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MILWAUKEE – The first game of the NLDS was always going to be a strange match-up on paper.
Colorado sent their least experienced starter, Antonio Senzatela, to the hill and Milwaukee countered by planning out a bullpen game from the start.
As it turned out, neither strategy could be argued too heavily as Senzatela did a great job outside of a shaky first and one bad pitch to the should-be MVP of the NL. But the combination of Brewers pitchers, all of whom seemed to have a feel for the exact edges of the strike zone, managed to hold the Rockies offense to just one hit through the first eight innings.
But baseball games are not eight innings long.
Colorado forced extras with an inspiring late rally but had their hearts broken in the 10th by a 3-2 loss.
After setting down the first two Brewers on four pitches, Ryan Braun came up with the first hit of the game on a groundball through the left side. He moved up on a wild pitch then tried to score all the way from second on another one.
But catcher Chris Iannetta calmly fielded the ball and threw it to Senzatela who easily tagged Braun out at the plate. With the Rockies’ 23-year-old starter looking shaky in his first postseason appearance, that was a gift that ended the frame scoreless.
With one out in the third, Senzatela threw some borderline pitches to Lorenzo Cain but couldn’t get the call, walking him in front of the most dangerous hitter in the National League. Christian Yelich wasted no time in making him pay for it, launching a first-pitch change-up into the stratosphere for a no-doubt two-run homer.
That score held with the Rockies only managing a two-out triple from Carlos Gonzalez in the fifth.
The Brewers had a chance to earn some insurance runs after a walk from Yelich and a single from Braun put runners at the corners with nobody out against rookie Harrison Musgrave. But the young lefty came back to strike out Travis Shaw and Keon Broxton before intentionally walking Mike Moustakas and giving way to Scott Oberg.
Oberg got a weak grounder to short from Manny Pina to leave ’em loaded with the score still at 2-0, Brewers.
Then, after looking half-dead all game, the Rockies offense sprung to life.
Gerardo Parra, pinch-hitting for Iannetta, lofted a soft single to right, just like the one that set up the dramatic win in Chicago and Matt Holliday followed with a second straight single (Rockies’ hits two and three on the day) to put a pair aboard with nobody out.
It looked for a moment that Charlie Blackmon had tied the game up with a ground-rule double down the right-field line but it was ruled foul upon video review. Blackmon settled himself and still found a way to hit one through the right side for a single, scoring Parra from second.
DJ LeMahieu followed with a slow roller toward shortstop but Orlando Arcia got caught trying to make a quick play and lost the ball under his glove for an error that loaded the bases, still with nobody away.
Nolan Arenado fell behind Jeremy Jeffress 0-2 but lifted the third pitch into straightaway center field for a sac fly that tied the game at two. It also moved Blackmon to third but he tried to tag and score on a grounder to first from David Dahl and was thrown out.
Adam Ottavino, who worked a clean inning in the ninth, stayed on for the 10th and got ahead of Yelich 0-2 but couldn’t find the punchout pitch and ended up walking the leadoff man. A wild pitch in the ensuing encounter with Braun moved him over to second and brought the home crowd roaring to life.
With the noise level as high as it had been all game, Otto found some of his best stuff and bounced back to strike out Braun. The Rockies intentionally passed on Travis Shaw, putting the double play in order and Ottavino got a groundball from pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson but it wasn’t hit hard enough, and Colorado was shifted, having to settle for the second out and nothing more.
He worked ahead of Mike Moustakas to an 0-2 count and it looked like he had him struck out on a high fastball but the third baseman just managed a foul tip to keep the at-bat and inning alive. On the very next pitch, in a similar spot, he lined a single to right for the win.
This one hurt for the Rockies but they did some damage that may last throughout the series against the Brewers bullpen and can come back on Friday knowing they can beat these guys with just a slightly better performance.