The Rockies began the randomized new schedule of inter-league play Friday night. The opponent was the former cellar dweller, the Tampa Bay Rays. The pitching match-up was Jeff Francis (1-2) opposite Matt Moore (5-0). Francis had struggled with spotting his pitches this year; his 6.65 ERA is evidence enough, while the twenty-two year old Matt Moore already has a few votes for the AL Cy Young. Moore put himself on a very short list, a list that he joined Babe Ruth on: he became the just the sixth player in the live ball era to win five games or more in a month under the age of twenty-four. Sure Ruth was not known for his pitching, but included on that list are phenoms like Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden. Rockies hitters had their work cut out for them.
The game began in the exact opposite way everybody would assume. The biggest mistake made by Francis in the first two innings was a hit batter that never got farther than first base. Moore gave up home runs in the bottom half of the first two innings. In the first it was Michael Cuddyer who hit his sixth long ball with Jordan Pacheco on base: 2-0 Rockies. Josh Rutledge led off the bottom of the second with another home run, making it 3-0 Rockies. Moore did not throw his first curveball of the game until Dexter Fowler came up for his second at-bat with two outs in the Rockies half of the second.
Tampa Bay’s offense resembles a mid-eighties NL team: one slugger and a team focused on playing defense and playing “small ball.” The Rays have lost brand name players Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to free agency, but perennial All Star Evan Longoria remains. That lineup would kick into a higher gear at altitude. In the third inning after an infield single and two doubles, both Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist would collect RBI’s. Rockies still led 3-2.
The bottom of the third had a very bright spot for Colorado baseball. Nolan Arenado hit a two-out double. The only immediate impact that hit would have on the game was added pitches on Moore’s arm. However, we all saw history when Arenado collected his first career hit at Coors Field. Raise your glasses to his future success, hopefully known as Nolan “Jack” Arenado.
Desmond Jennings, the Rays center fielder and former prospect extraordinaire, would hit a two run home run in the top of the fifth giving the Rays the 4-3 lead. In honor of the Denver Nuggets season ending the Rockies would keep up a back and fourth style of game. In the bottom half of the inning Nolan “Jack” Arenado hit another double and drove in his first career run at altitude. Entering the sixth inning all locked up at four all, neither starter would see the mound. The four runs given up by Moore matched his total for the season coming into the game.
From the sixth to ninth innings both teams would combine for just seven base runners. Colorado’s bullpen has been very strong of late; the group came into the game having struck out thirty-three batters in their last thirty-two innings. Friday Adam Ottavino, Wilton Lopez, and Rex Brothers all pitched and kept any Rays from crossing the plate in regulation. The Rockies squandered an excellent chance in the bottom of the eighth when pinch hitter Troy Tulowitzki was intentionally walked after back-to-back singles to load the bases with just one out. Sounds good enough to win the game, but the next two batters wouldn’t even put the ball in play. Both Eric Young and Jordan Pacheco would both strike out.
In the first frame of extra innings Matt Belisle gave up three runs to the heart of the Rays order, including the big blow of a Kelly Johnson two-run home run. Though the Rockies would threaten in the bottom of the tenth, Rays’ closer Fernando Rodney is among the best in baseball. Rockies lose 7-4.
Notes to take away:
1. The Rockies beat the strength of the pitching-focused Rays by chasing starter Matt Moore after just five innings.
2. Dexter Fowler was removed from the game after a collision at first base during a bunt attempt. He is being ruled day-to-day with a hip flexor injury.
3. Dex’s replacement in the game was Eric Young Jr. He went 0-3 striking out each time. He should know how to set the table by now: making contact is kind of important.
4. Rockies pitching still only gave up four runs in nine innings. The team averages 5.26 runs a game in run support and owns a 3.82 team ERA. It’s difficult to see how the team has managed to lose eight of the last twelve games.