DENVER -- Matthew Holliday stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter on "Beatles Night" and broke open a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh, doing what he was signed to do -- change the game with a swing of his bat by giving an 0-1 curveball a ticket to
DENVER -- Matthew Holliday stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter on "Beatles Night" and broke open a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh, doing what he was signed to do -- change the game with a swing of his bat by giving an 0-1 curveball a ticket to ride.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
With starting pitcher German Marquez (Marquee) pitching one of the best games of his career, manager Bud Black went to his bench and sent Holliday to the plate. After an overly aggressive swing at a slider low and away, Holliday punished a curve from John Gant and sparked an offensive eruption from Colorado when he knocked his first home run for the Rockies in nearly 10 years. The blast went an estimated 448 feet into the left-field bleachers, electrifying a sellout crowd of 47,785 watching his third game back in purple pinstripes as the Rockies turned a scoreless pitcher's duel into a 9-1 rout Saturday at Coors Field and claimed a tie for first in the NL West.
• Rockies Players' Weekend gear
"I was a little amped up," Holliday said of his first swing. "I needed to take a break and gather myself a little, kind of get back into the situation. Kind of slow it down a little bit."
He slowed down everything but his swing and the flight of the ball, which traveled in front of Holliday's image on the scoreboard, photoshopped into a Sgt. Pepper uniform, and the ecstatic cheering from the crowd.
• Rockies' nicknames for Players' Weekend
"It's humbling," Holliday said of the crowd reaction. "Obviously, I appreciate all the support and love that I've gotten. It's a cool moment. I'm just trying to really cherish those moments and enjoy them."
The Rockies and Cardinals -- locked in a tight Wild Card race -- had been putting on a pitching clinic in hitter-happy Coors Field, with only five hits combined and no runs allowed through the first 6 1/2 innings. With the victory, the Rockies passed the Brewers for the second National League Wild Card spot, a half-game behind St. Louis for the first. And following the D-backs' extra-innings loss to Seattle, the Rockies are now tied with Arizona for the NL West lead.
Holliday was pinch-hitting for Marquez, who pitched seven innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out nine. With Gant throwing seven innings of one-run ball on three hits, it was just the fifth time in Coors Field history that both starters threw seven innings while allowing three hits or fewer. The last time it happened was Sept. 24, 2010, when Jhoulys Chacin (La Machina) faced Timothy Lincecum.
With one out and Marquez's spot up next, Black sent Gerardo Parra into the on-deck circle, but after Tony Wolters struck out for the second out, he pulled Parra back and sent Holliday to the plate.
"If Tony would have got on we probably would have went with Parra, maybe save Matt for later," Black said. "But with two outs nobody on, I'm thinking what happened. Just one big swing to give us a lead. With two outs, Matt's capable of doing that, and it worked out for us."
The euphoria in the stands was reflected on the bench, where the Rockies felt that "LoDo Mojo" lifting their spirits and their fortunes.
"That was awesome," David Dahl (Baby Dahl) said. "We were all going crazy. Especially a pinch-hit. He's a great player. He's got a long time in this league, and we're excited to have him here."
The only corner of the field devoid of celebration was the Cardinals dugout, where Holliday is generally held in as high esteem as he's held in Colorado.
"I've been happier with most every home run in his career," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "We wish the best for Matt, but I can't say we were cheering right there."
The Rockies' offense got rolling in the eighth, getting eight runs on 10 hits and an error. They tied a club record with five doubles in an inning.
Holliday is now 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter this year, having sparked a five-run rally Friday night to narrow a 7-0 deficit and close within two runs. Though his seventh-inning homer opened the flood gates for the Rockies' offense, Holliday laughed off any suggestion that he played a part in the eighth-inning outburst.
"I'm not taking credit for that," Holliday said. "The boys put together lots of great at-bats in the bottom of the eighth. That was all them. They had really good at-bats. The guys were fighting, and had really good swings. CarGo's double to left-center was a really good swing against a really good reliever. That's not from me."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The 1-0 lead Holliday provided was short-lived, as the Cardinals battled back in the top of the eighth against reliever Adam Ottavino (AO), paced by a leadoff double to center from Harrison Bader (Tots). Greg Garcia (GG) followed by beating out a bunt to third that the Rockies challenged but was upheld. After pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko (Jerk-Oh) struck out, Matt Carpenter (Carp) walked on a wild pitch that allowed Bader to score and tie the game and sent Garcia to third. After inducing an infield fly to second from Yadier Molina (Yadi), Ottavino struck out Jose Martinez (Cafe).
"Otto had a couple bad breaks, but he got Molina who's a very tough out," Black said. "That fly ball to DJ with a runner on third and less than two outs, that was critical. Those were big outs. Molina and Martinez back-to-back at-bats, and Carpenter, who's leading the league in homers."
The Rockies are now 26-3 in the last 29 starts from Marquez, Kyle Freeland (Two One), and Jon Gray (Gray Wolf).
"They're pitching great," Black said. "Since Jon's return [from the disabled list] he's been solid. German and Freeland are gaining a lot of momentum and confidence. For young guys doing what they're doing is great."
"MARQUEE" MASTER CLASS
The final two innings overshadowed Marquez's memorable outing of seven shutout innings on three hits. Marquez, 23, left no doubt about his emergence as one of Colorado's "Big Three."
"It was definitely my best outing," Marquez said. "My fastball command was pretty good and I mixed my offspeed pitches very effectively as well. I come out of the gates confident every single game. This one I was more under control. I prepare really well for each of my outings, and I credit that to come out and put up zeros, especially in that first inning that has been haunting us."
The Rockies have been outscored 110-86 in the first inning.
"That was one of the best games he's pitched this season," Black echoed. "Fastball had a lot of life. It had hop through the hitting area. Secondary pitches were down. The change, slider, a lot of quality pitches today from German. Good tempo between pitches. Pitching with a lot of confidence and aggressiveness. He was outstanding."
HE SAID IT
"You could tell there was a little bit of energy in the building today from the first pitch on. We knew it was going to be a sellout. I thought our fans were great. It was a very good atmosphere. And you're talking about two good pitchers. Their guy pitched great. German and Gant matched each other toe for toe and then Matt got the homer. One-nothing going into the eighth inning, that's really good pitching." -- Black, on the playoff atmosphere at Coors Field on Saturday night
Tyler Anderson (Mr. Duck) (6-6, 4.45 ERA) is on the hill for the Rockies in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. MT finale with the Cardinals. Anderson had an uneven outing when he opened the homestand against the Padres on Tuesday, yielding four runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings while walking none and striking out eight. It was his third career outing giving of 10 or more hits. He allowed two homers, giving him eight in his last four starts. He faces the Cardinals' Austin Gomber (Big G) (3-0, 2.98) in a southpaw showdown.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.