Rockies Aren't Distracted by Early Struggle -- They Take it as a Challenge

© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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When Mark Reynolds decided to add another big-league season to his resume he didn’t hesitate. He was ready to return to the Rockies. He knew his playing time projected to be limited. But he also felt he knew that the Rockies were a team with the ability to play in October – deep in October.

And the Rockies?

They were glad to welcome Reynolds back after he spent last season with the Washington Nationals. He showed a value to them the two previous seasons, playing a quality first base when need be, and supplying a dangerous bat off the bench on days he’s not in the lineup.

So it was almost fitting that on a night when the Rockies equaled a club record by striking out 24 times in their 5-4, come-from-behind, 11-inning victory against the Red Sox, it was Reynolds who provided the game-winning blow, sending a two-out single into center field and scoring Trevor Story from third base.

What a way to put an end to a cold night at Fenway Park, which saw Red Sox starter Chris Sale strike out 17 Rockies in seven innings, matching the record for a Rockies opponent that Randy Johnson set on April 21, 2002.

Sale, however, had one blip on his radar -- a two-run Nolan Arenado home run in the top of the seventh that set the stage for the Rockies come-from-behind success. Oh, Sale did strike out the next three batters – Reynolds, Raimel Tapia and Ian Desmond – as the final statement of his performance.

But the Red Sox bullpen couldn’t finish off that 3-2 lead he turned over. The Rockies took a 4-3 lead on Charlie Blackmon’s two-run home run in the top of the eighth, and then, after the Red Sox tied the game up in the bottom of that inning, the Rockies had the final word in the 11th.

“That was like a steal,” said Reynolds. “We didn’t deserve to win that game, but we stayed at it and got it done.”

Hey, that’s the type of wins a team has to pull off if it is going to achieve the post-season ambitions the Rockies have. It’s the type of wins they need to help offset an early season stumble.

Be honest. That 3-12 beginning to this season was a nightmare. And the Rockies are still trying to undo any damage. Oh, they have won 17 of their last 26 games, but they are still a game below .500. They are still in fourth place in the NL West. They are still 6 ½ games back of the NL West-leading Dodgers. They are still 2 ½ games back of the Cardinals for the second NL wild-card spot and have five teams between themselves and the Cardinals.

But they still have 121 games to play. And they know that even when teams enjoy seasons to remember they will stumble along the way.

“It’s how we are built,” said manger Bud Black. “The resolve they have over the long haul is really good stuff. They have the ability to turn the page and realize the next day’s game is the most important thing, whether we won a big game the night before or lost.”

The Rockies, themselves, have suffered the challenges in each of the five years they have claimed a wild-card berth in the post-season.

Consider:

--In 1995 the Rockies went into an August funk, losing 10 of 13 games at one stretch, going 11-17 for the month with a 5.96 ERA. They, however, went 17-11 in the final month of the season, claiming a wild-card spot in the post-season on the final day of the season.

--In 2007 the Rockies finished April with a 14-28 record and in late June suffered an eight-game losing streak that dropped the team to 38-42 and had manager Clint Hurdle on the hot seat. The Rockies, however, rebounded to go 52-31 the rest of the way, winning 14 of the final 15 games, including a Game 163 against the Padres to claim the wild-card spot. They wound up sweeping the Phillies in the NL Division Series, and Diamondbacks in the NLCS, and made what remains the only World Series appearance in franchise history.

--In 2009, the Rockies lost 11 of their first 16 games, and on June 3 they were 20-32. With Jim Tracy an in-season replacement for Hurdle as the manager, the Rockies rebounded to win 72 of their final 110 regular-season games.

--In 2017, the Rockies built their record early, and were sitting at 47-26 on June 20. They went 39-39 the rest of the way, including losing 10 of 11 to start off the .500 stretch. They still claimed the wild-card berth.

--And in 2018, the Rockies stumbled in late May-early July, losing 13 of 17 to fall to 34-38. They, however, rallied to win 57 of their next 90 games, forcing a one-game playoff with the Dodgers to decide which team would be the NL West champ and which one would be a wild-card. The Rockies wound up the wild-card, but after being eliminated in their two previous wild-card games, they advanced to the NL Division Series for the first time since 2007.

So, the Rockies know that even with that 3-10 beginning there’s a long way to go before the season ends.

It’s why even on a damp, windy, chilly night in Boston, when they were striking out a club-record-tying rate, the Rockies found what it took for a win.

“We have veteran players who have been through these situations,” said Black. “A player like Mark knows (the Red Sox) aren’t going to let Nolan beat them. Mark squares up an 0-2 pitch. …. That’s a veteran player who has been in the position. He does not allow the count or situation or ballpark or anything or anything affect him, and he put a good swing on a pitch.”

Good enough to add a victory to the Rockies win column, and to serve as a reminder to outside observers that the Rockies may have stumbled early this season, but, as the late Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over `till it’s over.”

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