Saturday the Rockies played the second game of a three game series in San Francisco. In the month of May a series does not get any more important than this one. With Friday’s 5-0 shutout win the Rockies took a one game lead over the Giants, while the Arizona Diamondbacks also won to keep a two-team tie for first in the NL West.
It is May. The baseball season is only 25% through. The Rockies are as “streaky” a team as any. Those are the facts, so why is this series so big? Last season the Rockies were 4-14 against their Bay Area rival; this season they were 4-4 coming into Saturday’s game. That includes the May 17th victory that snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Giants. This series is a huge mental hurdle for the young, unproven team.
The game featured Juan Nicasio (4-1) against veteran Barry Zito (3-3). Zito, a Cy Young winner and three time all-star, entered the game with an 8-3 record against Colorado, but he did lose his last start on May 19th. Rockies hitters would get after him in the 1st inning Saturday when Carlos Gonzalez hit his 13th home run of the year after a Dexter Fowler lead-off double. In a pitchers’ park the Colorado lineup would keep up the pressure. In the 4th inning back-to-back doubles from Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer would give the Rockies a 3-0 lead. Two batters later Jordan Pacheco would single home another run. 4-0 Colorado.
Nicasio started the game with five shutout innings on 81 pitches. The problems came in the sixth when the first out of the inning was recorded by the fifth Giants batter to hit; it also happened to be a sacrifice fly. The Giants’ half of the 6th saw three hits, three walks, and three runs cross the plate. Momentum stayed with the Giants in the 7th, as they scored another run to tie the game 4-4. Although the bullpen gave up two runs in two innings, it could have been much worse. The bleeding was minimized in large part because of second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who threw out Brandon Belt at home for the second out of the inning. The game would remain tied into extra innings.
In the top of the 10th inning, with Giants closer Sergio Romo pitching, Troy Tulowitzki hit a lead-off homer to put the Rockies up 5-4. After the one slider he left hanging, Romo was like his normal self as he retired the next three batters. It did not take long to be reminded that these San Francisco Giants are still the World Champions. With Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt in for the save, the Giants showed the league that they still have the championship grit that has served them so well two of the last three Octobers. Rockie-killer Brandon Crawford walked to lead off the inning. After a sacrifice bunt outfielder Angel Pagan would come to bat. Pagan, 2-5 career against Betancourt, would become the first player since 2004 to hit a walk-off inside the park home run. Oh by the way, the last time that happened was also against the Rockies, when Shawn Chacon blew a save against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Rey Sanchez.
This is the kind of game that can add to the aura of the Giants. The Rockies, especially the young ones, need to avoid being shook by the loss. It is one game in May, and besides the Rockies are going to win the series tomorrow.