Hello. Hey there. Hi. My name is Eric. Here’s something about me: I like baseball. In fact, I like it enough that one day I decided to become a common blogger. And here I am. Here’s another thing about me: In addition to baseball, I specifically like Colorado Rockies baseball. Maybe you do as well. You probably do. Here’s something about January: There isn’t any baseball being played, at least in the northern hemisphere. Wholly because of that, there is no Rockies baseball. Fellow blogger Adam Peterson, on blog Rockies Zingers, characterized these days as the Baseball Solstice — we’re closer to the next season than we are to the last season, and January represents the final full month of the offseason without baseball activity. January is the month when I, like Adam, usually begin to pine for baseball in general and Rockies baseball in particular — two things I like a lot.
What follows is an article whose entire existence owes to my desire to watch Rockies baseball in January. My guiding questions for this article: First, does MLB.tv have archived games, and if so how far back do they go? (Yes and 2012) Second, does my 2014 subscription apply to these games? (No) Third, how can I rationalize spending money on an "offseason package?" (I wanna) Fourth, how can I spin this into a blog? (Answer -->) My intent here is to provide the recap of a game with whole bunch of hindsight and some fun screen grabs peppered in. I identified a game to watch and write about by using Baseball Reference’s Play Index to search for games with a lot of high-pressure situations (I sorted by average leverage index, but this article is not about that). I settled on a game against the Giants on May 15, 2012, in San Francisco. This game had an unusual amount of high leverage situations, especially for Rockies pitchers.
Unlike 2011, 2013, and 2014, 2012 didn’t offer a smidgen of hope for Rockies’ fans. The team sat above .500 only three times, on April 6, April 20, and April 27. Their records on those days were 1-0, 7-6, and 10-9. Never were they more than one game above .500. When the Rockies and Giants met in San Francisco on May 15, the Rockies were 13-21 and already 10.5 games out of first place. Though the Giants would go on to win the World Series, they were just 18-17 heading in to the game and six games out of first place.
That 2012 season was a year of odd injuries for the Rockies, even that early in the season. By the end of April, Josh Outman vomited himself onto the disabled list — "Hurler Outman Injured after Hurling something Out" — and Jeremy Guthrie’s bicycle chain broke on the way to Coors Field — "Guthrie on Disabled list After Bicycle Mishap". Not only that, but the day before the game at hand, Troy Tulowitzki was hit by a foul ball off of the bat of Dexter Fowler while standing at the top of the dugout (he wasn’t even on deck!) — "X-Rays Negative on Tulo’s Leg as Rockies’ Avert Serious Injury" (lol). Outman played a role in the May 15 game, which was also Guthrie’s first game back from the DL. Tulowitzki played on May 15 against the Giants too, but his final game of the season ended up being about two weeks later on May 31.
The May 15 game was slow to develop, with most of the high-pressure situations coming late with fewer outs to go. It was a close game throughout. The Giants took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third when Brandon Belt hit a sacrifice fly against Rockies starter Jeremy Guthrie. But in the top of the fourth, Troy Tulowitzki hit an RBI single against Giants’ erstwhile ace Tim Lincecum, which scored Carlos Gonzalez. While the seventh inning ended up as the most crucial, the seeds were planted in the sixth. In the top half of the inning, the Rockies took a two-run lead. Michael Cuddyer doubled in Tulowitzki, and Jordan Pacheco scored Todd Helton with a sacrifice fly. The score was 3-1.
An aside: Jordan Pacheco started at third base for the Rockies in this game. In fact, he started 80 games at third for the Rockies in 2012, which was most on the team and followed by the 68 games Chris Nelson started. Pacheco and Nelson combined to unproduce -1.2 bWAR in 2012, though they both played a variety of positions other than third. What’s notable about that is what came the following year. Nolan Arenado came in and produced 3.9 bWAR in his rookie season in 2013. In other words, the difference between Pacheco’s and Nelson’s combined WAR in 2012 and Arenado’s in 2013 was 5.2. Arenado eliminated the need to play more than one below replacement level player at third, and ultimately he eliminated the need to roster more than one below replacement level player, as Chris Nelson departed shortly after Arenado’s arrival. Arenado's call-up was addition by addition, as well as addition by subtraction. Watching this game, I realized how dramatic of an upgrade Arenado was and is at third base.
Back to the sixth inning of the game. The two runs the Rockies scored in the top of the sixth were important, and while the Giants didn’t score in the bottom half of the inning, the context of their later comeback was set then. Jeremy Guthrie, pitching a fine game up to that point, opened the sixth by walking Buster Posey, followed by an Angel Pagan single. Guthrie then retired youngster Charlie Culberson for the first out. Manager Jim Tracy pulled Guthrie for Josh Outman, who quelled the rally by striking out Brandon Crawford and retiring Emmanuel Burris.
