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Rockies vault out of the gate, then narrowly hang on for 5-4 win over the D'Backs

Boy did that get dicey in the late innings ...

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever experienced one of those weather days where it starts off sunny, warm, and beautiful before ominous looking storm clouds gather in the afternoon? Well, that's kind of how this game unfolded for the Rockies, except the big storms threatening on the horizon never moved in and ruined the day.

Early on, the Rockies looked like they were headed towards a blowout win as they overwhelmed D'Backs starter Chase Anderson with a flawless display of pitch recognition and power. Following a one out first inning Corey Dickerson single, Troy Tulowitzki put together a 13 pitch walk that may have been his best trip to the plate so far this season. After walking just once all year coming into tonight, Tulo fouled off seven pitches, including five in a row at one point, and didn't chase any junk way outside the zone. The sequence visually frustrated Anderson who made several pitches that usually would be good enough to end an at bat. Not here.

Now in a jam, Anderson didn't want to walk another batter, and as a result, he served up a fat pitch inside to Justin Morneau, who promptly launched it over the right field fence to give the Rockies a quick 3-0 lead. The rout appeared to be on.

The Rockies would get after Anderson again in the second inning, adding to their lead with four consecutive singles. But they also let Anderson off the hook by making two separate outs on the base paths. This limited the damage in this frame to just a single run and prevented Tulo and Morneau from coming up with men on and a chance to really inflict some pain.

From there, Anderson found new life, settled down and navigated through three scoreless frames while his offense began to chip away at the Colorado lead. During the middle of this game, the Rockies had multiple opportunities to deliver a  knock out punch of sorts with their opponent on the ropes, but they never landed anything and turned the closing stages of this affair into a white-knuckle adventure.

The one run the Rockies did score in the middle innings however proved to be huge. It started with a beautiful double from Tulo to lead off the sixth. Behind in the count 0-2 with a three man shift on the left side of the field, Tulo correctly anticipated a pitch away and shot the ball by the first base bag through the wide open space down the line. He would later score what would turn out to be the winning run following a Morneau single and a Nolan Arenado sac fly.

From there though, things got dicey. The Rockies left the bases loaded later in that sixth inning as Tyler Matzek was allowed to bat with two outs in hopes of getting him through at least six innings of work. It seemed like the right decision at the time with Matzek just under 80 pitches on the night, but a mere two pitches into the bottom half of the inning, Matzek was pulled from the game with a hamstring cramp. Rotten luck!

Thankfully, it doesn't appear serious and Matzek has a good chance to make his next start.

This however opened the middle relief flood gates and gave the D'Backs a chance to win a game where they could have just as easily been buried in the second inning.

The Rockies made numerous mistakes down the stretch that nearly cost them the game, but the following six stand out:

  • Brooks Brown walked Yasmany Thomas to lead off the bottom of the sixth. He would score later in the inning to cut the lead to 5-3.
  • Tulo grounded into a double play with two on and nobody out in the seventh which killed a rally.
  • Michael McKenry grounded into another double play in the eighth following a Carlos Gonzalez lead off single.
  • Rafael Betancourt allowed a booming double to center field that's probably a home run in most parts of the part off the bat of Mark Trumbo to lead off the bottom of the eighth.
  • With two outs and Trumbo on third later that inning, Tulo made a brutal error in which he allowed a ball to slip right through his legs when he picked up his glove too fast and didn't stay down on the ball. If the Rockies let this one slip away, this is the play that we're obsessing over. For a guy with the HIGHEST FIELDING PERCENTAGE OF ANY SHORTSTOP IN THE HISTORY OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (minimum 5,000 innings at the position), it's a play Tulo should have made in his sleep. I can guarantee you he's still fuming about missing this ball, because not only did this plate a gift run, it also allowed the D'Backs to get an extra man to the plate, and of course that man ended up being Paul Goldschmidt with a man on first and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I can't even begin to articulate how upset Tulo would have been if Goldschmidt hit one out and his error ended up directly setting off a chain of events that cost his team the game. Tulo would've been crushed!
  • When Goldschmidt got to the plate, John Axford quickly got ahead of him 0-2, but he made a major mistake and left a fastball up in the zone. He paid for it with a single that moved the tying run to third, but it could have been much, much worse.

After getting pushed to the edge of the cliff with all these mistakes, Axford got Trumbo to ground out to Nolan Arenado to end the game on the first pitch of the next at bat.

/ Exhale

On another night, maybe against another opponent, the Rockies cough this one up. Perhaps the D'Backs don't go 1-13 with runners in scoring position, perhaps that 0-2 pitch Axford left up to the opponent's best hitter in the ninth is taken over wall for a walk off, or perhaps the baseball gods decide to punish the Rockies in some other way for all the opportunities they missed in this game. Who knows?

Tonight however, what the Rockies were able to do early was good enough to cover for what they failed to do late. The Rockies should celebrate this win, but I'm sure that entire clubhouse would tell you they need to do a better job finishing these types of games off going forward. The next time they play like that for the final seven innings, they probably won't be so lucky.

This was a great win not so much because it was a great win, it was a great win because it avoided what would have been such a terrible loss.

* * * *

It's easy to overlook the way this game played out, but Tyler Matzek put together another start where he limited runs. In fact, Matzek has been extremely impressive in his last ten starts now dating back to last season.

The only problem in 2015, and it is a pretty big problem, has been the limited number of innings. So far in four starts, Matzek has only given the Rockies 20 innings. He was likely going to give them at least one more if his hamstring didn't cramp up tonight though, so hopefully he's healthy and can build on this next time out in San Diego.

It's also worth noting that this was a sneaky tough match up for Matzek because of how right handed the D'Backs can make their lineup. For his career, righties have an .836 OPS against Matzek while lefties have only a .471 OPS against him. Unfortunately for this lefty, the Padres can also make their lineup extremely right handed.

That'll have to wait for the weekend though. For now, the Rockies can turn their attention to assuring a series win tomorrow with Kyle Kendrick on the mound against Archie Bradley.