Pittsburgh, PA — The Colorado Rockies lost a remarkably strange baseball game to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, 6-3. One might have predicted that a matchup between Jordan Lyles and Ryan Vogelsong might end in such a score, but that was about the only predictable thing that happened in this contest.
Before the game even began, it was strange. A make-up of the game postponed the night before, it began everything over again, resetting what was once a Rockies 1-0 advantage back to square one. Manager Walt Weiss had to change flights just to meet the team in Pittsburgh instead of Boston, and the game began in the morning in front of an estimated crowd of 67 people. OK. There were probably a few more than that.
Things got weird in a scary way in the second inning when Lyles accidentally hit Vogelsong in the head with a pitch, causing him to be carted off the field. There should be no doubt of Lyles’ intentions because not only was the pitch delivered on an 0-2 count, it also came with the bases loaded and thus brought in the second run of the game.
Another predictable facet of this game: Lyles just didn’t have good command of the fastball. Things came unraveled a bit in the third on a play that could have gotten the Rockies out of the inning. After singles from Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, Lyles got exactly what he wanted — a groundball right at one of his infielders. Mark Reynolds made the throw home but it was a bit high and catcher Tony Wolters erred in not jumping for it, allowing the ball to get to the backstop and two runs to score instead of an inning ending double play. The Rockies lost the game of inches on that play.
McCutchen took out Wolters on his slide which didn’t seem like much until Francisco Cervelli did the same thing later in the inning, this time sliding very late, making it seem as though there was some malicious intent. But none of that — including the apparent jawing from Cervelli after he was called out — was the weirdest part of even that play. The contact from the slide caused Wolters’ leg to spin into the air kicking something (likely dust or a pebble) into the eyes of home plate umpire Jeff Nelson who had to be removed from the game. The umpires might have adjudicated the dirty play had they not been busy scraping debris out of their colleague’s retina.
But the morning start, the two cart-offs, the multiple delays to replay odd happenings on the field, all paled in comparison to what the Colorado Rockies did with their pitching on Monday.
It was debatable whether Jordan Lyles even belonged back on the roster after his last few outings in MLB and then showing zero improvement after being sent down to Triple-A. But to give him the start? Not only had his performance not earned the start, the real gut punch is that the man who has stood in his absence, Chris Rusin, had done more than admirable. In fact, all season Rusin has quietly done his job, getting shuffled back and forth from rotation to bullpen and taking the worst match-ups (Arrietta, Wainwright) and giving his team a chance to win. Of course, the real punch in the gut was that once Lyles had to be lifted from the game after just 2 2/3 IP, Rusin came in and delivered 4 2/3 of two-hit baseball. He struck out four, did not walk a batter, and allowed zero runs. He even at one point struck out the side in order.
Rusin was clearly ready to pitch on Monday. He had earned the spot. If he had lost it somehow, it certainly wasn’t to Lyles. Starting Rusin became that much more of an obvious choice once he dominated. And in a game where the Rockies came back and scored three runs, it sure feels like they beat themselves in this one before it even started.
Carlos Gonzalez hit two singles in the game and scored a run but still doesn’t look quite like himself and may remain in this slump a bit longer. Charlie Blackmon was the highlight of the Rockies offense, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, bringing his season average to .302. DJ LeMahieu kept his average over .300 with a base hit, a run scored, and an RBI.
This game was brutal. Even yours truly sustained a back injury during the game and also had to be carted off the field, though I suspect the two things are unrelated. All things considered, the Rockies are probably lucky to get out of such a bizarre series with their overall health intact. But they simply cannot afford to make too many mistakes like the one they did with the lineup card in this one or 2016 won’t turn out to have the kind of surprise ending they were hoping for.
The second the Rockies decided to forgo letting the guy who had earned the spot take the baseball and instead hand it to the dude who should still be in Triple-A working out his command issues. For the most part this season, the Rockies have not been losing because of poor strategy or pre-game decision making but this was absolutely one of those games.
This was the type of game that can act as a gut-punch or a fire-starter. It will be very interesting to see how the Rockies respond in Boston. In their past, this is where the team would get swept by the big bad AL East team after losing a handful of games they felt they could have won. But the 2016 has already begun to shuck a few of the Rockies old stereotypes so we will see.
Off to Boston to take on the Red Sox in a three game series. Jorge De La Rosa returns to the mound in a tough matchup against David Price in Game 1 on Tuesday. First pitch is at 5:10 MST.