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Baseball is a strange game.
Was there any doubt when the Colorado Rockies announced that closer Adam Ottavino was headed to the 15-day disabled list that they would be clinging to a one-run lead as they headed to the 9th inning? That always seems to be the way baseball works.
With the tying run at third base and the winning run at first, Rockies fans were trying to suppress the memories of so many heartbreaking road losses that have come within the NL West over the years. It seems that in places like Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Rockies have always found ways to blow late leads.
Monday night, however, the Rockies held on. John Axford was able to secure the 5-4 victory with a routine ground ball to third base from Mark Trumbo. It came after two singles had the Rockies victory in doubt. It had fans wondering what they had done wrong to deserve Ottavino going on the disabled list just when he was emerging as a solid closer.
The beauty of baseball is that while Axford shut down the Diamondbacks rally in the 9th, Troy Tulowitzki may have set the stage for the win all the way back in the 1st inning.
After Corey Dickerson singled with one out in the 1st innings off of Arizona starter Chase Anderson, Tulo stepped to the plate and didn’t leave for five minutes. A 13-pitch at-bat that featured seven foul balls and finally a fourth ball on the final pitch that allowed Tulowitzki to take his base and put two men on for Justin Morneau. The first baseman didn’t see 13 pitches. He only needed two. On a 0-1 fastball, Morneau gave the Rockies a 3-0 lead with a home run to right-center field.
The at-bat from Tulowitzki was Todd Helton-esque. The benefits of an at-bat will never show up on a score sheet or in the box score. However, a battle like that often takes a toll on a pitcher. Anderson had to throw 13 pitches, probably getting frustrated each time Tulowitzki spoiled another good pitch. After putting in so much work, only to see Tulowitzki walk, it would be easy to see why Anderson would lose his focus slightly.
For Morneau, he had the opportunity to see Anderson’s approach from the on-deck circle for 13 straight pitches. He got the best view in the house of the movement on Anderson’s pitches and his delivery. It looks like it paid off, as Morneau wasn’t fooled. That three run homer gave the Rockies and starter Tyler Matzek enough of a cushion to control the game.
Speaking of Matzek, his growth continued, but showed that there is still plenty more distance that he has to go before he is a dependable starter in the big leagues. A leg cramp forced him out of the game after throwing one pitch in the 6th inning. However, before that he continued his trend of struggling to find the strike zone.
Matzek falls into the category of a guy who is maddening to watch. He is so talented. He has three pitches that are extremely difficult to hit. Yet, he still finds himself with so many base runners. The majority of the time, the base runners come from the fact that Matzek either gives them a free pass, or he gets behind in the count and is forced to throw fastballs to make sure he doesn’t walk batters.
The Rockies young lefty walks the tight rope, but more often than not, finds himself completing the balancing act and getting out of trouble. However, watch any number of baseball games and it is clear that the success Matzek has seen wiggling off the hook is eventually going to run out. He has to avoid working with so much traffic sooner or later, or he will pay the price.
On Monday Matzek went five innings, giving up two runs on five hits. He struck out three and walked three. The next step in his growth requires him to figure out the release point on his pitches and find a way to start hitting his spots more consistently. If it wasn’t for some great defense behind him, with Charlie Blackmon chasing down balls in the gap, DJ LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau making great plays, along with the amazing Nolan Arenado seemingly making a highlight reel play every night at third base, Matzek may have given up six runs instead of two.
The funny thing about the game is that Matzek was good enough to pick up the win. He found ways to work out of trouble and get outs when he needed them.
The Rockies bullpen also helped immensely in the win. Brooks Brown’s ability to get pick up two innings when Matzek’s leg cramped up was imperative. Rafael Betancourt pitched the 8th and would have wiggled out of his own jam, but Tulowitzki was unable to field a ground ball that skipped through his legs and into center field.
Baseball is a funny game. The Rockies may have won the game with their 1st inning attack, however, they had to hang on through a 9th inning rally in order to pick up the much-needed win.