The headlines coming into tonight's contest between the Colorado Rockies were about another marquee match-up between NL West aces. Jon Gray versus Madison Bumgarner just five days after Gray versus Clayton Kershaw.
Coming into this first game of a 10-game road trip for the Rox, worries were also swirling about the lackluster (to be friendly) offense for a team that most believed sported a formidable lineup.
But we got a decidedly different game than that. Bumgarner, who can be unbeatable at times, didn't have his best stuff and the Rockies, who had looked lost against lesser pitchers, were dialed in on the Giants ace, grabbing three runs on six hits.
When the Rockies made their run to the World Series in 2017, pitcher Josh Fogg was given the moniker "dragon slayer" as he became known for picking up wins against other team's aces despite relatively underwhelming peripheral numbers the rest of the time. This pretty much describes the Rockies offense right now.
The big blow came in the fourth when Trevor Story made good on his promise to keep working hard and work through his slump, hammering his first home run of 2017, ambushing a first-pitch fastball from Bumgarner to make it 2-0, Rockies.
But the celebration would be short-lived as Gray had to be removed at the start of the very next half-frame, not able to fully bounce back from a hard landing in the second, aggravating a toe injury he sustained in spring training. The status of Gray's health will be updated soon.
Chris Rusin came on in the emergency situation and did his job as a long man as well as it can possibly be done, retiring the first nine batters he faced, taking what could have been a "panic button" situation and turning it into comfortable sailing for his club.
The Rockies tacked on another run in the sixth when DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado hit back-to-back singled, LeMahieu moving to third on a fly out off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez.
Then, Mark Reynolds put together a fantastic at-bat against Bumgarner coming through with the Rockies third single in the inning and collecting his 11th RBI already this year. That puts him just one behind Marcel Ozuna of the Miami Marlins for the National League lead. It also put the Rockies up 3-0.
Reynolds also made a number of impressive defensive plays in the game, notably saving Arenado from his first error of the season with some nifty bare hand work on his second attempt at a dig.
Brandon Belt broke up Rusin's perfection in the seventh but just barely as Story nearly robbed the hit with a diving attempt. Rusin was removed after a one-out single by Conor Gillaspie, and though it was curious he was asked to work a fourth inning, the damage was limited by Adam Ottavino who did allow a sac fly to Eduardo Nunez which made it 3-1 but he punched out Jarrett Parker on a nasty slider to end the threat.
Ottavino got the first two outs of the eighth, finishing his night by striking out old battery mate Nick Hundley on a slider that changed area codes. Mike Dunn came on to get lefty Denard Span and that's exactly what he did, inducing a weak grounder to second.
Greg Holland was called upon yet again for the save. Joe Panik managed to end Holland's streak of not allowing any hits when he got a fortunate bounce off the pitcher himself for an infield single to lead off the ninth. He got a second soft groundball from Belt, which turned into a fielder's choice because it wasn't hit hard enough to get the double play. Hunter Pence followed with the third soft grounder of the inning, this one hit so lightly that a charging barehand attempt from Story was a tad too late, and the Giants had their second infield hit of the inning. Then Holland walked Gillaspie and the bases were loaded with just one out.
But, as he so often does, he stayed calm and collected on the mound, getting Nunez to ground into the game-ending double play that, quite frankly, he deserved. It was the first truly nerve-wracking one, but Holland converted his sixth consecutive save of 2017.
The bullpen continues to be lights out, leading MLB in strikeouts, holds, and saves.
The Rockies have now beaten both Kershaw and Bumgarner in the last week, which is impressive considering the offense is still firmly in the "getting out of the gate" stage of a race. Dragon Slayers, indeed. And tonight it was the mighty swing of Trevor Story that slain the beast.