Sunday’s comeback of epic proportions, a five-run rally against rival Arizona in the bottom of the eighth – the first such comeback in nearly five years – was precisely what Colorado needed.
Not just because it was against another NL West squad or because they avoided a sweep.
But it was how they strung together six at bats without trying to do too much and trusting the next guy to get the job done.
Though one man did a lot of heavy lifting, we’ll get to that soon enough…
After scoring three runs against ace Zack Greinke with their own ace German Márquez on the hill, any Rockies fan would have guessed this pitcher’s duel would have seen purple atop the pinnacle.
Unfortunately, Márquez was not as effective as he’d have liked, surrendering five earned runs over six innings pitched. Carlos Estévez had a scoreless frame, but Scott Oberg gave up two runs to put his club further behind.
Down 7-3 going into the bottom of the eighth, the scene was set.
Trevor Story was up first against Archie Bradley, who was looking to pick up where fellow fireman T.J. McFarland left off put up another goose egg on the scoreboard against Colorado.
Story took ball one high before tagging a 95 mph fastball away to right field for a leadoff single.
Daniel Murphy also started off 1-0 with a fastball that actually caught a piece of the plate. His luck would continue when he grounded a four-seam fastball to third base for what had potential for a double play.
DBacks’ third baseman Eduardo Escobar fielded the ball cleanly, but tossed it wide of second baseman Ildemaro Vargas, allowing Story and Murphy to pull up safe at their respective bases.
In keeping in line with this teammates, Nolan Arenado started with ball one. He missed on an 81 mph curve from Bradley before lacing a single to left field on a 96 mph fastball, loading the bases for David Dahl.
Dahl’s approach in that situation was simple. As he put it, “I was just trying to lock in on the strike zone.”
Bradley pitched around the zone, quite literally, missing away, down, and then up.
“I got 3-0 and got the take (sign),” Dahl explained. “Got 3-1 and took a fastball off the plate that was a strike. I wasn’t happy about it, but I had to forget about it and walk back in and not let that affect the rest of the at bat. So, I tried to do that and thought I did a good job there to pass it to Tapia.”
Starting with Dahl, the theme begins to clearly take shape. One where maturity and teamwork dictates the actions of players.
“In the past,” Dahl would admit, “I probably would have let that get to me, probably swung at the next pitch, no matter what. So, taking a deep breath and trying to stay as calm as I possibly could. I did a good job there.”
With the count full, Dahl took ball four just beneath the zone for a six-pitch walk that advanced each runner 90 feet, scoring Story from third and keeping the bases loaded for Raimel Tapia.
With a 3-for-6 record against Bradley, Tapia entered the box with much swagger, as some would suggest, especially considering the outcome of their matchup on July 20 of last year when the 25-year-old mashed a pinch hit grand slam at Chase Field.
Tapia gave praise to the hitters in front of him and outlined his own simple approach, one in which he’s worked on developing since becoming a professional.
“That at bat, especially, he was a little erratic,” Tapia said through translator and bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz. “The hitters in front of me took some walks and I knew I had to be patient with that at bat. That’s what I wanted to do and luckily it worked out.”
Ahead 3-0, Tapia waited for Bradley to deliver a strike, which he would via a 96 mph fastball over the middle part of the plate.
But Bradley would stay in the middle on the next pitch as well, this time an elevated fastball that Tapia would smash 404 ft into the left center gap, clearing the bases and tying the game at seven in the process.
Standing in the on-deck circle, Ryan McMahon felt a wave of relief flow over him.
“That made my job a million times easier,” he admitted. “He should be the one getting all the credit right now. He hustled his butt to third. When he did that and was called safe, all this weight came off my shoulders and made my job a lot easier.”
The relay throw had come in from center field on one hop and arrived as Tapia dove head first into third base.
“I knew I had the chance to make it,” Tapia confessed about the triple. “I trusted my legs and luckily, I was safe.”
With the score tied 7-7 and nobody out, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo went to his bullpen to stop the bleeding. It would be left-hander Andrew Chafin who’d be tasked to face the next two batters, both left-handed hitters.
As McMahon stepped to the plate with less tonnage pressing down upon him than before, he also kept his approach to a minimum.
“I was going up there trying to get my swing off,” McMahon would say. “Take my approach that I came up with. Charlie (Blackmon) came up to me before and said, ‘Hey, I think this is the approach off this guy. You’ve gotta try to go the other way.’ So, that was all I was trying to do. Honestly, if I didn’t get it done, I felt like Tony Wolters was going to get it done.”
And there you have it. Putting together a good at bat so the next guy can do the same. Nothing more. Nothing less.
McMahon did exactly as he had been anticipating, going the opposite way on a first pitch sinker located on the inside of the plate.
As luck would have it, the Diamondbacks were shifting the 24-year-old to pull and the ground ball to the shortstop area would not be fielded as the defender had moved away from his normal location.
Tapia scored from third base and the Rockies took the lead, 8-7.
While no more runs were scored in the inning, the patient teamwork approach didn’t stop there. Tony Wolters placed down a sacrifice bunt on the first pitch he saw from Chafin and McMahon moved into scoring position.
Had the luck not finally turned in favor of Arizona during a hit-and-run play when Mark Reynolds’ ground ball was grabbed by the Escobar on third and tagged McMahon before firing to first for the unusual 5-unassisted-3 double play, perhaps even more Rockies players would have described their selfless approach in contributing to the rally.
With so much talent and depth on the roster, Colorado does not need to rely upon their team MVP Nolan Arenado for every come-from-behind win or even their other All-Stars Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story.
A blend of patience and trust, that successful recipe for nearly every late-game victory, is all they need.