"Pitching, defense and the three-run homer." The Rockies executed Earl Weaver's plan quite well, even if it was more pitching, defense and the RBI double, en route to opening the season with a series sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee.
It is just the second time in franchise history the Rockies have opened a season with a sweep on the road, the first coming in 1998 in the first three games in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is the first 3-0 start for the Rockies period since 2001, when the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle contracts seemed like good ideas.
The home runs from Corey Dickerson, Carlos Gonzalez and Wilin Rosario will grab the headlines, but it was a third-straight strong pitching performance that provided the foundation for tonight's 5-4 win at Miller Park.
Eddie Butler was one out away from providing the Rockies with their third straight quality start to start the season, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing two runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts. While the walk numbers are a bit concerning, it was nice to see Butler strike out five in less than six innings as declining strikeout numbers were an issue for him in 2014.
Combine Butler's numbers with those of Kyle Kendrick and Jordan Lyles in the first two games and the Rockies' starting pitchers posted a 1.93 ERA in 18 2/3 innings in the three-game series, giving up 16 hits and five walks while striking out 13. An excellent start for a unit that was a major question mark going into the season, and still is in many ways.
Tonight did see the first blip from the Rockies' bullpen, which had thrown five scoreless innings in the first two games, as LaTroy Hawkins blew the save in the ninth, allowing two runs on four singles that were largely of the seeing-eye variety. However, Brooks Brown, Adam Ottavino and John Axford all contributed scoreless innings tonight and Christian Friedrich retired the lone man he faced to finish the sixth.
As for that headline-grabbing offense, it started slower than in the first two games, waiting until the top of the fifth with the Rockies down 2-0 to get on the board thanks to a DJ LeMahieu RBI single that scored Nolan Arenado, who had doubled, one of four on the day and 16 in the series for the Rockies.
It was still 2-1 in the seventh when Corey Dickerson launched his second home run of the season to right-center against Brewers starter Wily Peralta to even the score.
The seventh inning was Peralta's last, as Milwaukee went to veteran righty Jonathan Broxton for the eighth. Broxton struck out pinch hitter Daniel Descalso before giving up, what else, a double to Charlie Blackmon, who became the eighth Rockies hitter with a two-bagger in the series. The double brought Gonzalez to the plate and having been robbed of hits earlier in the game by both Peralta and Khris Davis, decided to hit one where no Brewer could catch it:
CarGo homer! https://t.co/QhYz67p5pf— Russ Oates (@ROates33) April 9, 2015
Gonzalez's first home run of the season gave the Rockies a 4-2 lead heading to the ninth, a lead that Hawkins would cough up on a quartet of hits that combined probably did not travel as far as Gonzalez's 466-foot moon shot.
LeMahieu flew out to center to lead off the Rockies' half of the 10th, so with no one on base Rockies manager Walt Weiss sent up Wilin Rosario to get his first at bat of the season pinch hitting for Hawkins. It was an excellent at bat by Rosario, who fell behind 0-2 before laying off three straight Francisco Rodriguez breaking balls until he getting the fastball he was looking for and taking Rodriguez deep with his first swing of the season, giving the Rockies a 5-4 lead.
Taking the one-run lead to the bottom of the 10th, Weiss called on John Axford, who spent parts of five seasons in Milwaukee and set the Brewers' single-season saves record in 2011, for his first appearance as a Rockie. Axford rewarded his manager's confidence by striking out Adam Lind and inducing ground-ball outs from Aramis Ramirez and Davis to earn the save and seal the Rockies sweep.
Axford dedicated the save and the Rockies dedicated the win to his 2-year-old son Jameson, who is still in the hospital after being bitten by a rattlesnake during spring training in Arizona.
The Rockies will now bring an offense that produced 20 runs and 21 extra-base hits in three games in Milwaukee to Coors Field for the first home series of the season against the Chicago Cubs. The series opens at 2:10 p.m. Friday with Tyler Matzek facing Travis Wood.