Rox hit three HRs, but fall in 10th on Opening Day
MILWAUKEE -- Walt Weiss' first Opening Day as the Rockies' manager included plenty of happy fireworks -- home runs by Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler -- the last coming in the ninth to tie the game.
But Monday ended sourly for Colorado. Jonathan Lucroy's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the 10th gave the Brewers a 5-4 victory in front 45,781, the fifth-largest crowd in Miller Park history.
While losing a club-record 98 games last year under Jim Tracy, the Rockies experimented with an odd pitching system. Although Monday was marred by some costly mistakes on the mound by relievers Wilton Lopez and Adam Ottavino (0-1) -- and one on the bases by Chris Nelson -- the Rockies left feeling they played a style that can yield better results.
Tulowitzki's two-run shot in the third inning and Gonzalez's leadoff homer in the fifth came against Brewers ace right-hander Yovani Gallardo. With two outs in the ninth, Fowler launched a first-pitch 95-mph fastball from Brewers closer John Axford into the right-field stands.
After dealing with so much injury and ineffectiveness last year from the starting pitching staff that they experimented with a four-man rotation with a limited pitch count, the Rockies could delight in Monday's strong 6 2/3 innings from right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who finished with one run on three hits and six strikeouts.
"I felt good about the way the guys played," Weiss said. "Even the guys we had in there late in the game on the mound, I feel good about those guys."
The Rockies took a 3-1 lead into the eighth. However, Lopez, acquired from the Astros during the offseason, gave up three runs on four hits. Two of them didn't leave the infield. One of those was Ryan Braun's RBI bouncer to Tulowitzki, who held the ball when he saw Braun break swiftly out of the box. He didn't have a good handle on it, anyhow.
Ramirez, noticing Lopez's determination to beat him with his slider, pulled a 2-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a double that gave the Brewers a 4-3 lead.
"[Lopez] has been one of the best in the National League in that spot, late in the game, but Ramirez threw out a clutch at-bat," Weiss said.
Fowler erased the Brewers' led with his third hit, a homer that came after Axford had fanned Nelson and Eric Young Jr.
"You know he's going to go right after you," Fowler said. "I'm just happy I gave our team another chance to win the game."
Ottavino hit Rickie Weeks in the foot with an 0-1 fastball with one out in the 10th. Weeks stole second when second baseman Josh Rutledge could not handle catcher Wilin Rosario's one-hop throw, which was on time. The Rockies walked Braun intentionally, and Ramirez drew a walk to set up Lucroy, who lifted a sinker to center field to win the game.
"I still feel plenty confident," Ottavino said. "It just stinks to lose the first game, especially when you're on the mound to do it."
Chacin signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract during the offseason, then scared Rockies fans by posting an 8.44 ERA in Spring Training. Monday wasn't perfect. Chacin walked leadoff hitters in the first and second, and gave up a Norichika Aoki homer in the third.
But Chacin outpitched Gallardo and gave the Rockies the type of pitching they hope will not be rare this season. Last season, Colorado starters finished with a Major League-high 5.81 ERA.
But on Monday, Chacin, who battled injury early last year but pitched well the final two months after his return, attacked Milwaukee's righty-dominated lineup inside with his fastball, and used his slider on the outer part of the plate.
"I walked the leadoff guy my first two innings, but after that I was trying to throw down, get it done quick," Chacin said.
The Brewers left impressed.
"I'm not sure how many guys it was, but it had to be close to 90 percent of the hitters he faced today, he was 0-1 on them or threw them a strike," Lucroy said.
The offense managed 10 hits against Gallardo.
"We were facing their No. 1 pitcher and we connected pretty well against him," Gonzalez said. "We battled the whole game. That happens sometimes."
The offense was statistically effective last year even though Tulowitzki missed all but 47 games due to a left groin injury that required surgery. Gonzalez had just nine of his 22 homers after Tulowitzki was injured, and just five after the All-Star break as pitchers refused to challenge him. Now the Rockies have Gonzalez in the No. 3 spot and Tulowitzki hitting cleanup, a combination that produced Monday.
"It's nice to be playing, just to take the field and get after it with them," Tulowitzki said. "We can sit here all day and talk about how much he means to me and vice versa. But it was cool to be out there."
Big innings of multiple hits and crisp execution, not power displays, will have to be common on the road. The Rockies nearly had such a frame in the fourth on Monday, but Nelson's mistake wiped that away.
Fowler singled to right with Rosario at second and Nelson at first. Rosario charged around third and seemed committed to trying to score when third-base coach Stu Cole gave the stop sign. But Nelson kept running, and found himself trapped between second and third.
"I should have had my head on a swivel, it's my fault," Nelson said. "We always want to go first to third and second to home on a base hit, but I was overaggressive."