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Rockies 9, Nationals 8: Hilliard’s homer special moment in special win

A back-and-forth war saw multiple ties and lead changes, but it was the Rockies who finally pulled out the W in a wild one

A subpar start from Germán Márquez and a four-run lead for the Nationals seemed to foretell a big loss for the Rockies, but the offense battled back and the bullpen kept it close until they finally put the Nats away 9-8 on Friday.

Márquez maligned by mishaps

Germán Márquez has pitched well in September, but Friday’s start was an unfortunate step back. The right-hander was gifted a 2-0 lead before he took the mound, but struggled immediately and throughout his start versus the Nats. After collecting the first two outs of the first inning without issue, Márquez allowed a base hit to Juan Soto and a walk to Josh Bell. Yadiel Hernandez then sent a ball up the middle that was grabbed by a diving Trevor Story, but the Rockies shortstop airmailed the throw to first and allowed a run to score. Keibert Ruiz then doubled to tie the game at 2-2 before Márquez finally got Carter Kieboom to fly out.

Márquez would settle in through the second and third innings, but unraveled in the fourth. With one out, Ruiz singled and Kieboom followed with a shot that was deflected by Márquez for a knock. If Márquez had not tried to grab the ball, it seemed there was a good chance at an inning-ending double play, but c’est la vie. Luis Garcia then smacked a ball to center to score Ruiz and put the game a 3-2 Nationals. A Josiah Gray lineout got Márquez close to avoiding more damage, but leadoff man Lane Thomas took a hanging slider deep to put the Nats up 6-4. Márquez would allow a double and a walk before finally ending the inning.

In all, Márquez went four innings and allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks to one strikeout.

Rox offense picks up their pitcher

Márquez has been arguably the Rockies’ best pitcher this season, so it’s only right that the offense help him out on his tough night. They opened the game by scoring two in the first (by way of walks to Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers and a double by Charlie Blackmon plus a C.J. Cron sacrifice fly), then quieted down as Josiah Gray really found his zone. Blackmon’s double would be the last hit the Rockies collected until the fifth inning. In that fifth, Garrett Hampson collected his second walk and was brought home on Brendan Rodgers’ 13th home run of the season (11th on the road!) to make it 6-4.

They picked up where they left off the next inning, as Story opened the sixth with a leadoff double. After getting Cron to fly out, Gray’s night was done (he ended up having a far better start than his five-runs-in-as-many-innings line would suggest) and Alberto Baldonado entered in relief. McMahon welcomed Baldonado into the game with a ringing single to score a run, and after Elías Díaz popped out, Sam Hilliard ripped the stitches off of a 2-2 fastball to put the Rockies up 7-6.

Hilliard, who recently lost his father to ALS, was emotional rounding the bases and entering the dugout afterward.

Bullpen holds it down... almost

With Márquez going just four innings, the Rockies relief corps would need to eat some innings. They were competitive and kept the game close, but were unable to shut the door entirely. They turned to Ashton Goudeau, Jordan Sheffield, Tyler Kinley, Jhoulys Chacín, and Lucas Gilbreath to keep the lead intact, and they were able to do so until the eighth. To that point, all were able to work around some traffic and keep the one run lead where it was. Unfortunately, that eighth was a tough one.

In that inning, Chacín struck out Luis Garcia to start off on the right foot. After that, though, Nats veteran Ryan Zimmerman shot a pinch-hit double to right to put the tying run in scoring position. He then lost Lane Thomas on a 3-2 walk, and a weak ground ball single from Alcides Escobar tied the game at 7 apiece. Lucas Gilbreath then entered the game and immediately walked Juan Soto on four pitches to load the bases with one out. Josh Bell sent a ground ball to Brendan Rodgers that couldn’t quite be turned into a double play, and the Nats took an 8-7 lead on the force out. Gilbreath then struck out Yadiel Hernandez to end the frame, but the damage had been done.

Rox refuse to lose

But that’s not how your 2021 Rockies go down. Elías Díaz opened the top of the ninth with a clutch home run off of Nats closer Nate Finnegan to tie the game again at 8-8 and stun the Washington crowd.

Hilliard then singled and stole second before pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia walked to put runners at first and second with no outs. Hampson then bunted them over to second and third to bring Rodgers to the plate.

You knew it’d happen. Rodgers plunked a single into left field to score Hilliard and put the score at 9-8, taking the lead back once more. Rodgers, who has been especially potent on the road this season, continues to impress and shine in his everyday starting role.

Blackmon then hit into a double play to end the frame, and it was time for the ninth.

Never, ever easy

A game like this was never going to end quietly. Keibert Ruiz opened up the bottom of the ninth with a laser single. Riley Adams was then pinch-run for Ruiz, just in time to watch Kieboom be called out on what was frankly a gift of a called third strike (we’ll take it!). Garcia then flew out, and it was down to Nationals icon Ryan Zimmerman. The pitcher and hitter battled, coming to the iconic baseball moment: tying run on, two outs, bottom of the ninth, 3-2 count. He singled to right, moving the tying run up to third and the winning run to first for Lane Thomas, he who had homered earlier in the game. He grounded out to second, ending an incredible contest that ended in a stupendous Rockies victory.

Breathe, Rockies fans. They did it again.

Up Next

I’m not sure how these teams will top that game, but they’ll try tomorrow as they match up in game two of the series. Kyle Freeland (5-8, 4.76 ERA) and Patrick Corbin (8-14, 5.98 ERA) are set to start.

First pitch is at 3:05pm MST. See you then!