SAN FRANCISCO — The last time the Colorado Rockies visited AT&T Park in San Francisco was arguably the turning point of the entire 2018 season.
When the Colorado Rockies walked off the field in San Francisco on June 28, DJ LeMahieu had just hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to give the Rockies a 9-8 victory. The blast snapped a four-game losing streak (including dropping the first two games of a three-game series with the Giants) and pulled Colorado (now with a 39-42 mark) within eight games of division-leading Arizona.
Luke Mullins wrote a great article about LeMahieu’s homer and its effects that you can read by clicking here. Simply put, however, the Rockies turned their season around after that blast.
Tonight, they return to San Francisco with an 81-65 record and a 1.5-game lead in the National League West. Yes, since LeMahieu’s heroics, the Rockies are 42-23. However, the All-Star second baseman quickly credits Colorado’s pitching for the turnaround.
"“It was a game that we really needed to win,” LeMahieu told me inside the Rockies dugout before batting practice. “We scored eight runs. It was back and forth. It was a huge win, definitely. It seems like, after that, our pitchers went to LA and all three starters had like seven innings with one or less runs. It seems like our starters have been pretty dang consistent since that point.“I don’t know if it sparked us but our pitching has sure been good since then.”"
It was also a turning point for another reason. In the 9-8 win, Jon Gray allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings of work as his ERA rose to 5.77 for the season. Two days later, Gray would be sent to Triple-A Albuquerque in what some at the time considered a shocking move for a team’s Opening Day starter.
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I talked to Gray about his stint in Triple-A in this article and he told me in this article how it changed him as a pitcher and a person. It’s evident the time in Albuquerque paid off. Gray’s ERA before the All-Star break was 5.44 and he had surrendered 113 hits in 99.1 innings. Since mid-July, it stands at 3.77 with just 49 hits given up in 62 innings.
On Friday, I caught up with him as he returned to San Francisco for the first time since struggling in June.
"“It did,” Gray told me when I asked if that thought crossed his mind as the Rockies got near AT&T Park on Friday. “I was aware of it. I’m glad I have taken the steps to do everything I can to help the team.”"
When I asked manager Bud Black about that June game before tonight’s game, he said it was an important win, but also quickly talked about numerous other late-game rallies the Rockies have had this season.
"“It was a big game for sure,” Black said. “Winning dramatically like that, maybe you could make that claim. But I know being around this game a long time, I don’t think there’s one moment that triggers something. When we left the ballpark that night, we felt good about that game. I think the more of those moments you can have and those wins you can have, you gain momentum.”"
The Rockies left San Francisco in late June searching for a way to get back into the division race. They return now in mid-September as the hunted rather than the hunters. They last left here chasing the Giants in the standings. They have the chance this trip to eliminate the Giants from postseason contention.