Rockies fall to last-place Giants; wild-card lead dwindles to one game

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Sep 19, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) celebrates with teammates after hitting a sacrifice fly to win the game against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night’s loss was exactly the kind that the Rockies absolutely, positively needed to avoid. They wasted a solid road start by German Marquez, and once again lost in the final frame — this time to the San Francisco Giants, who own the NL’s worst record.

On thing’s for certain: the Milwaukee Brewers won’t wait around for the Rockies to get their act together. After shutting out the Pirates for the second consecutive night, the Brewers have won nine out of their last eleven games — and now trail the Rockies by only a single game.

That precarious margin could dissipate entirely tomorrow night unless the Rockies, losers in four of their last six games, find a way to get their offense in gear. Despite having 10 hits and five walks on the night, the Rockies managed only three runs — not coincidentally, the same number of double-plays that they hit into as well.

It started out well enough; the Rockies had a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, before the Giants scored their first run, a tally manufactured by a Buster Posey single, a groundout by Brandon Crawford that advanced Posey to second, and a single by Pablo Sandoval that brought the former MVP catcher back to the plate. While Hunter Pence hit a two-run homer off of Marquez in the fifth to give the Giants the lead, it was the ability to manufacture runs on this night that made the difference.

The Rockies may have a productive offense, but it too rarely makes productive outs, which limits their ability to compete in low-scoring games. Watching the long-since-eliminated Giants play smart and effective small ball had to frustrate Rockies fans who watched their team squander opportunity after opportunity in increasingly baffling ways.

Whether it was watching the Rockies hit into double-plays, or Trevor Story getting picked off of first base after a lead-off single (and immediately before what became an Ian Desmond walk), Colorado repeatedly took themselves out of innings.

Fortunately the Rockies’ bullpen was solid, with relievers Carlos Estevez, Mike Dunn and Pat Neshek keeping the Giants off the board until outfielder Gerardo Parra tied the game with a double down the first-base line that might have been the result of the grittiest at-bat a Rockies’ player has had all season long. Parra roped the two-out double on the ninth pitch of his at-bat against fireballer Hunter Strickland; scoring Carlos Gonzalez and seemingly flipping the game’s momentum — but it was not to be.

Chris Rusin has been nearly automatic for most of this season, but on this night, he threw seven fateful pitches, allowing three hits — an infield single to Sandoval, a bunt single to third baseman Ryder Jones and single to right from pinch-hitter Kelby Tomlinson. Tomlinson’s single might have ended the game then and there, but fear of Gonzalez’ strong arm stayed the Giants’ hand.

It didn’t matter. Only one pitch later — Rusin’s eighth of the inning — Rockies-killer Hunter Pence sailed a ball over the Rockies’ last-ditch, five-man infield and into a wide-open center field. Miraculously, Gonzalez ranged all the way from right to dive and spear it, but he had not chance to throw speedy pinch-runner Orlando Calixte out at the plate.

Once again, the Rockies lost in a way that they haven’t been able to win; with manufactured runs that often make the difference in tight, postseason contests.

If they can’t figure out the former soon, they won’t have a chance at the latter.

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Colorado (82-69) will face San Francisco (59-93) in the finale of their abbreviated, two-game series at 1:45 PM Mountain Time on Wednesday. The Rockies’ Tyler Chatwood (8-12, 4.57) will start against the Giants’ Matt Moore (5-14, 5.39).

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