Bud Black stalked to the mound and yelled at his infielders to stay away. He was about to chew out his pitcher in front of 48,338 people.
The Rockies are tripping to the all-star break next, losers of 11 games in their past 13 after an 8-1 tear-down by the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night at Coors Field. And Kyle Freeland cringed at the center of his manager’s storm.
The 24-year-old rookie lefty worked two quick outs in the third inning before he unraveled in a way only the Rockies as a club can match in the past two weeks. Two singles put runners on. Then Freeland threw up and in twice to Jose Peraza, then another high and away, then one more pitch up and in. It was one too many.
The Rockies (49-37) once stood 21 games above .500 and atop the National League West, really not that long ago. But they fell into complacency. They waited too often for Nolan Arenado to slug them to victory in the late innings. They relied too heavily on Greg Holland to secure one-run victories, satisfaction stepping in the way of multirun buffers.
And one too many pitches up and in. Peraza’s line-drive single to left field off Freeland scored Eugenio Suarez and the Reds (36-47), starting a pitcher who had not reached the fourth inning this season, had more than enough runs in a 4-1 lead to secure a runaway victory.
Even home umpire Bill Miller was hesitant to interrupt Black’s scolding. He walked to the mound to hurry it along but stood silent until it ended. Perhaps we can call it a pep talk. Freeland retired the next eight batters he faced. But when Peraza came to bat again in the sixth, he blasted a 445-foot home run to the upper left-field bleachers.
Then the barrage arrived. Scott Schebler and pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett homered off Adam Ottavino in the eighth inning for a seven-run lead. The Rockies never even saw Holland. Arenado never sniffed a comeback at-bat.
Carlos Gonzalez yanked a line-drive single to right field in the first inning to score rookie Raimel Tapia. But against Homer Bailey, the Rockies stuttered. The Reds’ 31-year-old right-hander has pitched two career no-hitters, but not since 2013, and in two previous starts after an injury this season, he never made it past the third inning.
Against the Rockies, Bailey cruised through six innings. Colorado’s eight hits against him all were singles, but only four batters reached as far as second base. In a 5-3, series-opening victory over the Reds on Monday, the Rockies struck out eight times, a foreboding tip of plate struggles.
In their past 11 games, the Rockies have 14 extra-base hits — and five of them came in Monday’s victory.
Freeland’s appearance Tuesday was meant to be a homecoming. The Denver native from Thomas Jefferson High School is a better pitcher at high-altitude Coors Field than around the league, with a 3.21 ERA and more strikeouts and fewer walks than outside Colorado.
In his third consecutive loss, though, Freeland took the brunt of his manager’s ire. Perhaps that earful was indirectly lobbed at the rest of the Rockies. They have won as many as seven games in a row this season. It took them nearly three months to lose more than three in a row.
But they cannot seem to escape this slump. Next week’s all-star break is an oasis. Or a mirage.