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Gray labors; Everything else goes as expected

CarGo was great, the bullpen returned to earth, and a Rockies baserunning drinking game might kill you.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Jon Gray still doesn't have his first Major League decision, but that wasn't the only reason why Friday night seemed all too familiar. In all of his starts this season except one, Gray has pitched well enough to give the Rockies a chance to win, and in all four of those starts the team has failed to capitalize. Gray lasted only 4 and 1/3 innings last night, despite throwing 89 pitches. His command wasn't particularly awful as he only walked two batters, but he worked deep into counts and didn't display the efficiency we'd seen from him in some of his earlier starts.

The rookie got six of his thirteen outs by way of the strikeout, which also contributed to his high pitch count. I'm never, ever going to criticize a pitcher for striking a lot of guys out though. Gray is a strikeout pitcher and I don't think that he should be forced to change that, but what made the all-time great K-men like Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens so amazing was their ability to mow down hitters without wearing themselves out. Of course, Gray is a rookie and has plenty of time to work on this.

Another thing that hurt Gray last night was his inability to make the pitch he needed to get out of the first and third innings. He allowed two of his three earned runs to come with two outs, a theme that would come back to haunt the Rockies in the late innings.

In the first, he got two quick outs before facing the Pirates' best player in Andrew McCutchen. The first pitch was a nasty 94 mile-per-hour fastball right on the inside corner that backed Cutch up and seemed to at least momentarily rattle him. He just waved at the next pitch, an 86 mile-per-hour slider with a ton of lateral movement. Gray was one strike away from a brilliant first inning, but he missed with an 0-2 fastball before McCutchen fouled off another heater. The second slider of the at-bat didn't have the same kind of movement as the first one, and the former NL MVP lined it into center field for a base hit. That at-bat perfectly illustrates the difference between major and minor league hitters. Even if you manage to make a great player like McCutchen feel uncomfortable, he can still rebound and beat you in that very same at-bat. Once aboard, McCutchen would steal second before being singled home by Jung Ho Kang, who also drove in a run in the third inning for the Pirates.

Gray faced the minimum in both the second and fourth innings, setting down three in a row in the second and benefitting from a great throw by Nick Hundley that cut down Jordy Mercer after he singled in the fourth. To the surprise of some, Walt Weiss sent Gray back out for the fifth inning, despite a pitch count in the seventies, but he didn't stay out for long. A double, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly brought in Pittsburgh's third run, and another McCutchen single chased Gray from the game. It was a decent outing, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to call it solid. Jon did a nice job bouncing back from a bad start while facing a very good team, but it would have been nice to see him work deeper into the game.

Christian Bergman came on in place of Gray and induced a double play ball to get the Rockies out of the inning. In the top of the sixth, Carlos Gonzalez took Jon off the hook by launching a solo home run to center field, his 31st of the season. He's now just three away from matching his career high. This was yet another clutch CarGo blast in the late innings of a close game, and when Nick Hundley followed with a deep fly ball to right field it looked like the Rockies had a chance to take the lead. However, fate intervened as the ball hit near the top of the wall and took a hard bounce right to Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco. Hundley found himself caught between first and second, and wound up being thrown out attempting to dive back to first base.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">When <a href="https://twitter.com/El_Coffee">@El_Coffee</a> comes up throwing, you need to get back quickly. <a href="http://t.co/p76sKEJqEZ">http://t.co/p76sKEJqEZ</a> <a href="http://t.co/DhVWZl4Oib">pic.twitter.com/DhVWZl4Oib</a></p>&mdash; Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) <a href="https://twitter.com/Pirates/status/637437037923037185">August 29, 2015</a></blockquote>

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It's hard to put that one on Nick, but it would still qualify for the Bad Rockies Baserunning Drinking Game, which is illegal in 34 states because of its potential lethality.

CarGo kept the Rockies in the game in the bottom of the sixth by making a phenomenal catch on a sinking Polanco line drive that saved at least two runs. This was after he had almost thrown a runner out at second base a few innings earlier. Watching him do stuff like this still makes me happy and I doubt it will ever get old.

With the score still tied heading to the eighth inning, the Rockies actually had a very good chance to take the lead. Jose Reyes, who Carlton Fisk'd a two-run home run earlier in the game, led off with a single. He was advanced by a DJ LeMahieu sacrifice bunt, before stealing third base with one out and Nolan Arenado at the plate. Nolan then lifted a ball to shallow right field that was caught by Polanco on a dead run. Stu Cole decided to send Reyes to the plate. Polanco's throw was perfect, and Jose was out by a mile. Drink.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">If we learned one thing tonight, it is <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DontRunOnGregory?src=hash">#DontRunOnGregory</a>: <a href="http://t.co/ZaAD7kqMoz">http://t.co/ZaAD7kqMoz</a> <a href="http://t.co/OWK28MAO0I">pic.twitter.com/OWK28MAO0I</a></p>&mdash; Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) <a href="https://twitter.com/Pirates/status/637477290289459200">August 29, 2015</a></blockquote>

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Most Rockies fans have tuned out at this point in the season, but those who are still paying attention will know that the bullpen was actually on a reasonably impressive scoreless innings streak entering tonight's game. By the eighth inning it had grown to 19 1/3 innings, good for the fourth longest streak in franchise history. This is despite the fact that the bullpen has been a pile of garbage for most of this season. Baseball is still weird.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, especially if you're the Rockies, and Scott Oberg walked two batters with one out in the eighth, which led directly to two Pittsburgh runs. That was all for last night's game, as the Rockies went down easily in the ninth against Mark Melancon.

I'm slightly disappointed in Gray's performance, but I'm not disappointed in the least about the loss. The first pick in the draft is still within striking distance, and that would be better than any meaningless victories in the last month of the season.

You know, unless Jon Gray throws a no-hitter or something.