Blackmon's 1st blast in '19 a walk-off shot

April 20th, 2019

DENVER -- Charlie Blackmon allowed a faint smile as his first 2019 homer -- 82 at-bats in waiting -- sailed toward the back of the visiting bullpen in right-center field. Halfway down the third-base line, he chucked away his helmet and arrived at the plate with such force that teammates wisely backed away before celebrating his two-run, 12th-inning shot that gave the Rockies their fifth straight victory, 4-3 over the Phillies on Friday night at Coors Field.

But sometime later, Blackmon took a small break from his post-game workout/maintenance to say in a measured tone, “Big hit in a big spot -- I’m not going to make too much of it, but I’m going to try to build on that.”

Yes, Blackmon, a three-time All-Star, is off to a slow start. When he entered the day at 77 homerless at-bats this season, it was the longest such run of a star player in the Majors.

But could the homer, on a 1-2 fastball from Juan Nicasio, be the opening scene in the latest installment of Rockies Getting Well? In another episode at the start of the week, Nolan Arenado hit his first homer of the season, after 15 dry games, at San Francisco. He went on to homer in two more games and has returned to being a feared force, despite an 0-for-5 performance Friday.

Is it Blackmon’s time? Keep tuning in.

“We’ve seen some good swings the last week, going back to San Francisco [two series ago] -- maybe not every at-bat, but there have been snippets of an at-bat where there’s a really good swing,” manager Bud Black said. “Sometimes it didn’t result in a hit, other times it did.

“We’ve seen Charlie hit homers. It’s in there. This is not a fluke that Charlie hit a home run -- maybe a little bit of an aberration that it took this long.”

The winning at-bat, after Tony Wolters drew a walk two batters prior, was a microcosm of Blackmon’s joys and pains.

The disjointed timing had him down in the count, 0-2.

“Honestly, at that point, I’m trying not to strike out,” Blackmon said. “I’d been pretty aggressive on a slider that went out of the zone, and then I took a fastball in the zone. So that’s not a great place to be.”

It seemed Nicasio was going to justify Phillies manager Gabe Kapler’s decision to let the right-handed Nicasio go right-on-left with a dangerous hitter -- one with 95 homers to his credit over the previous three seasons. Drew Butera, not a power threat, was the righty hitter on deck. Kapler even gave Blackmon the bunt, which he employed for a hit in Thursday’s 6-2 Rockies victory.

"It's tough because we know that Butera's on deck there,” Kapler said. “But you also have Blackmon in a hole, so you try to put him away. That's what Juan did. But he's a good hitter for a reason.”

Blackmon had an opposite-way double, another couple of hard hit balls and a pitch over the plate that he just missed crushing two games ago in San Diego. Down 1-2 in the count to Nicasio, the swing that’s been coming, finally showed.

“I was able to get my act together and calm down, and then I got a fastball out over the plate -- probably pretty close to that fastball I took for strike two,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon’s shot was thrilling, but he is still pushing toward answers.

“I feel like I’m pretty close,” he said. “I’m not chasing out of the zone a whole lot. I don’t know. We’ll see. Ask me tomorrow.”

More takeaways

It’s memorable: Blackmon’s homer was the Rockies’ first walk-off homer in the 12th inning or later since Ryan Spilborghs, now a Rockies broadcaster, defeated the Giants with a 14th-inning grand slam on Aug. 24, 2009. It was the team’s first walk-off victory in the 12th or later since it beat the Padres in 12 on Sept. 6, 2014.

Another Story blast: Phillies starter Vince Velasquez faced runners in scoring position in the first four innings and traffic in all of his 5 2/3 innings. But the Rockies didn’t break through until Trevor Story’s projected 459-foot homer -- onto the concourse in left -- with one out in the sixth. Story had struck out twice, foul-tipping fastballs, earlier.

“The first couple of times through the lineup, there was not much to hit, and if you did, it was maybe one pitch,” said Story, who leads the team with five homers, and is hitting .305 (18-for-59) with four homers in the last 15 games. “Finally, I got a pitch that I could handle and tried not to do too much. Sometimes that’s more for me.”

Velasquez and Rockies starter German Marquez, who gave up 10 hits but just two runs in five innings while hurting from an infected tooth, had been escaping trouble all evening.

Getting along swimmigly: Ian Desmond’s second double, which set up the tying run in the sixth, came because of his elusiveness. Desmond ran on left fielder Aaron Altherr, whose throw beat him to the second-base bag. But Desmond pulled back his right hand and grasped the base with his left before Cesar Hernandez tagged him. It set up Garrett Hampson’s broken-bat double, which tied the game at 2.

“We’ve talked about this over the last couple of years -- the way Desi plays, these little things that show up that help us win games,” Black said.

Bullish on relief: Seven relievers held the Phils to one run -- on Bryce Harper’s fifth hit, an RBI double off Chad Bettis with two outs in the 12th. Most thrilling was lefty Harrison Musgrave forcing a Maikel Franco groundout with the bases loaded to end the 11th.

“I’m seeing our pitchers not melt. I’m seeing them on the mound in control of their emotions and their in-game awareness is there,” Black said.