DENVER -- Jon Gray fought his emotions when he walked off the mound to a standing ovation of 47,789 fans at Coors Field.
He didn't know if he was going to cry. He didn't know if he was going to laugh. He didn't know much of anything, except that he finally felt good on that mound Saturday night, limiting the Mariners to just four hits and leading the Rockies to a 4-1 victory -- their 12th win in the last 15 games.
"I didn't think I was ever going to have that feeling again," Gray said, again fighting his emotions in the clubhouse after the game.
After being demoted to Triple-A Albuquerque on June 30 and making two starts, the Rockies right-hander threw a season-high 7 1/3 innings. His one earned run didn't come until the eighth inning, and he struck out six while walking just one batter.
It was, in all senses, a completely new pitcher on the mound for the Rockies. Before being demoted, Gray was 7-7 with a 5.77 ERA in 17 starts. He lacked command in his pitches and composure with runners in scoring position, allowing a .819 OPS in those situations.
Not on Saturday. Gray didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning, when Jean Segura singled, and the Mariners were just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Rockies manager Bud Black said Gray had command on the outside corner to right-handed batters and was able to throw the ball in and away to left-handers. His slider was effective, and, overall, he kept the ball down.
"Jon was pitching with conviction, even going into his side session a couple of days ago, Steve [Foster] and Darren [Holmes] noticed a marked difference in Jon," Black said. "Jon was determined today to get back on track."
Even his look was a bit different. Gray trimmed his hair and beard a couple of days before Saturday, and, for the first time all year, he lowered his pant cuffs to his ankles, instead of having them above the calf.
"Changed it all," Gray said. "Started over. Fresh start."
His approach was one he took when pitching in Albuquerque -- be natural.
"Just try to take so many things out of my mind, so many mechanical things out of my mind and just make good pitches," Gray said. "See the out in your head and make the pitch. It was that simple today."
In the eighth inning, Gray gave up a single to Ben Gamel, along with an RBI double to Chris Herrmann. Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino replaced Gray with two runners on and one out, but Ottavino saved the day by inducing a fielder's choice and striking out Segura. Wade Davis threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning and got the save.
The Rockies secured their second series win over the Mariners this season, the first coming in Seattle last weekend. Colorado has won five consecutive series against teams above .500 for the first time in franchise history. The Rockies haven't won five straight series since 2014, when they beat the Phillies, the Giants, the Dodgers, the D-backs, the Mets and the Rangers from April 18-May 8.
Having Gray back in the rotation -- and pitching the way he did on Saturday night -- could do wonders for the Rockies down the stretch. Gray was the Opening Day starter the last two seasons and the arm the Rockies tabbed for their first playoff game in eight years in 2017.
And while there are still pitches he wants to work on, Gray said he still feels like he's getting better with each outing.
"I saw so much negative for a while, that it was hard to see positives," Gray said. "But I've seen a lot of positives lately, and it's been easier to believe in it. And when I believe in my stuff, I feel like I'm going to win that game."
The Rockies' offense gave Gray a lead to work with early in the game, with Carlos Gonzalez's two-run home run in the second inning, along with an RBI triple from Ian Desmond and an RBI single from Nolan Arenado in the fifth. Charlie Blackmon went 2-for-4 in the leadoff spot, with usual leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu scratched from the lineup with lower back stiffness.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gonzalez appreciated Gray's dominance, noting, "playing defense behind him was relaxing -- not a lot of action." But Gonzalez provided action with his bat to help Gray.
His homer -- which left the bat at 110.5 mph and traveled a projected 455 feet, according to Statcast™ -- was Gonzalez's fourth in 20 career at-bats against LeBlanc -- 7-for-20 (.350) with seven RBIs. Gonzalez also homered off LeBlanc in last Sunday's 6-4 loss at Seattle.
LeBlanc blamed himself.
"It didn't move at all," LeBlanc said. "It moved a lot after he hit it, really quickly. It was a mistake. I made a lot of mistakes tonight. That was on the inner half, down, right where lefties like it. But he's had some success against me. I've struggled with execution against him in the past and it showed up again tonight."
Gonzalez had a severe early-season slump, but this month, he is hitting .375 (15-for-40) with four of his 11 homers and 12 of his 41 RBIs.
"I said it when I was struggling, and I'll say it now: I still feel like I've got a lot in the tank, and I've still got a good game to contribute and help us reach our goals," he said.
Gray's 1-2-3 first marked the first time a Rockies' starter has not yielded a first-inning run since last Saturday at Seattle, and the first time it has happened at home since July 4 against the Giants.
HE SAID IT
"That's what I play for, the guys behind me. You feel like a disappointment sometimes when you're not there for them, when you're going through something bad. But just to see them smiling tonight and know that we're having a good time together, that's all I could have hoped for." -- Gray, on the most satisfying aspect of Saturday
Left-handed pitcher Tyler Anderson (6-3, 3.76 ERA) has pitched a total of 22 innings in his last three starts -- eight each on June 29 and July 4 against the Dodgers and the Giants and another six on Tuesday against the D-backs. He went 2-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those three starts, with seven walks, 25 strikeouts and just one earned run. He'll look to go far into another game for the Rockies in Sunday's series finale against the Mariners' right-hander Mike Leake (8-6, 4.36 ERA) at 1:10 p.m. MT. Anderson has a 3.60 career ERA at Coors Field, but this season, he is 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA at home.