DENVER -- The Earth’s equatorial circumference is 24,901 miles, 24,860 from pole to pole. Denver is at 39.7392 degrees north latitude, 104.9903 west longitude. But the spot that mattered was about 50 feet from Nolan Arenado in the on-deck circle at Coors Field on Thursday afternoon, with the Rockies in position to climb above .500 for the first time since they were 2-2.
That was Daniel Murphy’s happy spot.
The D-backs, understandably, walked Arenado intentionally, only to see Murphy pop a 10th-inning single to left field off Yoshihisa Hirano to drive in Trevor Story from third base and give the Rockies their fifth straight victory, 11-10, to complete a sweep.
It was also the Rockies’ fourth walk-off victory on a homestand (a club record) that has seen Colorado win six of seven. They’ve won eight of 10 overall.
“Nolan’s probably one of the most dangerous guys on the planet right now, so it was a good play,” said Murphy, who could look at a stat sheet to come to that conclusion rather than comb all 196.9 million square miles of the globe’s surface area. “I would do that every single time. You sleep better at night having Nolan not beat you.”
The final blow of a crazy game -- it took Ian Desmond’s homer and Arenado’s RBI single in the eighth to erase the D-backs’ five-run comeback in the top half of the inning and force extras -- justified Colorado’s offseason plan to help make big innings, and big wins, possible.
The last two years, the Rockies made it to the postseason on the strength of three potent hitters -- Charlie Blackmon at the top, and Story and Arenado in the heart. At times, Carlos Gonzalez provided protection, but at other times he struggled. And after that, the Rockies had a hard time protecting their big guns. Even the best of the Rockies hitters chased pitches, which led to high strikeouts and some dramatic offensive slumps.
After the Rockies were swept by the Brewers last year in the National League Division Series, the team had to make a difficult choice. Would they retain second baseman DJ LeMahieu, a right-handed hitter who handled the bat well with occasional power but fit toward the top of the order, or find a lefty hitter who could hit behind Story and Arenado?
The Rockies signed Murphy, a .299 career hitter before this year, for the same two years and $24 million that the Yankees spent to sign LeMahieu.
Problem was, Murphy suffered a broken index finger on his left hand in the season’s second game and missed 20 games, during which the Rockies went 8-12. When Murphy made it back, Arenado had caught fire. But Murphy went through a slump -- 4-for-37 in the first 14 games in May.
But, counting Thursday’s 3-for-5 that also included a two-run first-inning single that D-backs first baseman Christian Walker and second baseman Ildemaro Vargas somehow couldn’t corral, Murphy is 12-for-30 (.400) over his last nine games. Arenado has a 10-game on-base streak, and is hitting .402 (41-for-102) with nine home runs, seven doubles, a triple and 26 RBIs this month. The pair have helped a lineup that has missed Blackmon for nearly a week with a right calf strain.
So every now and then, Arenado understands the opposition won’t let him hit.
“I guess if you’re an opponent, you probably look at it and go, ‘Hey, he’s not hitting as well as Nolan is right now,’” Arenado said. “It’s just strategy. You can’t blame them for having a strategy like that. It’s smart, but Murphy can hit.
“Hopefully, he’s starting to hit his stride.”
Murphy’s slump raised questions about his finger. He simply pointed at himself to do better.
“You get two choices, you stand up and fight or lay down,” Murphy said. “This league doesn’t feel sorry for you. So I have a choice every day coming in. I can compete like a maniac and not give away a pitch, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
For a game to end 11-10, it takes way more than a good combination at the fourth and fifth spots.
David Dahl lashed four hits, including a two-run, opposite-field homer to left in the second inning. Ryan McMahon added three hits, with his two-run shot upstairs in right giving the Rockies a 7-5 lead in the third and bailing out slumping lefty Kyle Freeland (three innings, seven hits, five runs). Story singled, doubled and tripled. Desmond’s homer was the first of his career as a pinch-hitter, and he has been in the middle of three of the Rockies’ walk-off rallies.
But Murphy slotting behind Arenado achieves Colorado’s offseason plan of adding danger and experience.
“When you’re an opposing team and you see the type of hitter that Daniel Murphy is behind a great player like Nolan, it helps both guys,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.