PNC Park, site of the Rockies weekend series victory against the hometown Pirates
View From the Rockpile: Mile High Musings Along the Journey to Rocktober
The Rockies, led by former Pirates manager Jim Tracy, arrived with the opportunity to mount early season momentum and to exorcise the demons following a brutal series in Pittsburgh during summer 2010 that was punctuated by blown opportunities, Huston Street's blown saves and second-guessing of Tracy's managerial decisions.
Despite a heartbreaking 14-inning 4-3 loss on Friday night, the Rockies bounced back to take three out of four from the Bucs.
How did they do it? What did we learn about these Rockies?
Esmil Rogers delivers a pitch during his 7 1/3 inning victory on April 7, 2011
It took until the last week of Spring Training for Esmil Rogers to nail down the No. 5 starter slot for the Rockies. Seems the competition did him some good.
Rogers pitched brilliantly, allowing one run in 7 1/3 innings in the first game of four against the Pirates, striking out seven and at one point retiring 18 in a row.
His virtuoso performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he pitched with a heavy heart, as his father Danilo battles colon cancer in their native Dominican Republic. Not to mention that he had the weight of a pitching staff on his shoulders with staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez recovering from the torn cuticle on his pitching thumb.
His name may not be universal to the MLB community just yet, but star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was anything but surprised: Tulowitzki noted that he labeled Rogers as his own pick to surprise some people during Spring Training.
After Thursday's slaying of the Bucs, Rogers may not be able to surprise anyone, let alone Tulowitzki.
Though assuredly happy to take three out of four from a tough, young Pirates team, the Rockies have to be kicking themselves for wasting an opportunity to make it a sweep. After losing a heart-breaker on Friday night by a score of 4-3, with the final run coming on a double off of the right field wall from red-hot Jose Tabata in the bottom of the 14th inning.
The Rockies wasted a first inning three-run home run from first baseman Jason Giambi, starting in place of Todd Helton, a late scratch due to a flare-up of his oft-reported back spasms. They failed to score again in the final 13 innings, wasting a brilliant evening from the bullpen, highlighted by 3 1/3 shutout innings from closer Huston Street.
A day after putting seven runs on the board on 11 hits, the Rockies failed to cross home plate after Giambi's early blast gave them a commanding lead. Time and again, the Rockies filled the bases, and time and again, they failed to capitalize.
Tracy lamented the missed opportunities, the failed situational hitting and the inability to play small ball when the game called for it.
Rockies fans had to cringe at the memory of a 2010 filled with one-run losses and an away record of 31-50 that ultimately doomed them to miss the playoffs.
The question was: How would the Rockies respond, as they turned to former No. 2 overall pick Greg Reynolds to make his first start in nearly three years?
Reynolds and the Rockies role players stepped up in a big way...
Ty Wigginton fields a ground ball at third base, one of three positions he played over the weekend
A night after Pedro Alvarez made a stunning stop and throw-from-the-knees to get Wigginton at first with the bases loaded and two outs, Wigginton came to the plate Saturday night in the eighth inning with the bases loaded once again, the game tied at three.
Again, Wigginton lined a shot to Alvarez at third base, but this time, Alvarez could not make the play. Wigginton's double cleared the bases, earning him his first three RBI as a Rockie, and spot closer Matt Lindstrom made it stand. The Rockies ultimately won game three, 6-4.
All credit cannot go directly to Wigginton, though, as the aforementioned Greg Reynolds pitched a gritty six innings, battling early nerves and control issues, allowing only a two-run home run to Ryan Doumit in the second inning. Reynolds, the runner-up to Rogers in Spring Training to become the Rockies No. 5 starter, came up huge with only four relievers available for the Rockies following Friday night's 14-inning barn-burner.
Johnny Herrera's efforts as the super utility clutch hitter cannot be understated, as he frequently worked long at-bats against the tiring Pirates pitching staff, wreaking havoc on the base paths and on defense on a night when the Rockies needed their super subs to step up big.
At least for a night, the Rockies put to rest the debate about whether they can win on the road. And whether they have the depth to compete for the NL West crown.
Rockies General Manager Dan O'Dowd
Coming off a down year with the Seattle Mariners, power-hitting but inconsistent second baseman Jose Lopez needed a fresh start. O'Dowd willingly welcomed Lopez to the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, trading minor league pitching prospect Chaz Roe to the Mariners for Lopez.
Despite hitting only .239/.270/.339 in 2010 with the M's, O'Dowd figured Lopez's hitting chops would reassert themselves given an opportunity at Coors. Which is largely why O'Dowd ultimately decided against giving up numerous Rockies prospects for Rangers All-Star second baseman Michael Young this past winter.
In the early-goings it seems O'Dowd has worked another coup of a deal. Lopez hit a three-run line drive home run on Sunday to pave the way for the Rockies 6-5 come from behind victory against the Pirates. Hitting both at home and on the road (and displaying better than expected defense in the meantime, while playing all around the infield), Lopez currently leads the Rockies with seven RBI.
Trading for Lopez may not be the type of deal to earn O'Dowd Executive of the Year honors (much as he did when he traded for Carlos Gonzalez in the Matt Holliday deal), if Lopez keeps this up, rival GM's may well view him as Da(m)n O'Dowd.
Huston Street and Chris Iannetta celebrate an early season victory for the Colorado Rockies
Entering Sunday, the Colorado Rockies have the league's best pitching staff. Yes, you read that correctly.
With pitchers consistently pitching into the sixth, if not seventh inning, and a relief crew understanding each of their roles, the Rockies piled up a 2.71 ERA entering their Sunday 6-5 victory against the Pirates that left them at 6-2 and in first place in the wild NL West.
Though they have not been putting up zero's across the box scores, Rockies pitchers have taken advantage of Tracy's often long leash, battling through hairy situations to start the year with a 5-0 record.
Despite a shaky first outing for Jimenez, a recurrence of Jorge De La Rosa's blister problem in his second start against the Pirates and Jhoulys Chacin pitching without full command of his arsenal of devastating secondary pitches, Rockies pitchers are battling.
Huston Street has four saves in four chances, compiling a 1.13 ERA in eight innings of relief; Matt Belisle has maintained his title as Tracy's most trusted reliever, and new fireballer Matt Lindstrom earned a spot save with Street unavailable on Saturday night. Rafael Betancourt rounds out a sturdy relief staff as the eighth-inning specialist.
All of this with two of their starting pitchers dealing with issues on their pitching hands that landed one on the DL (Jimenez) and another on the bench early in both of his starts (De La Rosa).
Now it's on to New York to face the Mets at Citi Field where the Rockies have historically not had much success.
With the 2011 Rockies pitching staff, however, it could be a different story in the Big Apple.