Elias Díaz may have gotten the accolades after his walkoff home run gave the Colorado Rockies a Thursday night win over the St. Louis Cardinals, but there were two key at-bats just before the heroics that set the stage.
Flash back to Thursday’s series opener with the Cardinals visiting Coors Field for the first time since the Nolan Arenado trade in February. All eyes were on Arenado to start the game, but Díaz would provide the exclamation point on an emotional evening with a three-run home run that broke a 2-2 deadlock and handed the Rockies a 5-2 victory.
Look a little deeper at the box score, though, and you’ll see that there were moments leading up to Díaz that made a difference.
To start, there were two outs in the inning as Charlie Blackmon struck out to open the frame and C.J. Cron followed by grounding out to third.
Brendan Rodgers strolled to the plate with two outs and worked a seven-pitch walk to extend the frame. Up next? Ryan McMahon, who worked a seven-pitch walk of his own to earn a free pass. McMahon was at 2-2 earlier in the count, then fouled off a pitch to stay alive before taking two pitches outside the strike zone to earn the walk.
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Three pitches later, Díaz hit the homer and the Rockies walked off winners.
All eyes were on Elias Díaz, but Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black called Ryan McMahon’s walk “the key to the game.”
"“I told him right after the celebration that I think that was the key to the game,” Black said. “You know, players want to be the guy. They want to be the guy that gets a hit. They want to be in that situation. But if it’s not there, you have to take the walk. You cannot expand the zone. That doesn’t help. You have to pass the baton to the next guy, and the next guy was Díaz and he got it done.”"
The irony of the walk being so important to the outcome of the game is what McMahon had done earlier in the contest. McMahon finished the game 1-for-3, thanks to a second-inning single. His two outs at the plate, however, came on two of the four hardest hits of the night, including the hardest shot of the night, a lineout to center field registering at 110.0 mph that had an expected batting average (xBA) of .700.
As Black often says, “That’s baseball.” McMahon shrugged about it when I asked him about his Thursday at-bats.
"“Yeah, he told me ‘Good job man.’ You know, everybody wants to win it, but if you don’t get your pitch, you don’t want to chase,” McMahon said. “I felt like I knew what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to get me to chase something low and away and I’d already swung through a good slider he threw me.”"
That pitch that McMahon swung through from Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos moved the count to 3-2. Gallegos would come back with a fastball high in the zone that McMahon would foul off to keep the at-bat alive. One pitch later, Gallegos came back with a fastball that was too high and McMahon had earned his free pass.
McMahon has been trying to find a way to contribute to the offense more after a June where he slashed just .211/.276/.395 with three homers and 11 RBI while striking out 36 times in 76 at-bats.
He knows the numbers. He’s also looking for that spark to get him back to his April numbers where his eight home runs were powering the Rockies and catching attention from around the country.
"“Everybody knows how I’ve been going a little bit lately,” McMahon said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle so I’m trying to get back to doing the things that I know I can do.“(Thursday) night felt good, man, so, I honestly can’t be too upset (about the hard-hit balls for outs). My only job is to hit the ball hard, and I did that. I just didn’t have anything to show for it.”"
As the calendar turns to July, McMahon knows he and the Rockies are in the second half of what has been a challenging campaign. However, he’s embracing what lies ahead with a positive outlook.
"“I think the team’s in a good spot,” McMahon said. “We’re playing good baseball and I’m just trying to contribute to that. I’ll get there.”"