DENVER -- This one hurt.
Gray controlled the Dodgers for the first five innings, holding them scoreless with seven strikeouts. But the cramping in his legs was beyond his control. He left with what was diagnosed as full-body cramping after giving up a leadoff Corey Seager double in the sixth. Shortly thereafter, the Rockies’ 2-0 lead evaporated.
The next pain -- this one literally in the neck -- came in the seventh, when Tapia leaped at the left-field wall and prevented Zach McKinstry’s opposite-way, two-out drive off Mychal Givens from clearing the fence.
But Tapia, who had homered in the third off Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, couldn’t hold onto the ball. As he lay stricken on the warning track, McKinstry sped for the go-ahead, inside-the-park homer as part of a two-run inning.
Gray was OK later, having been pumped with electrolytes. Tapia, according to manager Bud Black, was dealing with neck pain from whiplash, and was slightly dazed. When asked, Black said the medical team did not think Tapia had a concussion.
Say this for the return of baseball before fans at Coors: One never knows what to expect, even if in the cases of Gray and Tapia the surprises were unpleasant. The Rockies will need a win Sunday to earn a split and feel at least a little happy about the four-game, season-open series with the defending World Series champions.
“A lot of weird things have happened so far,” said Black. “The series, they've been really good games, right? I mean, they've been very exciting for the fans, high-stress points. Throughout these three games, it’s been a good series so far.”
Until he couldn’t pitch anymore, Gray rolled. The right-hander, who’d struggled through a shoulder injury and a 6.69 ERA in 2020, threw well enough this spring to make the Rockies believe he was on his way to his past form -- double figures in wins from 2016-19, a streak no other pitcher in club history had accomplished. And after giving up a hit and a walk in the first, Gray’s form arrived for the regular season.
Gray escaped that inning by forcing a Max Muncy grounder, then didn’t allow a baserunner until the fifth, a frame he finished with his best pitch -- a biting slider to fan Gavin Lux with two on. But the cramps did what the Dodgers could not.
“The first cramp I felt was my right calf,” Gray said. “And then I felt it in my right quad. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, I felt it in my right hamstring. So it was one leg, really.
“Even after the fifth, I thought I was going to be able to make [it through] seven, even with this going on. I thought I could somehow manage it and stay out there. But it's something that, it's kind of risky, I guess. Because if there's a ball [hit] for me, and I really go after it, it can make it worse.”
An athlete given to self-examination, Gray was left to wonder why it happened. Earlier in his career, the Rockies had to stay on him about eating too little on game days. This time, Gray ate, and felt he ate enough, but …
“The only thing I can think is I didn’t eat enough carbs,” he said. “I usually don’t eat a lot on start days, but today I ate quite a bit. But it was so heavy protein loaded.
“If I was pitching tomorrow, I’d probably eat, like, six bananas and drink some mustard.”
The Rockies play in a high-desert climate that requires athletes to pay special attention to hydration and diet. But as demonstrated by Gray, and Germán Márquez before him, the climate sometimes wins.
“Coming into altitude, we really stress hydration, the right types of food, all those things that we have the resources for, and athlete education,” Black said. “It’s just one of those nights tonight that got to Jon.”
The McKinstry homer marked the second time a Tapia leap at the wall touched off tumult.
In the opener, Tapia couldn’t hold onto Cody Bellinger’s fly ball, and it landed in the stands. But Bellinger didn’t get credit for a homer because Justin Turner, the baserunner, doubled back to first base and allowed Bellinger to pass him. Turner scored, but Bellinger was ruled out and left officially with a single.
On Saturday, as Tapia crashed the fence, a fan in a white hat with a blue logo dashed over to compete with him for the ball. It’s not clear if the fan’s involvement prevented the catch. Either way, Tapia was in no shape to do anything about the speeding McKinstry.
“‘Tap’ has been involved in a couple of oddities,” Black said. “You come to a baseball game, you never know what you’re going to see.”