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DENVER – As a near sellout crowd gathered at Coors Field to witness a postseason-level contest between the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, battling for supremacy in the NL West, they instead were treated to a game mired in controversy that featured far too much of home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
His strike zone was a mess all evening and a few highly questionable calls ended up being the difference in a 4-2 win fo LA.
Starter Jon Gray had an odd outing but ultimately this game came down to just a few key moments that went disastrously against the Rockies.
Gray got two quick outs in the first but, of course, the Dodgers just had to add to that first-inning ERA, getting a soft single through the right side from Manny Machado, a walk from Max Muncy, and a double down the right-field line from Cody Bellinger. With a pair of runners still in scoring position, Gray got Enrique Hernandez to hit a grounder to third to end the inning.
The Dodgers added in the second on a Yasiel Puig solo home run, punishing a hanging slider, pulling it into the bleachers in left field.
The Rockies came right back to tie it up in the bottom of the second. Matt Holliday led things off by taking a 2-2 fastball on the inning half and turning on it to plant one into the seats in left. It was the first time in 50 at-bats against him that Holliday has hit a home run against Clayton Kershaw.
Ian Desmond kept the pressure on by hitting a ground ball up the middle and added even more with an aggressive baserunning decision, noticing that Bellinger wouldn’t be able to make a play before he got to second with a hustle double.
Carlos Gonzalez hit a liner to center but it wasn’t deep enough to score him. That put catcher Drew Butera in a tough spot, batting with one out and a runner in scoring position in front of the pitcher. He took a shortened contact approach and manage to squib one through the right side for his first base hit as a Rockie, tying the game at 2-2.
Gray had to battle his command, the home plate umpire, and a patient Dodger lineup through the third and fourth. A walk of Justin Turner (on a 3-2 pitch in the zone) was followed by a pair of emphatic strikeouts against Machado and Muncy. Cody Bellinger then fought off a tough pitch for a single up the middle before Gray was able to get Hernandez once again to end it.
The fourth also began with a lead-off walk, this time to the struggling Yasmani Grandal. Gray got Puig to work just underneath a 3-2 slider and fly out to center before striking out Kershaw on a bunt attempt. But he lost his command against Joc Pederson, walking him on four pitches and fell behind Turner 3-0.
For some reason, the tides turned on the strike zone and he got a few just outside before freezing Turner with a low, inside slider for the strikeout looking.
While he refused to give in and battled all night, he had thrown 85 high-stress pitches already and a two-out, two-on opportunity presented itself in the bottom of the fourth so Bud Black elected to end Gray’s night at that. Pat Valaika popped out to second in the at-bat.
Chris Rusin came into the tie game in the fifth and couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, throwing eight straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk Machado and Muncy. Somehow after that, he came back to strike out Bellinger on three pitches. Then he caught a really tough break on a balk call that saw Black tossed from the game immediately for arguing, only the second ejection of the season.
Rusin then got a phenomenal play from Trevor Story who picked up one running to his right and fired home. Butera made an equally impressive play by fielding a tough short hop and applying a difficult tag to keep the go-ahead run from scoring.
It looked like the Rockies were going to get out of it when Yency Almonte came in and got a bouncer toward third. But Nolan Arenado fielded it awkwardly and unleashed an off-balance throw. It pulled Desmond off the bag at first and Hernandez was ruled safe. Though replays appeared to show that he kept his toe just barely on the bag, the call stood after an almost three-minute-long review.
Of course, Puig managed to bounce one through the right side to score another run and the Dodgers suddenly held a 4-2 advantage without having hit the ball hard once in the inning. Neither run was earned after the Arenado error.
The Rockies couldn’t sustain a rally against Kershaw but were pesky enough to drive his pitch count up, getting him out of the game after six innings of work.
They almost struck immediately against the bullpen in the seventh. Chris Iannetta came up with a single that Brian Dozier couldn’t field at second and DJ LeMahieu came up with one to right with two away. Despite his recent struggles, Arenado was worked around for a five-pitch walk to load the bases. Story fought off some tough ones in the next encounter, keeping the crowd on their feet the whole time, but ultimately succumb to the swinging strikeout to leave ’em loaded.
The Dodgers went to All-Star Ross Stripling in the eighth, pitching out of the ‘pen for the first time since early in the season after returning from injury. Holliday greeted him with a double to left and Desmond moved him over to third with a groundball to the right side.
That brought in lefty Scott Alexander to face Carlos Gonzalez. CarGo hit one hard the other way but Turner was able to haul it in at third, keeping Gerardo Parra, who came in to pinch-run, at third. A pinch-hitting David Dahl grounded out to first to end another frustrating inning for the bats.
Controversy reared it’s head again in the ninth when, after a long single from Chris Iannetta, Charlie Blackmon was called out on three pitches all of which were outside the strike zone. Arenado struck out to end one of the most frustrating losses of the season for Colorado.
Jon Gray: 4 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K
Chris Rusin: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
Yency Almonte: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
Harrison Musgrave: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Seunghwan Oh: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
Matt Holliday: 1-for-2, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB (HR: 2)
Ian Desmond: 1-for-4, 1 R
Drew Butera: 2-for-2, 0 R, 1 RBI
The second game of the series features two of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball, Kyle Freeland and Walker Beuhler. Saturday evening first pitch at 6:10 Mountain Time.