Whew! That was close. And now, with a two run lead and just nine outs to go before victory and a decently rested bullpen, it was time to shut the door. And how did the Rockies go about that on this day? By allowing Josh Outman to lead off the next inning is how. Observe:
Outman predictably struck out. Despite the free out given, the Rockies added to their lead in the top of the seventh, when Tyler Colvin singled, stole second base, and scored on a Carlos Gonzalez single. The Rockies headed into the bottom of the seventh with a 4-1 lead. It was in getting these final nine outs that Rockies pitchers faced a slew of high-leverage situations, and most of it was by their own doing.
First, Outman — the relief pitcher who led off the previous inning — came back out to the mound and proceeded to walk the first two batters he faced before striking out the third. With one out and two on, Melky Cabrera doubled in two runs to turn the 4-1 Rockies advantage into a 4-3 game. Matt Belisle then came in for Outman. Belisle retired Posey, but Angel Pagan singled in the tying run before Belisle struck out the rookie Culberson to end the inning.
Another aside: Consuming baseball on television is a total experience. When Rockies fans complain about the broadcasts, it’s not a complaint against a peripheral matter, but something directly tied to the enjoyment of consuming the game. This game in particular had some interesting broadcast moments that at least in hindsight actually added to my enjoyment of the game. The pre-game show had a nice George Frazier-ism. When talking about Tulo getting hit in the leg with a foul ball, Frazier said: "At least one good thing came out of it. Tulo is in the lineup today." Hmm…? Later in the game, the camera found a cruise ship in San Francisco Bay. Drew Goodman to George Frazier: "Do you like cruises?" George Frazier (emphatically): "No!" Silence followed, as I imagine them both scrambling to find out whether or not Carnival is a sponsor. The silence was then followed by contrived praise of the entire cruise industry. Finally, I’m thankful that the fifth inning chat session changed from a stream of texted thoughts to curated and directed questions. This particular game brought witty gems such as "let's cut the Giants down to size!!" and "Let’s pour some PURPLE rain on the Giants!" Get it? Really — do you get it? Because unless it means blasting Prince into the home clubhouse, I don’t. The worst part of it all is that I couldn’t help reading. My eyes were drawn away from baseball and toward the wisdom of Hambone from Parker. This area of Rockies broadcasts, at least, has improved over time.
The Rockies' self-made drama continued in the bottom of the eighth inning. When searching for a game to watch with a lot of high pressure situations, I expected drama, but not necessarily frustration. But that’s what I got.
Rex Brothers came in to relieve Belisle as part of a double switch. Marco Scutaro entered the game to play second base, moving Jonathan Herrera to third. Brothers had a fun and anxiety-inducing inning. It opened with a walk. Rex’ll be Rex. Emmanuel Burriss then bunted Crawford over to second to put the go-ahead run into scoring position. The pitcher’s spot was due up next, and Bruce Bochy went to the big gun on his bench — Brett Pill, the 27-year-old with rookie status who ended 2012 with an OPS+ of 75. With such a menacing bat at the plate, Tracy naturally called for the intentional walk. With exactly one base less of wiggle room, Brothers then unintentionally walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases. Or maybe it was intentional, given what happened next.
With one out and the bases full following three walks, Brothers got pissed. Maybe at himself; maybe at the crisp San Francisco air. It doesn't matter. All of the sudden, Brothers's slider became unhittable and his fastball, reaching 97mph, had more bite. He struck out Belt and Cabrera on seven total pitches. The game remained tied. Melky’s reaction:
As the home team, the Giants had the edge in a tie game headed to the ninth inning. The Rockies broke the tie in the ninth with a serendipitous home run. The ninth inning hero: Scutaro. A late-inning replacement, Scutaro led off the top of the ninth with a line-drive dinger off of Santiago Casilla. It was his first home run as a member of the Rockies. "And at AT&T Park of all places!" Drew Goodman declared.
The game concluded with a bit more drama. Rafael Betancourt finished off the game by striking out Nate Schierholtz with the tying run on second base to secure the win.
"You can’t predict baseball," it is said. That usually refers to the future, but I found that it also applies to the past. In my mind, I knew that this game was before the Scutaro/Culberson trade, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to see the future staring at me.
Nor was I prepared to experience Scutaro’s heroics since my memory of his time with the Rockies is of disappointment. And here’s something else: this game was a victory that left a bad taste in my mouth. The Rockies won in spite of themselves, given Tracy’s poor tactical decisions and the walk-happy pitching staff. The five pitchers who appeared combined to walk 10 batters. It was also tough to watch Tulowitzki play on hobbled legs, and this was certainly heightened by my knowledge of his impending season-ending surgery. In the top of the sixth, Tulo hit a line-drive single to center field, and the ball snuck under Angel Pagan’s glove (that man simply cannot field in center when the Rockies are in town). For anyone with two functional legs, it’s a run. Tulo trundled his way to third. I cringed as much as he did.
Despite it all, I had fun watching. Recently, Jay Tymkovich reminded us of the benefits of rooting for a losing team. Only with an admixture of hope and disappointment does baseball actually reflect real life. This game showed that even in victory, the same principle applies. I couldn’t have chosen a more disappointing victory to watch.
How many days until spring training again?