DENVER -- The Rockies would love for C.J. Cron to be more than a scoring-position specialist. But after recurring nightmares for Colorado in those situations, Cron’s special talent was exactly what was needed Tuesday night.
After watching teammate after teammate make the least of their opportunities, Cron delivered a two-run double in the sixth inning and a three-run homer in the eighth of the Rockies’ 6-2 victory over the Astros at Coors Field in the opener of a two-game series.
With two on and two out in the sixth, Cron greeted reliever Bryan Abreu with a scorched double -- 112.9 mph exit velocity, per Statcast -- over leaping center fielder Myles Straw. Cron followed in the eighth with his first home run of the season, a 109.6 mph liner for three runs, off reliever Joe Smith. The hits improved Cron to 5-for-12 with a homer, three doubles and eight RBIs in scoring-position chances.
All this, and Cron’s overall batting average is .208. But the Rockies missed chances the previous two innings -- after having gone 9-for-47 (.191) with runners in scoring position while losing eight of the previous nine games. The clutch hitting deficit is a key reason the Rockies have lost all nine of their games decided by two or fewer runs. Until Cron’s homer, Tuesday was headed for a tight final margin.
There’s plenty of time for Cron to improve overall. The Rockies needed him right then.
“Being in the middle of the order, my job is to drive in runs, and I feel comfortable in those situations,” said Cron, who had five RBIs in a game for the fifth time in his career -- the last on July 2, 2016, for the Angels against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. “I enjoy the pressure. I enjoy hitting in those spots.
“I wish I had more well-rounded at-bats throughout -- nobody on, runners on base, all that stuff -- but I’m pretty happy with how I’m hitting with guys in scoring position.”
Cron’s swings and Dom Nuñez’s seventh-inning solo shot off Ryne Stanek supported Jon Gray (2-1), who held the Astros to one run and three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
But it took awhile for the Rockies to help Gray, who became the third pitcher in club history to hold his opponent under two runs while pitching five or more innings in three straight starts at Coors Field (opened in 1995).
Raimel Tapia doubled to open the fourth and Ryan McMahon moved him to third on a groundout. But Trevor Story struck out against Astros starter Luis Garcia, who fanned six in 5 2/3 innings, and Charlie Blackmon rolled over to first base.
Yonathan Daza doubled with one out in the fifth, but the inning ended at the pitcher’s spot with Gray’s strikeout.
“There’s been frustration a number of times during the course of the year,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We want to win, and when we don’t produce, guys get frustrated.
“We’re pulling hard for each other. The dugout has been pretty good, still energized and staying positive. But our run production hasn’t been where it needs to be. I do think in time you'll see the batting averages of most of our players should climb. Go down the group a month from now, and hopefully they don’t look like they do now.”
What Black said in the postgame interview was not any different from what he told Cron before the game. Cron, who signed a Minor League deal during the offseason but with an eye toward winning the first-base job, had committed a big error in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Mets, and the start has been slow.
“He came up to me today, just told me to relax, take a deep breath,” Cron said. “It's nice to hear, obviously.
“He’s keeping an upbeat mentality even when things haven’t gone great for us early on, and just the confidence he has shown me has been really helpful. Hopefully, I can start hitting, we can start hitting, and we can start winning games.”