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Justin Upton launched a 3-0 fastball deep into the right field seats to lead off the bottom half of the eighth inning at Chase Field in Phoenix. It was a no doubter, giving the Diamondbacks a 4-3 lead that would prove to be the difference.
The bomb didn't come as much of a surprise. The surprise of the inning came when Felipe Paulino strolled to the mound for the Rockies to start the inning.
The age-old saying in baseball is that during a tie, a manager puts his plus-side relievers in when the team is at home, essentially playing as if the club has the lead, and on the road, pitching as if they are behind.
That strategy makes a certain amount of sense, but when a club has a superior lineup, and a superior bullpen, there is no reason to go to the club's only shaky right hander. In 9-1/3 innings coming into Tuesday night's game, Paulino has not been impressive. He had given up 13 hits, including a home run, and walked five walks. He had struck out nine, but averaging almost two baserunners per inning is not the recipe for success in a tie ball game.
The move to bring Paulino in was even more questionable considering the Rockies didn't play on Monday, giving all of the relievers a fresh arm. With Rafael Betancourt from the right hand side and Matt Reynolds from the left side, there were definitely other choices that Tracy could have made, regardless of the score of the game.
With Paulino struggling to start the season, it also has to be considered that Paulino is pitching out of the bullpen when he has been primarily a starter for his entire career. He is not used to pitching in one inning pressure situations.
It was clear from the first pitch that Paulino didn't have it. He threw two sliders out of the zone, then missed with a fastball. Anyone who has watched the Diamondbacks in the past three years knows that Upton is not only going to be aggressive on a 3-0 count, he is going to be looking for a fastball and swinging as hard as he can. He got his fastball and he didn't miss it.
That wasn't Tracy's only mistake. With one out in the top of the 9th inning, Dexter Fowler singled to right field. With the go-ahead run coming to the plate, Tracy chose to pinch-hit Jason Giambi in place of Jonathan Herrera. The move made some sense. The club is looking for one swing of the bat that can give them the lead. Obviously, that is what Giambi is on the roster for.
However, with Herrera hitting well, already collecting two hits on the night, including a run-scoring triple, was there a need for Giambi in that situation? Giambi hadn't seen a pitch in a game since April 24th in Florida, more than a week ago.
Consider the fact that Fowler was the runner on first base. With his speed, he easily could have stolen second base with Herrera at the plate, or scored from first on a ball into the gap or down the line.
Needless to say, Giambi looked overmatched, and struck out on three pitches.
Tracy has to take some of the blame, but the fact still remains, the offense didn't get the job done when they needed to.
In the top of the eighth inning, Chris Iannetta came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. With a chance to give the Rockies a two-run lead, he popped out to second base, reminding fans of what road games looked like in 2010. Iannetta may be getting on base and taking better at bats, but at some point, he needs to come through in big situations. All too often in his career, he has struck out, or flied out harmlessly in those types of situations.
The Rockies have officially hit their first skid of the season. They lost two-of-three to the lowly Pirates at home over the weekend, then dropped Tuesday night's game in Arizona. They still hold a four game lead in the National League West, but a few of the team's flaws are being exposed.
The offense is reverting to their 2010 form. Scoring three runs against a struggling Joe Saunders is not acceptable. He is the kind of pitcher that the Rockies should eat alive. Instead, they settled for one hit in each inning, and were unable to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves.
The Rockies had a chance to put themselves in a good position with a win to start the six-game road trip. However, the failed to get a win and now are looking at having to win both remaining games in Arizona to pick up a series win, then heading into a tough weekend series with the Giants in San Francisco.
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