DENVER — During the 2015 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer laid out what he called the four “learns” of football:
First you learn how to compete.
Then you learn how to win.
Then you learn how to handle winning.
Then you learn how to be a champion.
This is a concept that can translate directly from football to baseball, or any sport, as those four stages are what any team must pass to win the ultimate prize, whether that be the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup or any such championship on offer. Perhaps instead of the four learns of football, Zimmer should have called them the four learns of winning.
Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Miami Marlins did a fine job of illustrating where the Colorado Rockies are in the learning process. As they have shown throughout much of the 2016 season, especially in recent weeks, the Rockies have certainly learned to compete, but Friday’s loss, along with a few others, shows there is still work to do on learning how to win.
That is not meant as a criticism of any kind, just an evaluation of where the Rockies are in a process that every young, talented team must go through.
The Rockies led 3-1 entering ninth inning, but rookie closer Carlos Estevez walked Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto before giving up back-to-back singles to Chris Johnson and Adeiny Hechavarria to cut the lead to 3-2. Hechevarria’s single was compounded by a throwing error by left fielder David Dahl that allowed runners to move to second and third.
With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Estevez struck out pinch hitter Derek Dietrich before intentionally walking Dee Gordon and allowing a two-run single to Martin Prado that gave Miami the lead and chased him from the game.
“I just think it was a matter of not commanding my fastball,” Estevez said.
There have been some bumps in the road for Estevez this season, his ERA after Monday’s performance sits at 4.54, but he is just 23 years old and guys who throw 97-99 and strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings do not come around very often, and Friday’s loss certainly was not all down to his struggles in the top of the ninth.
For much of the game, it did not look like Estevez would get a chance at a save as the Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI double by Giancarlo Stanton. and the Rockies squandered several scoring opportunities, leaving seven on base and hitting into a pair of double plays in the first seven innings as the score stayed 1-0 until the eighth.
It took some good fortune for the Rockies to finally get on the board as Nolan Arenado hit what looked to be a double play grounder on a 3-0 count with two on and nobody out against Marlins reliever Fernando Rodney, but Gordon air-mailed the throw, allowing DJ LeMahieu to score and moving Arenado to second, putting him in position to score the go-ahead run on a Dahl single. Mark Reynolds then doubled home Dahl to make the score 3-1.
However, the inning could have been a much bigger one for the Rockies as Daniel Descalso and Nick Hundley walked with one out to load the bases but Ryan Raburn struck out and Charlie Blackmon grounded out, leaving the bases loaded for the second time in the game. In the end, the Rockies left six runners in scoring position in the game.
While the loss on Monday was frustrating, even heartbreaking for a team trying to stay on the fringes of the playoff race, it was another learning opportunity as this young group of Rockies grows into the franchise’s next winning ballclub, how quickly that happens remains to be seen.