The number of theories why the Rockies so often struggle to win outside the square state can only fit on a scroll, an unwinding list of shots in the dark, from “hangovers” to high-altitude spin rates to blood-oxygen levels and eyesight adjustments.
Their manager rejected them all Monday as the Rockies returned home in free-fall after losing eight of their nine games across the National League West and 10 of their past 12.
“We just didn’t play well,” skipper Bud Black said before the Rockies kicked off a seven-game homestand that will take them to the all-star break. “When you don’t pitch and don’t hit, that’s a bad combo.”
Coors Field, though, is a siren, a hitter’s paradise of highway-sized outfields. And as the Rockies posted a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, propelled by rookie Raimel Tapia’s near-cycle and Charlie Blackmon’s line drive home run, their parachute finally opened.
The Rockies finally gained some ground on the idle Dodgers and Diamondbacks, improving to 6 1/2 games back in the NL West race after their division rivals buried them in rubble over the past week. Colorado’s lineup struck out in eight at-bats against Reds starter Luis Castillo, sure, but he was dinged for nine hits.
Tapia’s home run to lead off the sixth inning, a soft shot to right field, gave the Rockies a 4-3 lead. The stringbean 23-year-old outfielder has only two career home runs, but his speed can fly him around the bases. In the second inning, his line drive down the right-field line rattled around the corner long enough for him to sprint into a stand-up triple. And his ground-rule double to left field in the third inning only capped his run.
With a cycle on the line to lead off the eighth, Tapia struck out. He returned to the Rockies’ dugout hearing applause.
Blackmon’s homer in the fourth landed just about the time Major League Baseball announced the Colorado center fielder would compete in the Home Run Derby next week in Miami. His 18th home run this season, one behind Mark Reynolds’ team lead and the most among NL center fielders, gave the Rockies a 3-0 lead.
But Black’s explanation for his club’s losing skid served as a map for finally ending it. As the Rockies collected 10 hits Monday, they finally found a starting pitcher, another rookie, to throw some length.
Jeff Hoffman, a 24-year-old right-hander, weathered back-to-back home runs from Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto in the sixth that tied the game 3-3 before settling in for seven. He retired the final six batters he faced.
Hoffman gave up just four hits and three walks over 90 pitches, improving to 5-1 after his call-up from the minors in early May.
And the Rockies finally set up a bullpen with the two arms who most ably survived a week of blown leads and rough outings. Lefty Jake McGee faced just three batters in the eight after a routine double play to second baseman DJ LeMahieu. And all-star Greg Holland struck out Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez in a 1-2-3 ninth against the heart of the Reds’ lineup.
The Rockies played so well through 11 weeks to open the season, they inflated a cushion in the NL, a lead so deep that a week of frustration and ugliness still did not dent their hope. They remain well ahead in a wild-card chase, despite trailing two teams in their own division.
“I’ve already seen it,” Blackmon said. “I’ve seen the offense be good, I’ve seen the pitching be good. I’ve seen the bullpen be really good. It’s there. If you can do it once, you can do it again. We just have to be consistent. We just have to get it all going at the same time.”