DENVER -- In his first game back after sitting a day to help him get out of his funk at the plate, Nolan Arenado left no doubt that he wasn't bringing the funk to the field. His defense saved at least one run in a critical game against the Dodgers on Sunday, and he added two more with a home run in a late-inning rally to accompany two home runs on the day from Charlie Blackmon, but it was not enough to overcome the Dodgers as they beat the Rockies 9-6 to take the rubber match in the three-game series.
The Rockies remained in first place in the National League West, but the loss closed the gap between them and the second-place Dodgers to a half-game. The defeat also kept their lead over the D-backs at 2 1/2 games, with Arizona losing to Atlanta before beginning a four-game series in Denver starting Monday.
"It's good to see Chuck doing his thing, as we expect him to do," Arenado said of Blackmon's two-homer day. "We can't let this game affect us. We know we have a big series here with the Diamondbacks. Losing is never fun, but when you have big games coming up, which we put ourselves in that position, it's easy to move on."
The Dodgers jumped out to a two-run lead in the first, with a one-out single from Justin Turner, a run-scoring double from Manny Machado and a David Freese single to right to plate Machado.
Colorado answered with Blackmon's leadoff homer deep into the right-field seats, the first of three extra-base hits on the day for the center fielder.
"I've been working on some stuff and I feel pretty good," Blackmon said. "I felt better lately. I've still made some mistakes in the box here and there. They've made some good pitches here and there also. But I'm getting there."
In the bottom of the second, after a homer from Enrique Hernandez to open the inning, Arenado made the first of his two standout plays. With one out and the bases empty, Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill hit a grounder down the line that crossed over the bag, pulling Arenado into foul territory as he fielded it. Arenado's momentum carried him practically into Dodgers third-base coach Chris Woodward as he threw a one-hopper to Ian Desmond at first. Desmond bobbled the ball and dropped it, but still had time to pick it up and record the out.
In the next inning, Arenado had a run-saving, rally-killing, jaw-dropping defensive play. With two outs, runners on first and second, and reliever Chad Bettis facing his first batter after taking the ball from struggling starter Tyler Anderson (2 2/3 innings, 4 runs, 3 earned), Austin Barnes ripped a screaming grounder down the third-base line. Arenado dove toward the line, then rifled a throw from his knees to beat Barnes by a step.
"If you're not contributing on one side of the ball, I know I can help the team on the other," Arenado said of the confidence his defense gives him. "It does motivate me, it helps me, it fires me up when I can help the team on the defensive side or make some plays to save some runs. It definitely affects my offense."
The Dodgers scored two more in the sixth on a two-run homer from Turner before the Rockies answered with a three-run rally, trimming the deficit to 8-5.
Arenado used his bat to narrow the gap in the sixth. Blackmon led off the inning with a double and scored on DJ LeMahieu's double into the left-field gap, driving starter Hill from the mound. Pedro Baez came in to face Arenado, getting ahead 0-2 before Arenado unloaded on a 97.2 four-seam fastball and drove it an estimated 440 feet, according to Statcast™, into the left-center stands.
"Nolan is a lineup-changer," Blackmon said. "When you have a guy like that on your team, it totally changes the dynamic of your lineup and how you have to approach that lineup. He's very important to us. He's working really hard lately. It was nice to see him hit that ball over the fence."
Arenado is hitting .329 (26-79) with 10 homers and 17 RBIs in the 21 games he's played after a day off -- whether an individual day or a scheduled team off-day.
Blackmon homered again in the eighth, driving a no-doubter to right an estimated 428 feet to bring the Rockies within two before L.A. padded its lead with a ninth-inning insurance run and retired the Rockies on three hard-hit balls to left, right and center, stranding Desmond, who singled and stole second to open the inning.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rockies rookie right-hander DJ Johnson earned a reputation as a strike-thrower in his nine Minor League seasons, and he lived up to the buzz when he made his big league debut Sunday, entering the game in the fifth with a man on second, one out, and two runs already in.
"My heart was definitely racing a little bit," Johnson said. "It was good I got to sit in the bullpen the last couple days to get used to my surroundings. I definitely feel like I've calmed down the last couple days after the initial shock of being here. But coming in there with a runner on third base, that's what I've done all year for Albuquerque. I'm just glad I could save a run for Betty [Chad Bettis]."
Johnson's first pitch was a ball, but he threw the next seven for strikes to win the battle and fan Barnes, then got Hill swinging on a 1-2 pitch, leaving him with 10 of his 12 pitches for strikes in his Major League debut.
"He came in with man on third and one out against a pesky little hitter," Black said. "That was a good battle, punched him out, that was great. He showed well. Velocity was there, good curveball, which was good to see, as reported from our Triple-A staff."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gerardo Parra made sure Arenado and Blackmon weren't the only Rockies making the highlight reel, diving to rob Machado of extra bases in the fourth. With two out and a man on second, Machado drove a low liner to the right-center gap and Parra laid out for it on a dead run, fully airborne when he caught it a foot off the ground for the final out.
HE SAID IT
"Honestly, I thought it was going to be three teams clawing and scratching, and that kind of seems to be what the case is. Sometimes even four teams. I think it's going to be an exciting September. There's still a lot that can change, good and bad. So I think we still need to stay focused and play hard. Every game counts." -- Blackmon, on the tight race in the NL West
German Marquez (11-9, 4.05 ERA) takes the hill for the Rockies on Monday in a 6:40 p.m. MT start to a big series with the D-backs. He'll face Arizona right-hander Zack Godley (14-8, 4.51). Marquez threw 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball on seven hits and two walks while striking out 11 on Tuesday. His fastball had life down in the zone, and he mixed in his breaking balls effectively, accounting for 24 strikeouts over his past two games. The Rockies are 9-3 over his last 12 starts.