I have to say, with cautious optimism, that so far this season writing about the Rockies is way more fun than it was last season. Obviously, they were awesome in April last year, so that was definitely fun, but the collapse after that totally negated any enjoyment I might have gotten out of that first month. What’s different this season is that they’re winning these one-run games, they’re rallying late, they’re not trying to do too much, and in the process are doing just enough to pick up a pitcher who needs a couple of runs. I’m very satisfied with this 7-6 record because it reflects a lot of hard-won games. Given the choice between that and last year, when it was little more than the Tulo home run show every night, I’ll take this any day.
So last night, Jhoulys Chacin needed to have a great start, because he hadn’t yet this season. And the pressure was on, because he was facing the Brewers, a great team, on the road. Plus, these days whoever pitches the series opener has to know that it’s a must-win, because Jim Tracy will probably concede the finale. Chacin, notoriously crummy under pressure, was instead brilliant. That fastball command he absolutely has to have in order to pitch well was there. Any time you get a Chacin victory, you’re going to see something like 6 strikeouts to 1 walk, which is exactly what he did in 7 innings.
In fact, he took a no-hitter through 3 innings and through 6 only allowed 1 hit and 1 run. Of course, that was an inside-the-park home run by Norichika Aoki, which I think we could have all lived without. It was a fastball without a lot of heat, and Aoki was able to drive it past a diving Carlos Gonzalez. Often when outfielders dive and miss the ball, I criticize them for not staying on their feet, but in this case it could have gone either way. He had to lay out to even come close to it, and if he’d run it out it still would have rolled past him. When it got to the wall, it took Cargo and Dexter Fowler a minute to decide who should make the play, and that turned out to be costly. It is what it is. No one can take 100% of the blame for it, and in any case, it was still 3-1 until the 6th.
Chacin lost some focus in that inning when Aoki came to the plate, perhaps still thinking about that inside-the-parker. Aoki doubled with 1 out and then Chacin hit Ryan Braun. Back-to-back singles by Corey Hart and Matt Gamel scored the runs and tied the game, slapping Chacin with a no-decision. Which is a shame, because it was far and away his best outing this season, and you’d like to see him get the win for that. Especially since he helped his own cause at the plate, with an RBI single in the 4th.
In other offensive news, Todd Helton is still wonderfully wonderful. He hit a solo shot off Shaun Marcum on a 1-1 pitch in the 6th. Troy Tulowitzki also made a contribution, and we will take whatever we can get from him considering his very slow start. He struck out twice, but he put the Rockies on the board in the 1st with an RBI double. And the hero, once again, was Michael Cuddyer. He was out of the starting lineup with a bruised toe, but came to the plate in the 9th with the score tied at 3. The stars had already aligned to get Eric Young Jr., representing the go-ahead run, on 3rd, and Cuddy singled up the middle to drive him in.
Let’s talk bullpen. I’m really really glad that Matt Reynolds made the team out of spring training, because he’s done great so far this season and I think he’s back to 2010 form more or less. Last night he got his one man, who happened to be Aoki. Matt Belisle took over then and got back-to-back K’s of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, no small feat. And then Rafael Betancourt recorded his 4th save, allowing just one baserunner in the 9th. He got Jonathan Lucroy swinging to end the game, throwing some beautiful fastballs.
I like it when everything is clicking, and that’s what seems to be happening. I maintain that this is not a team with all the pieces it needs to really contend this season, but I like that they’ve stopped whining and started fighting. The attitude we’re seeing now is the one I want to see.
The Rockies continue their series against the Brewers at Miller Park today. Drew Pomeranz will try to come back from his tough debut last weekend, and the Brew Crew sends Marco Estrada, usually a reliever, to the hill.