If the Rockies start hitting like a real Rockies team and play like so many expected them to, last night's win over the Giants will be viewed as a turning point. If the Rockies continue to roll out a lineup full of players hitting in the .200s, the victory will be an aberration in an underachieving season.
But for one night, the Rox were pretty close to the team management paid for in the off-season.
Former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum entered Coors Field carrying a seventeen-inning scoreless streak, and the defending World Series champion Giants recently overtook the Rockies for first place in the National League West after Colorado lost a weekend series to last-place San Diego. The Rockies were on the short end in ten of their last thirteen games heading into last night.
As a sunny Denver day turned into a gloomy San Francisco-esque night, the stage was set for the Giants to further the Rockies' current misery. The Rockies' supposed ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, was pushed back a day -- so the would-be marquee pitching match-up was canceled and something called Clayton Mortensen took the hill for the team.
But what Mortensen lacked in notoriety, he made up for in efficiency. He needed only 71 pitches to get through six innings, and while he fell victim to the long ball, he erased many of the base-runners he allowed as the Rockies turned a season-high four double-plays.
I had good seats down the first-base line and could tell from the outset that Lincecum lacked his typical superb control. He issued six walks during the game, yet ran his scoreless inning streak to 21 before Troy Tulowitzki lined a bases-loaded single up the middle to put the Rockies on top 2-1.
That mini-rally in the fifth inning started when Lincecum walked Mortensen to start the inning. Dexter Fowler singled, and Cargo later walked to set the stage for Tulo's liner. Gonzalez was then caught stealing third on a double steal that sucked the momentum out of the stadium.
Andres Torres led off the sixth inning with a bomb to right,, and Nate Schierholtz launched his own two-run homer three batters later. The Rockies and their recently silent bats were primed to let the game slip away after the opportunity escaped them in the fifth and the Giants jumped back on top in the sixth.
But Seth Smith led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot to right. Jose Lopez followed with a single, and then Lincecum showed just how off his aim was. Catcher Jose Morales sent a grounder right back to Lincecum that was tailor-made for a double-play, but Lincecum side-armed it off-target to second base. Everyone was safe, and Fowler tied the game again with a single.
A batter later, Gonzalez battled Lincecum to a two-strike count before sending a rocket over the center-field fence. Somehow, the home run felt bigger than a go-ahead shot against a division rival and premiere pitcher. Given Gonzalez's .234 batting average and surprising lack of power at home, the jubilation in the stadium was matched only by the fans' relief.
Ever since Gonzalez started coming into his own in the second half of the 2009 season, the Rockies are almost frighteningly tied to his and Tulowitzki's performances. With Tulo hitting only a touch better than Cargo at .253, it's past time for the duo to making this offense what it should be.
To judge the importance of last night's game, which was indeed played in May, you needed only to look at each player reaching first base after key hits. Tulowitzki might have broken first-base coach Glenallen Hill's hand with a high-five after his single. Gonzalez let out a primal scream fit for September.
The Rockies showed some egregious flaws -- four base-running errors, with Fowler accounting for three -- but essentially stuck to the formula that should equal success. Mortensen limited his mistakes, five relievers combined for three shutout innings, and Cargo and Tulo brought the thunder at the plate.
Whether the Rockies can consistently repeat that equation will determine if last night was just a game...or the game.
More from our Baseball archive: "The Colorado Rockies aren't worried about offense, but they should be."
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