Nolan Arenado’s return to Coors Field had been anticipated since January 29th when his departure to St. Louis was first announced. Anticipation was prolonged due to a rain-delayed start this evening, but the clouds would eventually part for a moment that will live in Rockies lore.
This moment was bigger than any individual game:
Nolan Arenado gets a standing ovation in his first at bat as a visiting player in Colorado pic.twitter.com/0ZaTd9hSyL— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 2, 2021
“I thought that the crowd was very classy and I thought Nolan did a very nice job of working his way around the ballpark,” says Bud Black. “I think everybody knew it was coming. It didn’t surprise me at all—the crowd and Nolan.”
The Rockies displayed a video tribute before first pitch that was “just right,” according to Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. “Not a big deal at all.” Arenado received sizable cheers from fans—many of them dressed in Cardinal red—as he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat.
*Note a classy move by Elias Díaz, stepping in front of the plate to give Arenado his moment. Díaz spoke of the moment after the game, saying “As a professional and the type of player that Nolan is, he deserves that and then some.” “It’s just an honor to see him respected that way.”
(The game has a way of rewarding such moves.)
A baseball game would eventually break out, and the Arenado return would end with joyous cheers by the fans in purple.
- Adam Wainwright’s final line: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. 110 pitches.
- Antonio Senzatela’s final line: 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K. 87 pitches
Offensive prowess was put on hold for much of Thursday’s contest. 39-year-old Wainwright displayed an old-school pitch count, and a seventh-inning pinch-hit appearance by Raimel Tapia could have been the only reason Senzatela didn’t crack 90 pitches.
“My breaking pitches weren’t there, but my fastball command was good,” says Senzatela. “We just made one mistake and we paid for it.” Senzatela allowed the majority of his baserunners in his first three frames, but only one Cardinal reached second base in his final four innings of work. He was able to settle in with an established fastball, a pitch that has steadily increased in use over his last four starts.
Wainwright silenced the heart of Colorado’s order for the entire evening; the top five hitters in the Rockies’ lineup had a combined one hit on the night. Wainwright’s career ERA at Coors Field now stands at an immaculate 2.22.
Three Cardinals had multi-hit evenings—Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Paul DeJong—but Senzatela was able to limit the damage through seven frames. He turned over a 2-2 tie to the Rockies bullpen.
Brendan Rodgers, Paul Goldschmidt leave the yard
Courtesy of Brendan Rodgers’ fifth career homer, the Rockies fought back in the second inning. C.J. Cron reached on a walk, and the one swing was the lone blemish on Wainwright’s final line. Neither team would score from the fourth inning through the eighth.
Goldschmidt, a former NL West foe, also made a return to Coors Field. He led off the third inning with a home run of his own, tying up the game. St. Louis drew first blood in the contest with a triple by Tommy Edman and an RBI single by DeJong.
Arenado’s bat is silenced
The return to elevation did not treat Arenado well: he went 0-4 and ended the evening with two popouts, a strikeout and a groundout. He was not placed in marquee offensive situations with a total of one runner on base (first base, at that) for all four of his plate appearances.
Colorado bullpen puts in work
In a situation where the Rockies may expect to use Mychal Givens or Jordan Sheffield, the duties were handed to Tyler Kinley as both Givens and Sheffield recover on the injured list. Kinley pitched a perfect eighth, working a pair of groundouts and a flyout to the heart of the Cardinals’ order.
Daniel Bard emerged in a tie ballgame, fighting to keep the ninth-inning tie intact. A walk to Edman was the lone blemish in his inning of work, and consecutive strikeouts ended a late-inning threat.
Ninth inning fireworks: Elias Díaz sends the people home
He began the game standing in front of home plate, respecting the ovation for the player that many came to see. Elias Díaz ended the game with a blast into the cool Denver night, and the Rockies ended the Arenado homecoming in walk-off fashion.
ELIAS DÍAZ WALK-OFF 3-RUN HR!— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) July 2, 2021
1st career walk-off
424 ft, 106.9 mph, 23° pic.twitter.com/Eue2HyrgQx
Giovanny Gallegos fed a hanging 0-2 breaking ball over the heart of the plate, and the mistake was costly. Díaz spoke through a translator after the game: “I had two strikes on me and I was just looking to put the ball in play. Luckily it went over the fence.” His ninth-inning blast was his third homer in as many games.
Colorado will take on the Cardinals on Friday in game two of the four-game set. Each team will throw a starter near the back of their rotations, as Johan Oviedo (0-4, 5.23 ERA) will square off against Chi Chi González (2-5, 5.81 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. MDT, and the evening will end with postgame fireworks at 20th and Blake.
Get ready, Rockies fans. This weekend could very well feature the largest crowds of the season, as some gorgeous sunshine is projected for the remainder of the series. The crowd size could serve as a nice precursor to All-Star festivities, now just a week and a half away.