Series Recap: July 25-27, 2014
Pittsburgh Pirates at Colorado Rockies
I’m not a big fan of baseball cliches. When the media interviews players, more often then not, we get some version of Crash Davis’ advice to Nuke LaLoosh, which is wholly uninteresting. When a manager has a runner on first and less than two outs late in the ball game with a non-home run hitter at the plate, the whole stadium knows a bunt is coming (regardless of whether it’s the best strategy or not). Cliches often tend to hold us back from what is interesting or what is optimal, and this is especially true of baseball.
Some of the most pervasive cliches apply to watching the game, especially in person. “The crack of the bat! The smell of the grass! The thing with the stuff!” The problem with these cliches is that someone who is either hard of hearing or has a numbed sense of smell cannot enjoy those cliches (or they just don’t like baseball and you’re shooting yourself in the foot by using those cliches with them anyway). And when you’ve been to as many baseball games as I have in my life, those cliches tend to ring hollow (even for cliches). I don’t come to baseball games to hear inanimate objects colliding into each other (that’s what football is for) or to experience different smells (numbed sense of smell), and yet I keep coming back. The ballpark, for whatever reason, holds this irresistible pull over me and when I go too long without giving in to the pull, I feel something missing from my life. Baseball on TV is great, and there are some aspects of it that make it preferable to live attendance (cost, view of the strike zone, shorter bathroom lines). But, for those of us who cannot be dissuaded from our love of baseball, we have to find our way to the stadium.
Caving in to the Call of the Ballpark
Since I live in Memphis, Tennessee, I don’t often get to see Major League Baseball live and in person. Sure I can see minor league baseball, but anyone who has been to more than one Triple-A game knows why it’s not the big leagues. But it is summer and, while most people spend their vacations in exotic locales or on the beach, I tend to try to spend mine at Coors Field. And this week that is exactly what I did. I attended 5 games in a row, tying a personal Coors Field record, including all three games of the Pirates series. Each game I got to attend with my dad, two with my mom as well–they tend to feel the same way about Coors Field as I do.
And so, for this edition of Rockies Zingers Series Recaps, I’ll be going through each game, briefly touching on the facts of the game but you’ll get to see and hear about my personal adventures at Coors Field. The only downside was that my wife was obligated to stay in Memphis for work, as she would have enjoyed this trip just as much as (if not more than) I did.
On Friday night I arrived to downtown Denver amazed by the new construction. I was here for Opening Day but the progress that had been made on various housing projects and the updated Union Station (which, if you haven’t seen and you live in range of the ballpark, you really have to go and check it out) really took me by surprise.
I made my normal trek to visit Joel Watkins below his rainbow umbrellas on 19th and Wynkoop to partake in the best deal outside Coors Field: two hot dogs (or a polish sausage, or a bratwurst, or a hot link, or a jumbo dog, or a veggie dog), chips and a 20 ounce bottle of soda (or water or Gatorade) for $5. Joel has become a good friend and it was great to reconnect (and see that he had received a commendation from the Mayor of Denver; July 11th was declared Joel Watkins Day in Denver). If you haven’t met him, or enjoyed his culinary skills as a vendor, you are certainly missing out.
We made our way through the left field gate, up the escalators to the third level, and into our seats behind home plate. We settled in for, what turned out to be, an unexpected pitchers duel. The Rockies Brett Anderson had his curveball working, something that was even visible from our vantage point. Charlie Morton of the Pirates was similarly adept at keeping the Rockies off the basepaths and off the scoreboard until the 7th inning. The first 6 Rockies hitters reached base, including doubles from Ben Paulsen (His Name is Benjamin Paulsen), Wilin Rosario, Drew Stubbs, and Josh Rutledge, driving in 5 runs in the process. Carlos Gonzalez had our tacos right here, capping off the most fun I’ve had in an inning with a wall-scraping home run to right field. Unfortunately, Matt Belisle‘s tough season continued, losing the shutout in the 9th inning (but that would be greedy of a fanbase looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2 weeks), but Adam Ottavino closed out the Rockies victory, 8-1.
Saturday was a busy day for Rockies Zingers! First I got to participate in this month’s Rockies Blogger Panel (full recording available here) with some of the smartest Rockies fans I’ve met. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and we all had a great time talking about the team, the training staff, the front office, and possible trade deadline moves. Of course, had we known what was coming up, we may have found other things to talk about.
