DENVER – As we expected it would be, the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers were locked in a tight pitchers duel at 20th and Blake between Jon Gray and Clayton Kershaw on Saturday. The former is an emerging ace, trying to make his name in one of the most difficult environments in the history of baseball. The latter has already laid claim to the title of “Greatest Pitcher of a Generation.” But it was the Rockies youngster who got the better of the evening, and the Rockies offense who made history against one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game on the way to a 4-2 victory at 20th and Blake.
Nolan Arenado got to Kershaw in the bottom of the first hitting a solo home run on a hanging curveball. He smacked it over 430 feet.
The Rockies flashed the leather in the outfield as the two players who swapped defensive positions before the game, Gerardo Parra and Stephen Cardullo, each made diving catches in the outfield, the former likely saving a pair of runs on what was his second fantastic play of the game.
But just one batter after Carullo’s effort, Andrew Toles finally got to Gray and drove one just barely over the left-field fence to tie the game at one. That was the only run Gray gave up in the game in a game where he showed far more grit and heart than he did the natural talent he possesses.
He didn’t have his best stuff, struggling with command and only managing one strikeout. He couldn’t put some hitters away when he got ahead and had to settle for weak contact instead of swing-and-miss stuff at times, but it is a testament to the kind of pitcher that he has become that he only allowed one run to an incredibly talented Dodgers lineup despite not being at his best. His final line of five-and-one-thirds innings, four hits, one run, three walks, and one strikeout is decent but no dominant. When put in context, however, it’s pretty special that he went toe-to-toe with Kershaw in a battle in downtown Denver. The Wolf of Blake Street, indeed.
In fact, the Rockies got to Kershaw in the very next half-inning after Mike Dunn kept the scoreboard clean for Gray. After a bloop single from Arenado, the Rockies hero of the 2017 season so far — Mark Reynolds — hit a two-run home run off the prodigious lefty to give the home team a 3-1 lead, once again traveling over 400 feet. A few pitches later, Gerardo Parra hit his first home run of the season, showing even more positive signs that he could be well on the way to a rebound season, the third shot of over 400 feet a worthy knockout punch.
It was the first time any team has ever hit back-to-back home runs off Kershaw and suddenly, a game that had been uncomfortably tight for everyone involved became a 4-1 affair.
Jake McGee replaced Ottavino and gave up a lead-off double to Franklin Gutierrez. He was close to working completely out of it, getting Corey Seager and Justin Turner out with relative ease, usually not an easy task. But Adrian Gonzalez grounded a two-out single up the middle to make it 4-2. McGee bounced right back, though, striking out Scott Van Slyke emphatically to limit the damage.
Greg Holland strolled to his first save at Coors Field. Well, his first in the home uniform anyway, he secured one for the Kansas City Royals in 2014. Holland has allowed just one baserunner so far in 2017; a walk. He has struck out six and, of course, has not allowed a run in converting four consecutive save opportunities.
The Rockies are now 5-1 but could easily be 1-5 without Parra and Reynolds, two players who were replaced in the starting lineup this offseason; one by a rookie in David Dahl and the other by the controversial $70 million man in Ian Desmond. But clearly neither guy took it personally and they are holding this offense together while the big bats (other than Arenado) get into a rhythm.
The Rockies can thank the bottom of their lineup and their new-and-improved bullpen for their record. And right now, they look like a team that nobody wants to see once they get fully healthy. Or even before then.