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DENVER – When describing the myriad of peculiar events that can occur within the game, manager Bud Black is apt to use the old adage, “That’s baseball.” On Friday night, the type of baseball witnessed by the 38,077 in attendance was a variety never before seen by the Colorado Rockies.
Just three outs away from defeating the San Diego Padres, the National League’s 2nd best bullpen since May 13 was entrusted to put the final nail in the coffin that should have been an 11-5 win.
Somehow, they blew a lead of six runs in the ninth inning for the first time in franchise history. The original Rockies of 1993 blew a five-run lead with their expansion roster of relievers and it happened once in 2003, but never has a victory so within their grasp been ripped away quite like this.
When the final out nestled in the glove of left fielder Wil Myers, it capped of a historic win for the Padres, who scored 14 times against Colorado’s pen, including 12 unanswered runs to defeat the Rockies 16-12.
It was the first time San Diego had overcome a deficit of six runs in the ninth; considering the Friars have been in the business of professional baseball for nearly twice as long as the Rockies, Friday’s loss is all the more astronomically inexplicable.
In order to properly recapture the game, we must revisit the most shocking developments which occurred in the 9th. LHP Mike Dunn entered the game in his first appearance since coming off the injured list. He got a strikeout against the second batter he faced, but gave up four hits and four runs in total, including Hunter Renfroe’s penultimate home run of the game; the 11-year vet entered with a six-run lead and exited with a lead of just two.
Before the unfortunate comeback was complete, closer Wade Davis came on to salvage the wreckage. But back-to-back singles to Myers and Ian Kinsler, and a walk to pinch hitter Manuel Margot loaded the bases. Fernando Tatis, Jr. got the biggest hit of his burgeoning career, a single that scored two runs and tied the game at 11, giving Davis his first blown save of the year.
Nothing happened until the 12th, when the final reliever in the Rockies bullpen, Jairo Díaz, was deployed to retire the top of the San Diego’s lineup. Three straight extra-base hits later, followed by Renfroe’s career-best tying 3rd home run, safely secured the Padres’ improbable win.
Charlie Blackmon tried to make it interesting in the bottom of the 12th with his 15th home run of the season and 5th in the last 5 games, but the solo shot was quickly quieted and would be all the Rockies received.
Over five hours before that final out, there were two starting pitchers who held the first focus of these two teams, not to mention a modicum of hope for their respective fans. For the players in purple, Jeff Hoffman took the hill with an 8.06 ERA after five starts; the guys in gray sent out 24-year-old Cal Quantrill to make his Coors Field debut, the Padres’ MLB-leading 29th start by a rookie this season.
Hoffman held his own through five innings, surrendering a run in the second, Renfroe’s first gave the Friars their only lead they’d have until the most important one to close the game some ten innings later. His start may go long be forgotten due to the foibles that came after, but the 9th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft was more than serviceable on this night.
He was economical during the first and third, while getting out of jams in the fourth and fifth. The latter was particularly precarious as a single and a walk started the inning to give the Padres two base runners, bringing Renfroe back to the plate with a razor-thin lead. Manager Bud Black visited the mound and instilled some confidence in his 26-year-old pitcher. The magic words worked and Hoffman punctuated the third out of the frame with his second and final strikeout of the night to keep the Rockies lead safe.
Colorado would get on the board thanks to the duo of Story and Dahl, who caused havoc for the Padres’ rookie in the third inning. Story singled in his second straight at bat and did his best to take Quantrill’s attention away from Dahl, drawing three pickoff attempts to first base in between two foiled stolen base attempts courtesy of foul balls. He eventually swiped second base and when the 12-pitch at bat ended, Dahl had fouled back six two-strike pitches and, most importantly, lifted a curveball the opposite way for a 394 ft home run that put ahead the Rockies 2-1.
Dahl swooped in again for his second spot in the highlight reel, making a diving catch to end the fourth inning jam that would have surely scored Eric Hosmer had the Alabama native not intervened.
In the fifth, the bats rewarded Hoffman for keeping the score stagnant. Blackmon singled to extend his on-base streak to 25 games, the second-longest active streak in the sport, before Story doubled for his third hit in as many at bats; both runners would score on productive outs from Dahl and Daniel Murphy to put up Colorado 4-1.
The Padres responded in the sixth against Chad Bettis whose streak of eight consecutive scoreless appearances would come to an end after a leadoff single to Manny Machado and base on balls to Hosmer. Bettis was unable to come away unscathed as both runners would score, but not before the lead shrank to one and Bryan Shaw was called upon to put out the fire.
As they have been prone to doing this season, the Rockies counterpunch temporarily knocked out the Padres with five runs in the bottom of the 6th.
Ian Desmond, who had come on as a defensive replacement during a double switch, came up with two runners aboard and laced one into the right-field corner for an apparent triple. Right fielder Josh Naylor did not play the carom well and Desmond did not stop running. It was his 1st inside-the-park home run after 5,199 at bats and the much-maligned star received a curtain call for his fantastic feat. For the times, they are a-changing.
Blackmon added a double, Dahl swatted a single to record his 4th RBI of the night, tying a career high, and Murphy chipped in with an RBI double of his own to make the score 9-3 and to seemingly put the game out of reach for the Southern Californians.
At this point, Black set about the process of getting some work for his infrequently used relievers in the early blowout. Jake McGee and Carlos Estévez coughed up a run apiece, but their offense bailed them out with two runs in the eighth.
All of which set the stage for the 9th inning. “The pitches were up, I think that was pretty evident…When you pitch up, it’s dangerous,” Black said of Dunn’s performance.
In the top of the 12th, it was Tatis, Jr. again who came up big with a leadoff triple. He came home on an Austin Allen pinch hit double, who did the same on a Machado double to cap a 4-for-7 night for the star third baseman. Renfroe completed his triumvirate one batter later and Myers would be the final run for the Friars when he scored on a wild pitch after his double.
Adding literal injury to figurative insult, Story left the game in the 8th when a ground ball took an awkward hop which came up to hit the star shortstop in the face. He left the game with a forehead contusion the size of a quarter just above his left eyebrow.
It certainly may not have been pretty, but it is just one game. One solitary loss to be thrown atop the pile.
To borrow from Ernest Thayer’s great poem, “Casey At The Bat”:
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
There’s another game at Coors tomorrow, another game, no doubt.