My wife’s parents and a family friend came out to the panel and left to get right in line to get their complementary Tulo jersey, available to the first 15,000 fans (yes, they waited in line for the gates to open; we’re talking about a couple of serious collectors here). In any case, I’m glad they did because, while we were waiting for my mom to get downtown off the light rail, my mother-in-law sent me this picture, right as every sports outlet in the country started to pick up the story:
We met up with them again inside the stadium and all had a good laugh about it, especially wondering how many people wearing the jersey even knew what was going on. An unfortunate side effect of this event was that I spent a good portion of the early innings on Twitter following the story and interacting with people (much to the dissatisfaction of my mother, and the dismay of my phone battery), rather than watching the game as closely as I’d have liked.
JJ Buck mentioned in his preview how Rockies starters would have to throw a complete game if they were to have any hope of a victory. Well, Tyler Matzek continued perhaps the best season of his professional career (good timing to do it during his rookie season at the major league level) by setting out to do just that. He was efficient with his pitches, masterfully challenging hitters up and in with his fastball to induce weak flyballs time and again, and exited the game in the 7th inning with only 93 pitches (57 for strikes). Alas, we were not to see another Rockies pitcher enter the 8th inning, like I was hoping. But the Rockies surely rewarded our endurance through the rain with one of their most complete performances in a long time, winning by the final of 8-1.
On Sunday I had to rush to make it to the stadium on time for first pitch, but I’m glad I did. Thanks to a contact at my dad’s work, we were able to finish out the homestand, and the vacation, in high style from the Club Level:
It was the perfect end to an ideal trip–well, except for the Rockies pitching. The successes from the previous two games notwithstanding, the Rockies do still have the weakest pitching staff in the National League and on Sunday they showed it. Franklin Morales displayed early on that it was going to be a short day. He struggled to locate his pitches, walking 5 batters (including the pitcher in a 2-run fourth) in just 4-innings. After putting two on in the fifth he was relieve by Chad Bettis, who promptly loaded the bases for Jordy Mercer. Now would be a good time to note that, along with Corey Dickerson, Nolan Arenado happens to be one of my “pet players,” as Ryan Hammond says. I’d been waiting all week for a true defensive gem from Nolan and I got it when he bailed out Bettis with an incredible double play, for which we had the perfect angle (here’s the link; MLB.com wouldn’t let me embed the play). Despite the valiant efforts of the offense, which was able to continue responding to every Pirate challenge, the bullpen could not come up with enough clean innings (and the infield defense could not come up with an adequate run-down on Josh Harrison–though his athleticism on that play was incredible). Rex Brothers killed any chance of pulling out a victory by giving up back-to-back home runs in the top of the 8th to give the Pirates a 7-5 lead they would not reliquish.
However fun it was to watch the Rockies win three games in a row (and be in attendance for them, no less), it’s not always the wins and loses that stick with you. For this game, it will be Carlos Gonzalez. It’s no secret that he is not the same player at the plate this season as he’s been in years past, but after coming on in a double-switch in the 6th, he did this to bail out Rex Brothers in the 8th:
Part of the joy of being at the ballpark (when you’re smart enough to keep your cell phone in your pocket) is the chance to see something incredible, especially when you least expect it. I have plenty of experience at Coors Field and watching baseball on TV, but watching the game in person means the memories tend to be more easily embedded onto your brain. This game was another loss on the growing mountain of losses in a lost season for the Rockies. But getting to see so many incredible plays and enjoying it with my family from great seats means I won’t forget this game for a while.
And the seven-run inning on Friday, and the kid Matzek stepping up his game on “Tulowizki” night, and Nolan Arenado responding to his benching with home runs in the next two games, and Monster Nachos and Colorado beer and enduring the rain almost every game on and on and on. This is why my vacations are best spent at Coors Field. This is why this series will be one to remember–at least for me–for a long time. Because, after all, isn’t losing baseball better than no baseball at all?
Colorado Rockies Record: 43-61
Games Behind, NL West: 15 (First Place: Los Angeles Dodgers)
Games Behind, NL Wild Card: 13.5 (Leaders: Atlanta Braves, San Francisco)
Run Differential: -50
ESPN Playoff Odds: 0.1%
Games Remaining: 58
Next Series: 3 games at Chicago Cubs (42-61, 5th NL Central, 15.5 GB Milwaukee Brewers)
Well, this should be an interesting series. The Rockies and Cubs are tied for the third worst run differential in the National League and the Cubs traded away their two best starting pitchers just before the All-Star Break. It’s the Battle of Ineptitude: two cellar-dwelling franchises with ownership groups leading them in (seemingly) opposite directions. Get ready for some fun (which isn’t necessarily to say good) baseball!