Rox show resilience, but postseason bid ends
Injuries to key players take toll over course of season
DENVER -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki expressed 10 days of frustration by shattering his bat and sticking it into the dirt at home plate at Coors Field on Tuesday night.
Tulowitzki struck out as the tying run with two outs in the ninth inning. With the 9-7 loss to the Dodgers, a maddening affair in which the Rockies overcame a four-run deficit to tie the game in the seventh inning, the Rockies' playoff hopes were mathematically done.
But it all started to come undone on Sept. 19, when the Rockies had a chance to complete a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium and built a 6-1 lead -- against difficult Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, no less -- going into the bottom of the fourth, and were poised to move within a half-game of the National League West lead.
But starting pitcher Jason Hammel's arm soreness and weakness caught up with him and the Dodgers climbed back into the game. Benefiting from an umpire's call that -- incorrectly, according to replays -- cost the Rockies a key double play in bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers tied it, then won in 11 innings, 7-6.
It was the first of what's now eight losses in nine games. In other words, it was the beginning of the end.
"If you're going to point at a game, that would be it," said veteran first baseman Todd Helton, whose two-run homer and another two-run shot by Dexter Fowler accounted for Tuesday night's seventh-inning rally. "You're going against a great pitcher. To jump out to the lead we did and lose that game, that was a pretty big momentum swing, I think."
Still, the Rockies had a hard time pinning the collapse on a single game.
Yes, the record since then suggests a tailspin, especially because six of the losses were to the D-backs and the Dodgers, both of whom will finish behind the Rockies in the standings. However, three of the losses were by one run, three were by two runs and another was after ace Ubaldo Jimenez had a four-run lead after the top of the first.
All this occurred after the Rockies had a 10-game win streak and took 13 of 15 overall.
Still, Rockies outfielder Seth Smith said the big picture wasn't pretty enough.
"The stretch run is important, but when it's all said and done, it's a 162-game season," Smith said. "There are things that you can do better throughout the whole season that can put you into the playoffs."
Staying healthy could have been one of them.
Depending on the result of his final start, at St. Louis on Saturday, Jimenez could become the Rockies' first 20-game winner; outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could win the NL batting title and possibly the RBI crown in his first full season; and Tulowitzki has a shot to finish second in batting.
But all that production couldn't account for the various outages the team experienced.
The big "what ifs" center on 12 starts missed by left-hander Jorge De La Rosa with an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand, and the 33 games missed by Tulowitzki with a fractured left wrist.
Left-handed starter Jeff Francis and right-handers Aaron Cook and Hammel all made trips to the disabled list. Francis and Cook were sent to the DL twice, and finished the year a combined 10-14. Closer Huston Street missed the first 69 games, and, with an unsettled closer situation, the Rockies started the season a slower-than-expected 36-33.
Add to that Helton suffering through back issues, as he did two seasons ago, and dropping from .325 to .260 through Tuesday.
"Is it not unfair for me to sit here and think that if De La Rosa takes 12 more starts and Tulowitzki of the 33 -- let's be fair to the guy and say that he plays maybe 28 of those games because I'm going to give him a chance to catch his breath in a few of those. Do we have a chance?" Rockies manager Jim Tracy said recently. "Come on.
"I think it's very safe for me to sit here and tell you guys the answer to that would have been yes. When you couple that with the fact that I think we've played 58 one-run games and we've been walked off on the road nine times this year, these type of injuries as far as the length of them, they've taken away a few in the left-hand column."
But the Rockies won't place too much of the blame on injuries, simply because they overcame so many of them just to contend. With the end of meaningful baseball staring them in the face and looking at the early deficit Tuesday, the Rockies found a way to bounce back, if not overcome.
"The strength of this team is evident in that we don't ever give up," Street said. "That was evident in tonight's game. That's been there the whole season long.
"When you're 11 [games] back halfway through August, you're supposed to be eliminated at that point. You should be done, and we weren't done."