For Rockies, NL worst is yet to come
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” The Rockies survived their second multiple-city winning trip of the season by holding on — barely — for a 3-2 victory against the Florida Marlins on Sunday afternoon at Dolphin Stadium.
That allowed them to continue to cling to their hopes of being a late-season factor in the National League West. That has them peeking — if not looking — ahead enough to a three-game visit to Coors Field next week by division-leading Arizona that the rotation was juggled so Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeff Francis will start those three games. The Rockies are seven games back of the Diamondbacks and six behind the Dodgers.
First, though, they have to avoid the traps that could turn ambition into frustration — seven games at Coors Field against the two teams that have the two worst records in the NL. First comes a four-game visit by Washington (41-70) beginning tonight, then a three-game weekend matchup with San Diego (43-69).
“You bring your ‘A’ game every day in the big leagues or you get ambushed,” said left fielder Matt Holliday, whose leadoff home run in the seventh inning got the Rockies started on their way back from a 2-0 deficit against the Marlins. “Even teams that do not have a good record have good players.”
And the Rockies know that from their own history, said closer Brian Fuentes, who escaped a self-created bases-loaded jam in the road finale by getting pop-ups from Jorge Cantu and Josh Willingham to claim save No. 20.
“The guys in here know not to underestimate an opponent,”
Fuentes said. “We have been on the 41-60 team that someone overlooked and paid the price.”
Face it, in the nine years before their late-season dash last year to the first NL pennant in franchise history, the Rockies had suffered eight losing seasons. Even this year, the Rockies were 19 games below .500 at the end of June (32-51) and 18 games short of the break-even mark at the All-Star break (39-57).
The Rockies, though, are an NL- best 12-5 since the All-Star break. That includes winning six of 10 on the just-completed trip to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Florida. It’s a marked improvement for a team that, after splitting its first 12 road games this season, had lost 30 of 38 games outside Coors Field before this trip.
That’s why the Rockies found extra excitement to the way they rallied Sunday. Limited to one hit in six innings by Scott Olsen, they scored in each of the final three innings off the Marlins bullpen. Troy Tulowitzki, limited to one hit in his 13 previous at-bats in the series, delivered a tying single in the eighth, scoring Ian Stewart, who had been hit by a pitch. And pinch hitter Seth Smith bounced a go-ahead single up the middle in the ninth.
Then it was a hold-your-breath moment while Fuentes became the first pitcher in franchise history to put together four 20-save seasons. With one out in the ninth, he gave up a single to Wes Helms, then walked Alfredo Amezaga and Hanley Ramirez.
Then, he got Cantu to pop up a 1-0 fastball and Willingham to pop up a 3-2 fastball.
“Like old times,” said Fuentes, who had allowed only two baserunners in 10 previous innings. “I almost enjoy these a little more because it’s a battle. . . . I get flustered a little bit. Things flash through my head. But I step off and remind myself the only thing that matters is the next pitch and if I make the right pitch, I can get out of (the situation).”
Twice, Fuentes made the right pitch. That kept the Rockies heading in a direction they hope will allow them to make a run at a postseason berth a little earlier than a year ago. They had to win 14 of their final 15 regular-season games, including a wild-card tiebreaker against the Padres.
They would seem to have a bit of a scheduling edge. Arizona still has three games against Florida and seven with St. Louis. The second-place Dodgers have eight games remaining with Philadelphia and three each with St. Louis and Milwaukee.
The Rockies have 28 of their final 49 games at home, where they have an NL West-best record of 31-22, and none of their remaining 16 games outside the division are against a team with a winning record.
Not that manager Clint Hurdle finds comfort in those numbers.
“We’ve never been good enough to overlook anybody,” Hurdle said. “That’s why we constantly talk about the game ‘today.’ If we don’t take care of ‘today,’ none of the rest will matter.”
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