DENVER -- Jon Gray just briefly peeked over his right shoulder as his latest big-game chance went bye-bye into the left-field bleachers with Trea Turner's two-run, second-inning homer for the Nationals on Saturday night. But at least his Rockies teammates can look forward to their next outing.The 12-2 loss to
DENVER -- Jon Gray just briefly peeked over his right shoulder as his latest big-game chance went bye-bye into the left-field bleachers with Trea Turner's two-run, second-inning homer for the Nationals on Saturday night. But at least his Rockies teammates can look forward to their next outing.
The 12-2 loss to the Nationals at Coors Field left the Rockies tied with the Dodgers atop the National League West heading into Sunday's regular-season finale for both teams.
If the results of Sunday afternoon's Nationals-Rockies game and Dodgers-Giants matchup leave the teams tied, the Rockies and Dodgers would meet at Dodger Stadium on Monday to settle the division.
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Whatever happens, Gray (12-9), after the latest event in a wildly inconsistent season, is left hoping that at some point he can get a postseason chance to do better than seven hits and five runs in two innings.
"It's just been a bad year all the way around," Gray said. "I try to change that. Every time they give me a chance to take the ball, I take it. I think I'm going to do good. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I do.
"It's really frustrating for me. It's really frustrating for the fans. I can't imagine having to deal with that. But I can't wait to prove anybody wrong. I know a lot of crap has happened this year. It's been a rough year for me. I can't wait to prove everybody wrong and show them what I'm all about."
But the sun will rise Sunday, and the Rockies hope soon it will set on them as division champs for the first time in their 26-season history.
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If the division is decided Sunday or there is a tie-breaker on Monday, the second-place team will earn the second NL Wild Card spot, with the task of traveling for Tuesday's Wild Card Game to meet the Cubs or the Brewers, who enter Sunday with their own tie in the NL Central. The second-place Central team will own the top Wild Card.
The Rockies and Dodgers enter Sunday at 90-71, same as the NL East-champion Braves. Should the Rockies emerge as the West champ, their 5-2 record against the Braves would give them home-field advantage in an NL Division Series.
The Rockies clinched a postseason berth on Friday night and turned to Gray with a chance to reduce their magic number to one over the Dodgers. Instead, he added to a disturbing pattern of poor performances on big occasions.
Gray went 1 1/3 innings in last year's 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the NL Wild Card Game. His four-inning, three-run mess on Opening Day began a wild ride that has included some big games, some bad games, a demotion to Triple-A Albuquerque at the end of June and severe peaks and valleys in the second half.
Gray, who pitched the Rockies into the postseason last year with strong work in his final 13 starts, seemed to be his often-dominating self Wednesday, when he fanned seven in seven innings of a 10-1 victory over the Phillies. Asked whether the moment affected Gray, manager Bud Black stuck with the pitching standards that his performance didn't meet.
"This was a matter of bad location more than anything," Black said. "The ball was up. The slider wasn't effective. The curveball didn't come into play. From the get-go it looked as though Jon wasn't able to make pitches."
Gray added, "I've won a lot of big games for this club. It's just when things are shaky, I don't know what to expect out of myself. I'm gonna leave it all out there every single time, and make them drag me off. When things aren't going good, what can you do?"
In the first inning, Gray was hurt by a two-out double scorched by Juan Soto that froze left fielder David Dahl just enough to let a two-run double land. But after the Nats' Wilmer Difo bunted for a single to open the second and scored a manufactured run on Adam Eaton's single, Gray hung a slider for Turner's 19th homer of the season.
Gray has given up a homer in 12 straight starts -- one shy of John Thomson's club record in 2002 -- with 16 total over that period. Chad Bettis replaced Gray and gave up one run, on Soto's solo homer in the fifth, and two hits in three innings.
Homers by Carlos Gonzalez, his 16th, in the second and Nolan Arenado, his 35th to tie Trevor Story for the club lead but his first after 62 dry at-bats, cut the difference to 6-2 -- both off Nats starter Stephen Strasburg (10-7). The homers inspired hope.
That hope will have to carry to Sunday.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Arenado's homer was the latest big swing in a bounceback homestand, during which he's hit .360 with three doubles. He hit just .171 during the team's final regular-season road trip but felt his swing slowly return at the end.
The homestand began with Arenado showing up early for vigorous hitting sessions on the field. By Saturday's pregame batting practice, the ball was flying into the seats and it looked as if Arenado's easy power was in place.
"I know there's a better feeling -- I'm always going to say that, I think I've always said that," Arenado said. "But at this time of year, it doesn't matter. It's about winning. It's about having quality at-bats, trying to help the team win. I'm trying not to stress about finding my swing."
This is the first time the NL West has been tied after 161 games since 2006, when the Dodgers and Padres were tied at 87-74. Both teams won on the final day, and San Diego won the tie-breaking game.
Tyler Anderson (6-9, 4.76 ERA) has been planning and hoping for a big game ever since he was scratched Monday because of left shoulder soreness. After his bullpen session on Friday, he said, "I'm ready for whatever Buddy wants me to do."
How about possibly bring home the team's first division championship? Anderson will pitch Sunday's regular-season finale opposite the Nationals righty Erick Fedde (2-3, 5.24), with first pitch at 1:10 p.m. MT. There was talk of 18-game winner and 300-strikeout man Max Scherzer making the start, but the Nats opted against it.
This also means that righty German Marquez (14-10, 3.76) won't throw on three days' rest -- after firing 101 pitches in his 11-strikeout performance Wednesday against the Phillies. Instead he will be saved for possibly a tie-breaker in Los Angeles on Monday, a Wild Card Game or, in the Rockies' best hopes, the NLDS.
"Tyler is a tough pitcher," Arenado said. "He wants the ball. I think that's always a big thing. Guys that want the ball, that's always a good start. With Tyler, we're confident with him. We know he's going to give us his all and that's all you can ask for."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.