Denver -- For at least one game, Jon Gray conquered the first-inning demons and dominated the San Diego Padres, but it was all for naught. The Colorado Rockies walked out with a 7-5 loss at Coors Field on a warm Friday night in Denver but at least Gray walked off the mound in the seventh looking like an ace.
This time, the Rockies were the ones to strike in the first inning, getting two runs on a Nolan Arenado home run that marked his first ever opposite field blast and also the 500th hit of his career. The home run was Arenado's 19th of the season, placing him two ahead of Cincinnati's Adam Duvall for first place in the National League.
The Padres struck back in the third, scoring two runs on sacrifices after catcher Nick Hundley threw a sac-bunt attempt into right field. As such, neither run was earned, so they wouldn't count against Gray's ERA, but they sure count on the scoreboard. The Padres tacked on another run and took the lead in the fourth with a solo home run off the bat of Melvin Upton Jr. that landed 433 feet from home plate in the left-center field bleachers.
As it turned out, that was the only hard hit ball the Padres would get off of Gray who was otherwise immaculate. He finished the game with 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 7 K, and most important of all ... he did not walk a batter. Gray didn't have his most dominant stuff but pitched the most cerebral game of his young career, mixing pitches and speeds with expertise. He is turning into a real ace right before out very eyes.
Before the game, manager Walt Weiss joked that there may be no answers for the Rockies when it comes to arguably the biggest thorn in their side, Matt Kemp. "I'll take a suggestion if you've got one," he told me. Well, the strategy turned out to be Gray himself. Kemp finished the game 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.
The Rockies counterpunched immediately in the bottom of the fourth, retaking the lead on a double from Carlos Gonzalez and singles from Trevor Story and Hundley who immediately made up for his error. The Padres also gave the Rockies an error right back on a Gerardo Parra ground ball that might have been a double-play otherwise. All in all, it felt like the two teams came out even in the karma department.
Carlos Estevez came in to relieve Gray and worked into a bit of trouble, giving up a hit and walking a pair to load the bases with just one out. But Estevez buckled down and threw some of the best pitches of his career to date, hitting 100 mph three times and striking out Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr. to end the inning. He struck out the side. Again.
Jake McGee got two quick outs in the ninth but then came unglued. He surrendered a pair of groundball singles before Jon Jay smashed an opposite field double and Wil Myers hit a home run over the center-field fence that hasn't landed yet. And just like that, although they were a strike away from a two-run victory for much of the inning, the Rockies trailed the Padres 7-5.
The Rockies offense went down without a fight in the ninth and that was the ballgame.
It was a gut-punch loss for the home nine to be sure, but blown Saves are going to happen and somewhat at random. The big takeaway from this game is still the performance of Jon Gray. That is something the Rockies can build on. Clearly, the Padres are in the Rockies' heads and the Boys from Blake need to do something about that if they really want to surprise people moving forward, but if they can keep getting outings like this from Gray, they are going to be fine in the long term.
Game 2 against San Diego gets started at 2:10 MST tomorrow, Saturday, June 11th. Tyler Chatwood takes the mound, attempting to build on some confidence at home. Erik Johnson on the hill for the Padres.