10/03/07 8:50 PM ET
Francis points Rockies to Game 1 win
Southpaw overcomes past struggles vs. Phils in NLDS opener
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
"There's no question that I know that, and you go out thinking about it, but I was confident knowing when I was facing them earlier this year I wasn't executing that well," Francis said.
With the exception of two pitches, Francis shut the Phillies down with eight strikeouts in six innings, and the Rockies took the opener of the National League Division Series, 4-2, Wednesday afternoon before a raucous 45,655 at Citizens Bank Park.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be here on Thursday afternoon at 1 MT, before the series shifts to Denver for two games on the weekend.
Funny how quickly forgotten a 15.12 ERA in two regular-season outings against a potent club can become. It's hard to remember anything bad happening to the Rockies these days. Counting a torrid end to the regular season, which pushed them into the second playoff in their 15-year history and first since 1995, they have won 15 of 16.
The Rockies needed all those victories, including a 13-inning, 9-8 victory over the Padres in tiebreaker for the NL Wild Card on Monday night. Being in a best-of-five playoff, in an odd way, is a break.
"We had been playing playoff baseball the last two weeks, do or die," said Todd Helton, who led off a three-run second with a triple off losing pitcher Cole Hamels. "I felt a lot more comfortable out there."
Asked the importance of winning Game 1, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, "I don't know. I don't have any experience to draw upon. But I would think it would beat the heck out of losing Game 1."
Garrett Atkins' RBI double followed the triple by Helton -- who had just 31 of them among his 1,878 Major League hits. Yorvit Torrealba knocked a single with one out, which allowed Francis to bunt. Hamels walked Kazuo Matsui and, with the bases loaded, Troy Tulowitzki.
Francis gave up consecutive home runs to Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell in the fifth to cut the lead to 3-2, but NL batting and RBI champion Matt Holliday homered off Tom Gordon in the eighth.
Strong pitching by Francis and Hamels (6 2/3 innings, seven strikeouts, no hits outside of the Rockies' big second), with a little help from a late-afternoon start time that created difficult shadows, created 10 combined hits and a low-scoring game from offenses that combined for 1,752 runs during the regular year.
Francis started the game with three straight balls to Phils leadoff man Jimmy Rollins.
"You just try to do the things that got you here, calm yourself down," said Francis, who could hit spots with his changeup and breaking ball and could add or take away velocity on his fastball. "You know it's loud. You know it's a big game. Fortunately, I turned it around."
But Francis fanned Rollins in three straight pitches, and was out of the first after six more consecutive strikes. He struck out Chase Utley three times and Ryan Howard twice.
"He threw a lot of strikes early, and we were missing pitches in a couple of good counts and just couldn't square one up," Rollins said. "But take your hat off to him."
Relievers LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas, who earned his first postseason save, completed the shutdown effort. Fuentes and Corpas had a strikeout apiece, as the Rockies held the top four Phillies hitters to 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts and a walk.
Except for Fuentes, a three-time All-Star selection, and Corpas, 24, in his first full season, switching roles when Fuentes slumped and suffered a midseason lat injury, the smooth ending went exactly the way the Rockies planned to handle close games.
Holliday's homer, which silenced a crowd that was chanting "MVP" for Rollins, gave Corpas breathing room. But he didn't feel he needed it after seeing how his slider was dancing in the bullpen.
"I told a couple of boys, 'It's my day today,'" Corpas said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.