'We don’t have luck': Rockies fall short despite Díaz's strong performance

August 24th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rockies catcher had showered. Wednesday night’s 6-5, 10-inning loss to the Rays and his strong offensive performance -- three hits, including a home run -- had swirled down the drain.

His final and most important agenda item, though, was an impromptu meeting with closer Justin Lawrence, who was staring into his locker and at the floor. He was still wearing his full uniform and cap, but in futility.

Lawrence would have to wait at least another day to climb out of a mind-numbing stretch of poor results. Wednesday, only the harshest evaluator could blame the Rays’ two-run ninth on poor pitching. 

So with Lawrence still painfully wearing the result, Díaz still was on his most important duty of the night -- restoring Lawrence’s spirits after absorbing his third blown save in his last four outings and sixth in his last 10 tries.

“Lawrence was making good pitches,” Díaz said as the immediate answer to a question about a night when he produced offensively, and reached 100 games caught -- accomplished just 16 times in the Rockies’ 31-season history. “We don’t have luck.”

The previous two games, the Rockies took leads into the eighth inning, only to give up seven runs Sunday and eight runs Tuesday. This time, after solid work from starter Austin Gomber (three runs on seven hits in six innings), Jake Bird pitched the seventh and a 1-2-3 eighth, only to see Lawrence’s slump continue.

A leadoff strikeout of Curtis Mead made it seem as if the worm would turn for Lawrence. But when Jose Siri beat out second baseman Brendan Rodgers’ throw for an infield single and Josh Lowe agonizingly cued a grounder inside the third-base line that Ryan McMahon was, rightfully, positioned away from, the Rockies’ gut was there for the punching.

Lawrence and the Rockies survived the ninth after Yandy Díaz’s game-tying, broken bat single, but Lowe singled in the winner in the 10th.

The last two blown saves, at home against the D-backs and the White Sox, were a combination of less-than-perfect location and things that happen at Coors Field. This one was much harder to pin strictly on Lawrence.

No wonder Díaz’s fine night was not foremost on his mind.

“A broken-bat single -- it’s baseball, it happens,” said Díaz, whose fifth-inning leadoff homer was one of few Rockies successes against Rays starter Aaron Civale, who struck out nine in five innings pitched. “But we’re going to keep finding a way to finish strong.

“We talk. I try to keep him positive. He has emotion now. But we’re going to try to find a way. We played a really good game tonight. He made a good pitch. They found the hole. There are a lot of closers in the big leagues and they have times like that. He’s going to be good.”

Bud Black agreed that Lawrence had more than his share of misfortune in a game that provided him “growth moments.” Black was left wishing someone else would have made like Díaz, whose homer was his 13th of the season, and delivered a big hit. 

The Rockies loaded the bases to open the sixth. But Rodgers and Nolan Jones struck out. The Rockies were saved from an empty inning with Díaz’s two-run single. Elehuris Montero was hit by a pitch, and Brenton Doyle added an RBI single, on which Jurickson Profar was thrown out at the plate.

Black’s biggest point about Lawrence’s inning was the Rays put balls in play consistently, while the Rockies were spotty about it during their best chance.

“Two strikes on Siri, and he put the ball in play,” Black said. “Conversely, we’ve got to do a better job of just putting the ball in play.”

Díaz has not been as effective with quality contact since the All-Star Game, of which he won the Most Valuable Player Award. Before Wednesday, Díaz had slashed .236/.289/.358 in 30 games after the All-Star break.

But his availability has been among Díaz’s attributes. At 100 defensive appearances, including 93 starts, Díaz has a shot at the club record of 122 games, held by Joe Girardi in 1995. With the opportunity to use him as designated hitter to reduce wear and tear, it would be difficult to reach Girardi in catching starts.

“I’m going to finish strong on both sides, my defense and my offense,” Díaz said. “Finish healthy and finish strong.”