A healthy crowd of over 35,000, many of them Little Leaguers there for Youth Baseball Day, turned out to Coors Field last night to watch two of the worst teams in baseball. Despite the Rockies' recent struggles, the atmosphere before the game was anything but grim. On the hottest day of the year so far, with no chance of rain in the forecast, the vibe in the park was lively and shirts were optional (particularly if you were one of the aforementioned Little Leaguers with designs on getting on the JumboTron.) Jorge De La Rosa was on the mound, and the Brewers have been having a terrible year. The crowd turned out for a nice night at the ballpark, but they were also hoping for, and possibly even expecting, a Rockies win.
It didn't happen.
For the third consecutive game, the Rockies were outscored by four runs at home, dropping their fifth straight game and ninth out of ten in the process. Once again, a Rockies starter failed to pitch deep into the game, and once again the bullpen gave up enough insurance runs to guarantee the middling offense little chance of coming back.
Much like Wednesday night's game, which I was also unfortunate enough to witness in person, the Rockies' starter stumbled out of the gate. One batter after the Brewers exhausted their challenge on the very first play of the game, Gerardo Parra hit a routine fly ball to center field. Charlie Blackmon stood still for several seconds before frantically running backwards. The ball went over his head for a double. It was one of the worst misreads I've seen a Major League outfielder make on a fly ball, and it hurt the Rockies immediately as Ryan Braun hit his 14th home run of the season in the very next at bat, putting the Rockies in a 2-0 hole. They would never be closer than that for the rest of the game. The Brewers weren't done in the first, however, as Aramis Ramirez hit a solo home run with two outs to put them up by three.
The Rockies offense was completely inept against Taylor Jungmann the first time through the lineup, with Ben Paulsen's infield single accounting for their only baserunner through the first three innings. By the time the fourth inning came around, the Rockies were in a six run hole, thanks to the Brewers adding a run in each of their previous three at bats against De La Rosa.
DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki started the bottom of the fourth with singles, before a Nolan Arenado triple plated both of them. The next batter, Paulsen, doubled home Arenado with his second hit of the day, and the Rockies were within three.
These events left the crowd buzzing in a way that I have seldom heard at Coors Field this year. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was all the sugar high kids sitting near me, but for a moment it reminded me of the crowd at a much more important game than a matchup between two last place teams in the middle of June. Nick Hundley and Brandon Barnes were unable to extend the rally, and the game went to the fifth with the score 6-3.
The Rockies threatened again in the fifth, but Daniel Descalso was caught stealing on a pitch-out, and Troy Tulowitzki was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Bill Miller to end the inning. Tulo stood at the plate for over a minute after being called out, fuming over the call. It would not be the last time a Colorado player would be unhappy with Miller last night.
Still trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the sixth, the Rockies got more help from Arenado and Paulsen. With Nolan aboard with a one-out single, it was Ben's turn to hit a triple, cutting the lead to two with only one out. The buzz returned. I even stood up, though I couldn't get my friends to join me. It seemed like the Rockies really had a chance to come back. Unfortunately, Hundley and Barnes were once again unable to bring home a runner in scoring position. Still, with nine outs to play with, there was a sense that the Rockies had a very good chance to come back.
In the top of the seventh, that hope evaporated as Christian Bergman, after pitching a scoreless sixth, gave up four consecutive hits without recording an out. He was relieved by LaTroy Hawkins, who inherited two baserunners and what had become an 8-4 deficit. One of those runners would go on to score, and the Brewers now led by five.
Some people started to head for the exits, and the hope in the ballpark deflated; with the exception of the Little Leaguers, who continued to cheer and chant just as loudly as they had earlier in the game. It brought me back to a time when being at a baseball game was so much fun that I could absorb a bad loss without minding it too much. Rockies fans often get accused of just showing up to Coors Field purely for the experience, but last night there was a definite sense of dissatisfaction. Even Jorge De La Rosa, who just last week became the franchise's all-time wins leader, was booed when he walked in a run in the third. People have become accustomed to the Rockies winning more often than they lose at home, and the atrocious 13-21 start to the home schedule is starting to test their patience.
I more or less disengaged myself from the game for the eighth and the top of the ninth, resigned to a loss, but when the Rockies came to bat for the last time in the ninth I turned my hat inside out and backwards, in the hopes that it would spur them to an improbable rally. This habit, learned the same year that I myself went with my little league team to Coors Field on Youth Baseball Day, has served me well over the years, and the Rockies have scored at least one run every time I've used it this season. Looking around me, I saw many people from ages 7 to 70 doing the same thing. It's completely silly, but I'll probably do it for the rest of my life. Maybe it helps me to connect with that earlier time, or maybe it helps me feel like I can somehow impact the outcome of a game that has absolutely nothing to do with me.
Nick Hundley led off the inning by hitting a dribbler along the foul line that spun from foul territory to fair. It looked like an easy out, but Brewers first baseman Jason Rogers bobbled the ball, and Hundley was safe...until he wasn't. Bill Miller called Hundley out, saying that he had stepped out of the basepath and was therefore guilty of interference. This was not at all evident to any of the fans still in attendance, and boos rained down on the field as the frustration that had been accumulating since the start of the game came pouring out. Despite the Rockies being in a five run hole, I found myself getting angry and joining the boo birds myself. I still wanted them to win this one, badly.
The team still rallied a bit (you're welcome) after that call, as Brandon Barnes doubled and Charlie Blackmon hit yet another Rockies triple to make the score 9-5. Then, with a runner in scoring position and Troy Tulowitzki on deck, DJ LeMahieu was rung up by Miller on a full count pitch that I could see was off the plate from section 331. Game over. More boos.
The crowd leaving the park seemed considerably more disgruntled than I've seen at other recent Rockies losses, with the exception of the Little Leaguers, who still seemed to be doing fine. They're young enough that the Rockies haven't turned them into cynical, angry people yet, and I was jealous of their ability to be unphased by the thoroughly terrible baseball game they had just witnessed, but I understood the grim faces of the adults far more. Both groups badly wanted the team to win last night, but only one of them was paying for the privilege. The Rockies will probably never drive me away, but if this performance at home keeps up they run the risk of losing the casual fan who comes to games because Coors Field is such a great place to be on a hot summer night. Winning is a huge part of what makes that experience so much fun, and the Rockies haven't been doing nearly enough of it this year. Last night wasn't a great time at the ballpark, no matter how much everyone in attendance wanted it to be, and neither the boundless energy of thousands of Little Leaguers or my rally cap could save it.
Only the Rockies can do that.