The Rockies’ road to postseason perdition has been all too familiar this summer.
Respectable within in the friendly confines of Coors Field, the Rockies turn punchless once they leave the thin air of the Front Range.
While they did land a few haymakers in Tuesday night’s series opener at St. Louis, including three RBIs from Charlie Blackmon and two runs from feel-good rookie Wynton Bernard, Busch Stadium transformed into the same house of horrors that has haunted the Rockies for years.
And this one came with a particularly cruel ending: The Cardinals walking off 5-4 winners after reliever Dinelson Lamet plunked Tyler O’Neill with an errant slider with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
The loss dropped the Rockies to 2-8 in the first game of road trips this season, 18-37 overall away from Coors, and 2-16 at Busch since May 18, 2016.
“This situation that we’re in, it (stinks),” starter Kyle Freeland told reporters after the loss. “You want to try to win every single game, then you look at the record, you look at where we’re at in the standings, and it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
St. Louis scored the game-winning run despite not hitting the ball out of the infield in the final frame.
Lamet walked the first two batters — Andrew Knizner and Lars Nootbaar — to open the inning, then threw wild fielding a would-be sacrifice bunt from Dylan Carlson (ruled a single) to load the bases with no outs.
Manager Bud Black opted to bring in an outfielder to create a five-man infield as O’Neill stepped to the plate. But the gamesmanship was all for naught. After getting to a 2-2 count, Lamet threw a slider that failed to break and instead hit O’Neill in the elbow to end the game.
“He just couldn’t find that consistent release point to get his pitches in the strike zone,” Black told reporters after the game. “His stuff was fine, the fastball velocity and the slider. He just couldn’t seem to find his release point.”
Six days after getting shelled by these same Cardinals for six runs in a 9-5 loss at Coors Field, Freeland battled over six innings, giving up three earned runs on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts on 100 pitches (69 strikes). Two mistakes, however, put the Rockies in a 3-0 hole after five innings.
After failing to drive in a run with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Tommy Edman capitalized on the first mistake, driving Freeland’s 2-0 sinker 417 feet to left-center field for a solo homer.
The second came one inning later, when NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt skied an 88 mph pitch 371 feet to left field for his 29th homer of the season — a two-run shot that gave Cardinals starter José Quintana a 3-0 cushion.
“I thought Kyle’s pitch mix was very solid and overall he got the ball down, got his ground balls, got a few strikeouts, so he did his part,” Black said. “The one pitch to Goldy was up out over the plate. .. He’d like that one back, but he got through that first inning and seemed to gain a little confidence.”
Quintana was in control early, no-hitting the Rockies through the fist five innings. Then the hits came in bunches for Colorado. Bernard, the 31-year-old rookie outfielder, reached on an infield single to lead off the sixth, and three consecutive singles from Connor Joe, Blackmon and Brendan Rodgers followed to chase the left-hander from the game.
Blackmon’s ground ball up the middle scored Bernard, and Rodgers’ blooper to right field loaded the bases with no outs. The Rockies managed just one more run the rest of the inning, however, as reliever Jordan Hicks whiffed C.J. Cron on a breaking pitch, then got consecutive fielder’s choice ground balls from Jose Iglesias and Randal Grichuk.
“No outs and we only got one, that was frustrating for the guys for sure,” Black said. “… That was a key part of the game, we would have liked to have added on but we didn’t.”
The Rockies briefly surged ahead in the seventh when Blackmon struck again with a two-run double — marking the 36th consecutive game Colorado has hit at least one two-bagger.
Cardinals reliever Packy Naughton buzzed the veteran outfielder with an errant 92 mph fastball to move the count to 2-1, then Blackmon stroked the very next pitch into the right-center field gap to score Bernard and Joe and give the Rockies a 4-3 lead.
The Cardinals answered with the tying run in the bottom of the seventh on Goldschmidt’s sacrifice flyball, setting the table for their eventual walk-off win.
Rockies RHP German Marquez (6-9, 5.08 ERA) at Cardinals LHP Jordan Montgomery (5-3, 3.37)
5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Busch Stadium
Radio: 850 AM/94.1 FM
What has been a disappointing season for Marquez has turned around of late, with the 2021 All-Star turning in a string of respectable starts since the calendar flipped to July. In his last six starts, Marquez has registered a 3.11 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 27 strikeouts over 37 2/3 innings. The Rockies are 3-3 in those outings, with Marquez going at least six innings each time. He actually has a streak of seven straight starts of six-plus innings pitched, but the first start saw him tagged for four earned runs at the Dodgers on July 5. In his last outing, Marquez limited St. Louis to two runs on eight hits, six strikeouts and one walk over six innings in a 8-6 win.
Montgomery has made two starts for the Cardinals since being acquired in a trade from the Yankees, and has yet to yield a single earned run. The 29-year-old lefty has put up a sterling 0.81 WHIP with St. Louis, striking out nine over 11 innings. He tossed six innings of scoreless baseball, with a season-high eight strikeouts, in a 3-1 win over the Brewers in his last start Aug. 12. This will be his first start vs. Colorado.
Trending: Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers entered Tuesday night with the most hits in the National League (34) since the All-Star break. He hit .370 during that period with five doubles, two homers and nine RBIs.
At issue: The Rockies entered Tuesday with 18 errors since the All-Star break, tied for the most in MLB. Elehuris Montero, starting at third base for Ryan McMahon with a left-hander on the mound for the Cardinals, added another error to that tally Tuesday with a throwing error in the third inning.
Thursday: Rockies RHP Antonio Senzatela (3-6, 4.67) at RHP Adam Wainwright (8-8, 3.27), 11:15 a.m., ATTRM
Friday: Rockies RHP Jose Urena (1-4, 4.80) vs. Giants LHP Alex Wood (8-94.18), 6:40 p.m., ATTRM