Oh, man. We needed that one. After Bob Melvin (of all people) thoroughly outmanaged Clint Hurdle in the middle innings to scuttle the Rockies' 5-1 lead, Colorado finally had a big late-game rally, the bullpen bailed out an obviously ineffective Byung-Hyun Kim, and Brian Fuentes got some righthanders out for the save. Forget losing eleven of our last twelve, now it's 12 of our last 14! We're surging!
I have no idea what Hurdle was thinking leaving in Kim for as long as he did in a brutal six-run Arizona fourth. It was clear by the third double of the inning that Kim was done, but Hurdle dallied in calling for a reliever to warm up and Kim promptly gave up another double, turning what should have been a tie game into a two-run Rockies deficit. Then something weird happened. The Rockies going three-up and three-down in the fifth, sixth, and seventh was all in line with the teams' recent performance, but they went nuts in the ninth, scored four runs off of overworked closer Jorge Julio, and won the game. After his great decision to pinch-hit for Juan Cruz with Stephen Drew in the fourth, Melvin went to Julio for the fourth day in a row and he got burned. Hurdle made a smart move pinch-hitting Jamey Carroll to lead off the ninth. Instead of having to write a miserable post bemoaning the manager's stupidity in the fourth inning, I get to write a celebratory one lauding his intelligent use of the bullpen (Fuentes, Ray King, Manuel Corpas, and Tom Martin didn't allow a run between them) and good substitutions (pinch-hitters Carroll and Jorge Piedra both got on base in the ninth). Also, let me just say: Brad Hawpe. His throw to nail Stephen Drew trying to score from third on a Cruz fly ball was awesome. He made another terrific catch in the ninth going deep into the corner at Chase Field to give the recently struggling Brian Fuentes a much-needed helping hand. His offensive line was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, but he played a huge part in the win. Clint Barmes had four hits.
When this team wins, they're a lot of fun to watch. They really do seem to eke out total team victories rather than depending on one slugger or one starter to take them on his back. Today they were moving runners over, hitting cutoff men, getting big hits. The trouble is we never seem to see the good version of the Rockies in more than occasional cameos. Where were these guys in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and the first two games in Phoenix? It's a quandary. Coming back to Coors for the longest homestand of the season may not be such a huge boost, since the Rockies have lost their usual home swagger this season and they face the Cardinals and Brewers, who are better than they are, and the Padres, who play in the NL West. The Rockies have had a lot of trouble winning in the division this year. It's yet another sign that they're not quite ready for prime time. They are, however, completely capable of getting on to enough of a warm streak (I'm not prepared to say "hot streak" until we see the bullpen situation stabilized) to get back to .500 and remaining around there for the rest of the season. That would be more than I expected going into 2006, and a good sign for next year.
On the subject of next year...I need to stop underestimating the Diamondbacks. They're short on pitching, for sure, but if they can move Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green it would make sense for them to overpay for middle relievers next offseason as the Cubs did (quixotically) before this season. That's because Chad Tracy, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, and Conor Jackson are going to be extremely productive and very cheap for the immediate future. That's enough offense to propel even a slightly below-average pitching staff to 90-win territory. Which would obviously be plenty good to win the NL West, presuming the Dodgers don't decide to get really spendy next year. Also, Brandon Webb is The Man when it comes to NL West aces right now, and I guess I don't see that changing for a while. They need a #2 starter, and a real closer, and to clear out some of the old dudes, but they're closer than I thought. Hopefully next year the NL West will be as tightly packed as it this season, only with the winner on pace to win 94 games, not 84.