The Rockies didn't invent doing just enough to lose, but they sure have perfected it. On a night where they jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and showed some character by coming back twice, they still lost in walk off fashion in a game they had to have.
For a while, neither pitcher could get anybody out, then the bullpens came and nobody could score, then the Rockies came back in the top of the 9th to tie the game, and then the Braves were celebrating an Andrelton Simmons walkoff double in the infield. This played out like a long, tragic, novel more than a baseball game, but almost every chapter had one common theme; the Rockies doing just enough to lose.
Lets take Nolan Arenado's night since this is the banner example. Coming into this game, he had not had an extra base hit since June 28th; tonight he had two including a home run. However, thanks to an extremely untimely and uncharacteristic error in the third inning, and an untimely double play in the eighth, he ends up a wearing the goat horns this game.
Arenado's error in the third is where this game really came off its tracks. After the Rockies jumped all over Brandon Beachy in his first start back from Tommy John surgery and staked their pitcher to an early 5-0 lead, Jorge De La Rosa began to crack in the third. He gave up a lead off single to Joey Terdoslavich, an RBI single to Jason Heyward,a walk to Justin Upton, and another hit to Freddie Freeman. At this point, it was still a 5-1 game with one out and the bases load. Trouble was mounting, but a ground ball would get the Rockies out of the inning.
On the next pitch, De La Rosa got it. A weak ground ball dribbled towards Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, a ground ball that on most nights, he would turn into a double play in his sleep. Instead, he rushed things when he didn't have to, bobbled the ball, and got nobody. It was now 5-2, the bases were still loaded, and the momentum changed as sharply as the seasons. De La Rosa unraveled from there, missing up and in several times to several batters, and by the time the inning was over, the Braves led 6-5.
Arenado tried to redeem himself in the top of the fourth as he led off with a solo home run, but the error still proved more impactful than the bomb. It did show character to bounce back quick, which says good things about his makeup long term, but it far from evened the scales tonight.
The Rockies and Braves would each take the lead one more time through the fifth before the bullpens stabilized the game at 8-7. The Rockies first strong chance to break the Braves advantage came in the eighth when Arenado came to the plate with men on first and second and one out. On a 3-1 pitch that could have been lined the other way for a game tying base hit, Arenado instead tried to pull the ball, rolled it over, and grounded into a costly inning ending double play.
In the 9th, the Rockies had another chance to make up the run after a Dexter Fowler walk and a DJ LeMahieu single put runners on the corners with out out for Carlos Gonzalez. Cargo, who went 5-5 with two stolen bases on the night, took the ball the other way to left center field for a line drive game tying single. (Lost in the madness of tonight's game is the fact that Cargo officially put together his fourth consecutive 20/20 season)
Unfortunately, the Rockies were not able to add on. Troy Tulowitzki flew out to center field for the second out but hit it deep enough for both runners to advance. Then, after an intentional walk to Michael Cuddyer, the Braves brought in lefty Scott Downs to face Todd Helton with the bases loaded. Helton was able to barrel up an 0-1 pitch, but it was right at Downs who gloved the bullet to escape the jam.
After Matt Belisle worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth, the Rockies again squandered an opportunity to take the lead in the tenth following a Wilin Rosario lead-off single. Instead of letting Arenado, who already had a home run and a double on the night swing away, manager Walt Weiss elected to have him bunt Rosario into scoring position in an attempt to stay out of another double play. However, the strategy failed as both pinch hitter Charlie Culberson (who was making his Rockies debut) and Dexter Fowler were unable to knock the run in.
Then came an even more question decision. With Rex Brothers available, Weiss elected to go to Edgmer Escalona in the bottom of the tenth. The idea here was to save Brothers for an actual save situation, but this line of thinking ends up looking incredibly foolish when there never ends up actually being a save situation as was the case tonight.
Weiss is hardly the only manager to adhere to this strategy, but this line of thinking seems about as wise to me as holding onto a wild card in a game of "Uno" when your opponent has one card left. Maybe you want to save that wild card for later, but you're going to feel terrible about yourself if your opponent goes out while your still holding the best card left in your hand. Or to put it another way, Weiss tried to win a battle in the eleventh inning of a game he lost in ten.
This is bad enough on any night, but in this game it was even worse with the Braves bullpen wearing thin and both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki due up in the eleventh. If you're the Rockies, you have to make the decision that gives your team the best chance to get to that scenario and I'm confident that Edgmer Escalona wasn't the right one.
Almost on cue, Escalona walked Dan Uggla on nine pitches to leadoff the inning. Then Atlanta's manager Fredi González was presented with the exact same decision Walt Weiss had in the top of the frame. He had a bottom of the order bat coming up who has struggled most of the season, but already had multiple hits and an RBI on the night in Andrelton Simmons. Unlike Weiss, Gonzalez let his young infielder swing away, and after Edgmer Escalona left an 0-2 pitch in the middle of Broadway, Simmons pounded a double that would score Uggla all the way from first.
Game, Set, Match, and getting pretty close to season as well with the Rockies now dropping a 2013 high 6.5 games off the division lead to a scalding hot Dodgers team who only didn't win today because they didn't play.
The news gets even worse. On paper, this was the most winnable game of the series. The pitching match ups only become more favorable for Atlanta from here on out, and now it's going to take an enormous effort just to salvage a split in a ballpark that has been Colorado's biggest house of horrors east of the Mississippi River for years. They haven't won a series here since 2004, and you can almost take it to the bank that they're not winning this one either.
If this team didn't exist, you couldn't make them up.
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Games Behind: 6.5
Games Left: 55
Record needed to beat Keith Law's prediction: 3-52
Record needed to beat 2012: 14-41
Record needed to beat the Vegas Over / Under Number: 21-34
Record needed to finish above .500: 31-25
Number of Home Runs needed for Cargo, Tulo, and Rosario to combine for 100: 40
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This series continues tomorrow at 5:10 pm MT as Juan Nicasio (6-4, 4.40) looks to continue to build on recent momentum and takes on Alex Wood (0-2, 3.42).