Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesApril 18, 2011
Alan Johnson won't soon forget his Major League debut. However, it probably wasn't what he originally dreamed of as a kid. The righty rookie only lasted four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits. He walked three and struck out three. He threw 93 pitches in the process.
Despite a rough outing for Johnson, the Rockies offense bailed him out, although it came within a pitch of blowing a great scoring opportunity.
Dexter Fowler came through for the Rockies, knocking a two-run double into right-center field with two outs and two strikes in the bottom half of the eighth inning.
With the game tied at five, Ryan Spilborghs led off the eighth inning with a base hit off the glove of Cubs reliever Marcos Mateo. Jose Lopez then failed on two consecutive bunt attempts, only to line a base hit to right field. When Kosuke Fukodome bobbled the ball, Spilborghs advanced to third and Lopez to second. The play questionably went into the books as a double.
With two runners in scoring position and no outs, things were looking good for the Rockies. Then, memories of 2010 started creeping in. Jose Morales fought off several pitches before being called out on strikes. With one out, Ty Wigginton pinch hit. In a situation where just lifting the ball in the air would plate the go-ahead run, Wigginton also took a seat on the bench after swinging through strike three.
At that point, the Rockies looked like they might be helping the Cubs out in a big way. Fowler worked the count, but found himself with two strikes. It seemed like the Rockies were going to go back to their old ways and give up their best chance to win the game. At that point, Fowler lined the two-strike pitch into the outfield, scoring both runs. Fowler slid into second with a double.
Jonathan Herrera then lined the first pitch to right field, scoring Fowler, followed by Carlos Gonzalez smacking a pitch to center field to keep the rally going. Todd Helton plated the next run with a single, and the Rockies suddenly had a four-run lead.
The difference between the 2010 Rockies and the 2011 Rockies could not have been shouted louder than it was on Sunday afternoon. In 2010, the Rockies ingrained into fans' heads to not expect anything big in that situation. When Fowler came to the plate with two outs, it seemed inevitable that he would be the third strikeout victim.
Fast forward to 2011 and the same players now play with a different mindset. Despite the fact that the first two batters failed to do the job, Fowler wasn't going to be swayed, even with two strikes. He found a way to get the job done. And after he got the job done, the guys behind him kept piling the runs on the board.
Those games are becoming wins for the Rockies in 2011. In 2010, those same games were losses. They lost those games because their approach at every turn was to swing for the fences. Instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park, they have realized that hitting it into the expansive Coors Field outfield does the job just as well, and doesn't require the perfect pitch.
If the Rockies can continue hitting with that mentality, they have a good chance at staying right where they are in the standings all season long.