Wayback Wednesday: Colorado Rockies 7, Florida Marlins 3


May 9, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; A general view of Coors Field. The game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers was cancelled due to weather. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Thirteen years ago today, Greg Norton slugged a pinch-hit grand slam, and the Colorado Rockies defeated the Florida Marlins at Coors Field.

The Colorado Rockies have had some good years: 1995, 2007, 2009, even 2010 up until, well, the lastcouple of weeks. But 2002 was, um, not one of those good years. The Rockies finished 73-89, 25 games out of first place (but the Padres were worse! Yay!).

The club also finished dead last in the National League in ERA (surprise, surprise), and except for a decent season on the mound by rookie-turned-ace Jason Jennings, Denny Stark was the club’s best pitcher that year. (And yes, Denny Neagle was still making starts for the team at this point.)

Do you remember Denny Stark? You should, if only for the fact that in 2002 Stark had the best year of his career, pitching in 32 games (20 starts) and going 11-4 with an ERA at 4.00 on the dot.

Never mind the monstrous 6.11 FIP and 1.8 home runs per nine innings allowed across 128.1 frames, Stark had himself a season to remember. He got hazed by veterans while “taming” Coors Field, and finished ninth in Rookie of the Year voting!

Stark had come over to Denver in a 2001 trade that also brought Brian Fuentes, and sent Jeff Cirillo to the Seattle Mariners. But after 2002, Stark never again had big league success.

After struggling with the Rockies in 2003, barely throwing in 2004, and missing all of 2006 and 2007 to injuries (!), he resurfaced in the majors with Seattle again in 2009, throwing 11 innings as a 34-year old. A year in indy league ball in 2010 was the swan song of his career.

Anyways, this post isn’t about Stark per se, but more what he (and the team) did on May 13, 2002, exactly 13 years ago today.

Stark was called up from the minors to make his Rockies debut that day for the 16-21 club against the 21-16 Marlins and Brad Penny at Coors Field. Both Penny and Stark pitched well, but both were out by the middle of the sixth inning, with the Rockies leading 2-0 thanks to six shut out frames from Stark and two unearned runs scored off Penny and a poor Marlins defense.

In the bottom of the sixth, Gary Knotts came in for the Marlins and walked Todd Hollandsworth, Jose Ortiz, and Bobby Estalella in succession, bringing Greg Norton to the plate, pinch-hitting for Stark in what was still a 2-0 game.

Norton slugged a pinch-hit grand slam, putting the game out of reach and leading the Rockies to their 17th victory of the year (what humidor?!).

You’d think Norton’s feat was pretty rare, but it was, well, one of six pinch-hit grand slams in 2002 alone, and one of hundreds and hundreds in baseball history. It was also one of nine in Rockies history.

Also, as you might expect, through 2012, teams were 234-66 (.780) in games where they hit a pinch-hit grand slam, so history was on Norton’s side.

Nevertheless, Justin Speier and Dennys Reyes held off the Marlins in relief, and Stark picked up his first win as a Rockie, and just the second win of his big league career.

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Stark hadn’t yet turned 28, and was still considered a prospect, having just won Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year the summer before.

But between injuries and ineffectiveness, he would only win 13 more big league games in his career after defeating Penny that Monday night in Denver thirteen years ago.

Norton played in Denver through 2003, and retired from baseball in 2009 after a 13-year big league career.

After serving as a minor league hitting coach, he is now the hitting coach at Auburn University.