren't slightly concerned that the bullpen might not hold the lead. With a tie game and six innings left to pitch, the bullpen seemed like they would almost certainly get blown out of the water.

Instead, the bullpen locked the game down. They combined to give up only two runs in those six innings and gave their offense an ever-so-tight chance to stay in the game. It usually wouldn't have happened, but it was just enough to give the Rockies a window to come back in the 9th, and they did just that.

For a team that looked like they had mentally folded on Tuesday night, the Rockies have suddenly bounced back to life. The start by Tyler Matzek, followed by Chacin's start and Weiss' emotional outburst may have fueled this Rockies team, if only for a little while.

The previous road trip and homestand may have done the Rockies playoff hopes in. However, Rockies fans need to take an honest look at this team. This is a club that has been horrendous for the better part of three seasons. They haven't been close to .500, let alone a playoff appearance. The early, quick start made it easy to jump on the playoff bandwagon, but the reality is, what fans are looking for is some sort of positive growth.

This Rockies team doesn't have to win 90 games to be an impressive club. This team has to make significant improvements over the team that seemed to go through the motions a year ago. If fans are honest with themselves, they would be thrilled with a third place finish with the Rockies finishing north of .500, as long as the team fights back and doesn't wave the white flag. That may sound like a low bar to set as a goal, but there are holes that are too hard to ignore on this team. The starting pitching isn't deep enough yet, even with young pitchers on the horizon, and the bullpen is, despite a great night on Friday, in shambles. The reality is, no team with a 41-year-old closer is a favorite to make the playoffs.

The great news is that this Rockies team hasn't let the latest tough stretch keep them from fighting. They are trying to win, they are playing hard and continue to improve, despite the disappointments that they have faced so far. Regardless of the record, that is something that shows huge improvement over past seasons. Having a winning attitude, regardless of the standings, is something that will make this Rockies team relevant again soon.

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