Rockies' mettle will be tested in San Francisco
Colorado doesn't have time to enjoy back-to-back wins against Atlanta
DENVER -- So much for the honeymoon.
Yep, the Rockies won back-to-back games against the Atlanta Braves, a team that has tormented Colorado since its inception. They got back-to-back seven-inning efforts from a starting pitcher for only the second time this season, the first occurring April 18-19 against Philadelphia.
It was, manager Walt Weiss said, "a couple of very well pitched games, just what we needed."
Truth be told, it's a baby step toward what the Rockies need.
Five weeks ago, the Rockies were feeling good about themselves. They won three in a row against the Rangers, regained a share of first place in the National League West with the Giants, and were a solid 21-14.
With 8-2 and 10-3 wins against Atlanta on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, Colorado has started to turn things around, but prior to those victories, it had lost 21 of 29, falling not only 12 1/2 games back of San Francisco in the process but also five games behind second-place Los Angeles.
So there is reason for smiles in the clubhouse after watching Jhoulys Chacin work seven shutout innings on Thursday as an encore to the seven-inning, two-run, walk-free big league debut of Tyler Matzek the night before. The laughs, however, are muffled.
The Rockies are still 11 1/2 out of first place, and three games behind the Dodgers.
Ah, the beauty of the Wild Card.
For all the club has been through, Colorado was among five teams within 3 1/2 games of Atlanta and Miami, which shared the claim to the two NL Wild Card spots when the Rockies walked out of Coors Field on Thursday afternoon.
What have they been through? Well, the Rockies haven't even won a home series since they took two of three from the Padres on May 16-18.
The disabled list includes No. 2 hitter Michael Cuddyer (fractured left shoulder socket), No. 3 hitter Carlos Gonzalez (inflamed left index finger which has 20 stitches in it after exploratory surgery this week), No. 5 hitter Nolan Arenado (fractured left middle finger) and veteran starting pitchers Brett Anderson (fractured left index finger), Tyler Chatwood (strained right elbow) and Jordan Lyles (fractured left hand).
And on Friday, Colorado opens a road trip that takes the club to San Francisco for three weekend games and then to Los Angeles for three more. It's a quick way for the Rockies to find out if they really are on an upswing.
Whether it's the Giants' former home of Candlestick Park or current home of AT&T Park, no city outside of Atlanta has been more challenging for Colorado since the club's inception in 1993 than the City by the Bay.
The Rockies have won a season series from the Giants only five times in their 21 seasons of existence, and they have won a season series in San Francisco only twice (5-4 in 2007 and 6-3 in '08). Their all-time record of 56-114 (.326) in San Francisco is their worst winning percentage in any NL city other than Atlanta (24-60, .238).
"It's always a tough place to go into and play," said Weiss. "The games always become very intense."
When the Rockies made their first visit to AT&T Park this season, they lost 6-5 and 5-4 in 10 innings in the opener and finale of the three-game series and pulled out a 1-0 victory in between. In the 128 games the two teams have played at AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, Colorado has been outscored by 113 runs and is 44-84.
And it's not just losing games, it's the way things happen.
Things like Madison Bumgarner's grand slam in the 6-5 Giants win on April 11, or the Rockies' 1-0 victory the next day, which was marred by the loss of Anderson in the fourth inning when he broke his finger hitting a ball off the end of his bat, grounding out to short. And the series ended the next day when Brandon Crawford delivered a first-pitch walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the 10th against Rex Brothers, who had allowed only two previous home runs to left-handed hitters in his career.
And it's not something new this year.
A year ago Angel Pagan delivered the only walk-off inside-the-park home run in the Major Leagues in the last decade.
There was that night of April 29, 2008. Catcher Chris Iannetta played third base and third baseman Garrett Atkins played second after Jeff Baker hurt his finger in warmups. In the bottom of the first inning, Troy Tulowitzki tore a left quadriceps tendon and went on the disabled list.
And there was that rainy day on May 7, 2000, when the Rockies were rained out at AT&T Park and then hitting coach Clint Hurdle instructed the team, which had been shut out the two previous games, to "walk out onto the field and step on home plate on your way to the bus so you know that there is a home plate in this park."
This weekend, the Rockies go up against the Giants' trio of Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Bumgarner. Colorado has been a challenge for Lincecum, at Coors Field and at AT&T Park, but Vogelsong and Bumgarner are a combined 7-1 with a 1.34 ERA against the Rockies at AT&T.
"The game is about challenges," said Weiss.
And there aren't many bigger challenges that the Rockies have faced over the years than a trip to San Francisco.