Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dodgers, Mets Attacked By Rockies, Nats!

This is the time of year where a game or two or a series or two can define a season. In the case of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets, the past several days might just be remembered historically for both teams as the time the 2007 season got away. It's kind of ironic both of these teams are faltering at this crucial stretch considering that the two teams were 2006 first round playoff opponents - the Mets winning their best of five series in three straight games.

The Dodgers came into yesterday's day-night doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies three games behind the San Diego Padres for the N.L. Wild Card spot. The Rockies hopes were even slimmer coming in to the series, starting the day five games back of the Padres. Given the history of Colorado's Coors Field, this figured to be a very high scoring series. Home plate umpire Tim Welke did his best to make sure that game one would not be your typical scoring fest at Coors, employing a very generous strike zone throughout. Starting pitchers Jeff Francis and Chad Billingsley were almost constantly in trouble, allowing baserunners in practically every inning. Thanks to some fortuitous double-play grounders and questionable third strike calls, only four runs would be scored in game one. Billingsley allowed only two runs in his 5 1/3 innings of work - Matt Holliday singled in Cory Sullivan in the fourth and Todd Helton scored Sullivan with a single of his own in the sixth. The Dodgers managed ten baserunners against Francis, but only scored once - a solo home run by Olmedo Saenz with two out in the seventh knocked Francis from the game. Francis was the big beneficiary of Welke's big strike zone, fanning a career high ten batters. Joe Koshansky quickly erased Saenz' run, scoring Brad Hawpe in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-1 Colorado lead. LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas kept the Dodgers in check the final 2 1/3 innings to seal the victory in game one.

The second game of the twinbill was much more typical of what we've become accustomed to over the years at Coors Field. Each team tallied three runs in the first inning. It was the beginning of what would be an epic see-saw battle. Matt Kemp plated Juan Pierre with a double in the third off of Rockie starter Mark Redman to give the Blue Crew a one run lead. Matt Holliday then slammed a one out two-run homer deep to left-center field off of David Wells in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Rockies their first lead at 5-4. The Dodgers would strike right back in the next inning. James Loney homered to deep right off of Rockie reliever Matt Herges to tie the game. Herges was pulled after giving up a single to Ramon Martinez and a Mike Lieberthal walk. Jeremy Affeldt quickly retired the first two batters her faced, but Tony Abreu then lashed a triple into the left field corner to make it a 7-5 Dodger lead. Russell Martin hit a solo off of Jorge Julio in the top of the eighth to increase the Dodger bulge to three. In most places a three run lead with Jonathan Broxton and Takeshi Saito is just about as sure a bet as you can have, but this is Coors Field we're talking about so as we have known for a very long time now, the normal rules don't apply. Addtionally, Broxton had been quite shaky coming into last night's outing, allowing five earned runs in his prior eight appearances coving 5 1/3 innings for an 8.44 ERA. Broxton's slump continued into last night as Ryan Spilborghs homered deep to center after a Garret Atkins single to trim the margin to one. Unlike Broxton, Saito had been nothing short of incredible for the Dodgers of late, allowing only TWO hits and not a single earned run in his previous 15 appearances covering 15 innings. With a 1.21 ERA, he was within an inning of eclipsing Eric Gagne's Dodger record 1.20 ERA set back in 2003. Saito quickly retired the first two Rockie batters before Holliday singled to right. That brought up the dangerous and very hungry Todd Helton to the plate. Helton only had one hit in his first eight at bats of the twinbill - an RBI single in game one. Saito quickly got two strikes on Helton, but then left a pitch out over the left inside part of the plate. And Helton didn't miss it, crushing the ball into the right-center field stands for a dramatic 9-8 Rockie victory. With a Padres win, the Dodgers and Rockies now both lie 4 1/2 games back of them for the N.L. Wild Card.


Back in our nation's capital, the Washington Nationals are definitely trying to close old RFK Stadium out in style - and they are also doing their best to spoil the Mets title run. Just a week ago, the Mets held a seemingly commanding seven game lead over the Philadelphia Philles in the N.L. East race. A few days earlier, I had told a few people on Ron Shandler's BaseballHQ site that the Mets pitching beyond Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine was very tenuous at best and that I wouldn't be at all surprised if they lost several games off their lead down the stretch. Flash forward to a week later. The Phillies went into last night winners of five straight games, while the Mets had lost four in a row, including a humiliating 12-4 loss to the Nationals on Monday night. That big seven game lead now was only 2 1/2 games for the Mets.

Early on, it looked like the Mets would finally put an end to their losing skid as they pounded Nats starter Joel Hanrahan for four runs in the top of the first inning. Hanrahan continued to struggle and was pulled after only pitching three innings, giving up five runs on seven hits, while walking two. Mets starter John Maine continued his post-July struggles, giving up three runs to the Nats in his first four innings. The Mets tallied two more runs in the top of the fifth inning to give Maine a 7-3 lead. The gritty Nats finally got to Maine in a big way in the bottom of the fifth. After a Nook Logan single and a Felipe Lopez walk, Ryan Zimmerman was caught looking at a called third strike. Wily Mo Pena continued his heroics for the Nats, plating Logan with a single to center. Austin Kearns singled to right to score Lopez to cut the margin again to two. Ronnie Belliard then delivered the knock-out blow, slamming a three-run homer deep into the left field seats to give the Nats an 8-7 lead. Maine mercifully was pulled after that pitch. D'Ángelo Jiménez added an insurance run for the Nats in the bottom of the sixth to give them a 9-7 lead. Several times, I've commended Nats manager on the job he's done this year. Since their 9-25 start, the Nats had played very respectable .500 ball (58-58) going into last night's game. Acta may have done his best managing job of the season last night, employing NINE pitchers! Chad Cordero quickly recorded two outs in the ninth and then got into trouble as the Mets plated Shawn Green on a Jeff Conine single. "The Chief" ended the game in style for the Nats, striking out Ruben Gotay to end the game and sending the 19,966 in attendance home very happy. With a Phillies win, the Mets once gaudy seven game lead in the N.L. East race is now only 1 1/2 games.


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