After dropping the first two games of the series, the Brewers have to win Sunday and hope the Cardinals lose to the Cubs to force a Game 163 for the National League Central title. On the other side, with a win and a Padres loss to the D-backs, the Rockies -- who entered the season hoping to build on postseason trips in 2017 and ‘18 -- can at least escape last place in the NL West.
And Story, whose homer off Matt Albers was his 35th of the season and third career walk-off shot, said climbing out of the bottom spot -- where the Rockies have been since July 27 -- is important when it’s the only statement left for Colorado.
“That’s never fun to be there, especially coming in with the expectations that we had for this season,” Story said. “There’s some pride on the line. We’re coming to win, hopefully spoil it for those guys over there.”
Here are four more takeaways from Saturday.
1) Hilliard homers vs. Hader
Hilliard’s homer, the seventh since the left-handed hitter’s late-August promotion from Triple-A Albuquerque, came against hard-throwing Brewers closer Josh Hader, who has 138 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings but also has given up 15 home runs. Manager Bud Black alerted Hilliard that the matchup was a possibility earlier in the game, so Hilliard went headed to the batting cage to simulate facing the Brewers' closer.
“I did get into the cage right before my at-bat, and I turned the machine up all the way to try to get the spin rate simulated a little bit,” Hilliard said. “And it took me about 20 swings to not foul one off.
“I finally fouled one off and said, ‘Let’s go. I’m ready.’”
2) Chi Chi finishes 2019 on a high
It has taken four callups from Albuquerque for right-hander Chi Chi González to erase the unusual parts of his story -- a Tommy John surgery in July 2017 that kept him out of the Majors until this year, and the fact he was winless in the Majors from Sept. 22, 2015, to when he went six innings for a 2-1 victory over the Cardinals on Sept. 10.
But González finished a strong September by going six innings with six strikeouts, allowing one run on three hits. The first hit he allowed was Eric Thames’ homer to lead off the fifth inning. Still, Gonzalez’s work left him with a 1.67 ERA for the month. Also, his velocity has ticked up (a pointer from reliever James Pazos to dig his foot into the rubber helped with velocity and control), and suddenly he is feeling like the pitcher the Rangers took in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
“It’s huge,” González said. “I had the highs all through the Minors, had some struggles in the big leagues, got hurt, but I learned from it all and I’m going to continue to learn. And I’m going to continue to teach, just like these guys have done to me.”
González’s work puts him in position to compete for a spot in Colorado’s rotation next season, although there is some uncertainty with the roster spot. The Rockies have five players on the 60-day disabled list and must make decisions on those while compiling their 40-man Major League offseason roster. They can either keep González on the roster or outright him and attempt to re-sign him. Then next spring will bring the competition.
3) Bring what you have
Outfielder Yonathan Daza batted .364 this season at Albuquerque but is at .204 in 43 Major League games. However, his arm and defense have been solid, and he helped save Saturday’s game. Daza barely missed a diving catch of a fly ball off the bat of Ben Gamel in the top of the ninth, but he bounced right back and made a perfect throw to the plate to retire Lorenzo Cain.
The play survived a replay review of whether Wolters illegally blocked the plate before possessing the ball.
“I knew it was a great time, great play, gave us some momentum,” Daza said with González translating. Daza hopes to improve the offense while also using his defense to forge opportunities moving forward.
4) Desmond pleased with youth
Desmond has delighted in the work of some of the younger Rockies all month and especially on Saturday.
“These guys are grinding -- never played this many games, not sure about playing time, there are so many questions in the air,” Desmond said. “For them to stay focused, keep on working and absorb everything that the older guys and the coaching staff is trying to teach them, then come up with big moments [is great].
“Garrett Hampson had the game-tying homer that got taken back [when Cain robbed him in the seventh inning]. Then Hilliard hits a homer, then Story -- he’s relatively young to have his third walk-off homer.”
Desmond, who will enter next season in year four of a five-year deal but could be competing for playing time with younger players next season, has had two homers to deep center field this week.
“At this point in my career, I don’t really need positive reinforcement,” he said. “I know what I can do as a player. Just have to keep on grinding it out.”