PHILADELPHIA -- The Rockies' pitching -- in such shambles last time the club came to Citizens Bank Park that the club underwent a massive strategy overhaul -- continued an impressive run on Friday night.
Rockies pitchers have bordered on dominant for the last four games. Problem is they've lost the last three by one run, this one 3-2 to the Phillies on Nate Schierholtz's single with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth in front of 42,028.
Friday's loss came after the Rockies (56-81) lost the final two games of a series in Atlanta by twin 1-0 scores, on unearned runs each time. This time, the Phillies (67-71) stole one from the Rockies to improve to 21-6 against them in regular-season play since the beginning of the 2008 season. The teams have split two National League Division Series, with the Rockies winning in 2007 and the Phillies taking it in 2009.
"We've scored in one inning in the last three games," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "You have to do better than that, offensively. We have pitched winning baseball, actually, the last four days with the 6-0 shutout on Tuesday night in Atlanta. You can't ask them to do more than that."
At least the pitching is doing well. When the Rockies went to Philadelphia in June, they were headed for all-time worst starting pitching numbers. As a result, they went to a four-man rotation with a pitch limit of around 75, designed to keep starters from facing a lineup a third time. After some growing pains, the move seems to have led to more stable performances over the past month.
Jeff Francis, the team's most consistent starter this season, struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings and held the Phillies scoreless on six hits. Reliever Carlos Torres forced an Erik Kratz fly ball to end the sixth to extend the team's streak to 36 innings without an earned run, and the bullpen's run to a club-record-tying 20 innings. The previous record ran from May 27 to June 2, 2010.
Francis pitched five strong innings on June 21 -- the Rockies' first game under their system, which has grown to a five-man rotation for the final days of this season but is expected to go back to four next year. He held the Phillies to one run and six hits in five innings back then, and was even better on Friday night.
"Regardless of the season they're having, that's a pretty good team over there," Francis said. "I know that. For me to get through five and a bit without any damage, that was giving us a good chance to win."
Francis changed speeds and stayed unpredictable throughout. He faced his final hitter, Domonic Brown, in the sixth by throwing six straight curveballs to earn a strikeout.
"I don't know if I've ever done that before," Francis said.
"He pitched earlier in the season [against us], and he pitched the same way," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We were swinging at him and hitting him the same way. Evidently, he went to school on us."
The wins aren't coming now, but Francis believes the pitchers -- especially starters -- can keep the success going.
"We've thrown the ball the way we expect to throw the ball," said Francis, who was the Rockies' No. 1 pitcher during their run to the 2007 World Series before injuries stalled his career. "At the beginning of the year, we were disappointed in our own execution. Now we're going out there with a little more confidence, because we've got a little momentum on our side."
But in the seventh, Torres gave up two hits -- the second a soft single to Juan Pierre -- and Matt Reynolds walked Chase Utley on five pitches to load the bases with two outs. Pinch-hitter Laynce Nix's two-run double off Josh Roenicke erased the Rockies' lead.
The Rockies scored twice with one out in the first inning against Cliff Lee, with Carlos Gonzalez's double and Wilin Rosario's single driving in the runs in a three-hit inning. But Lee escaped the first by forcing a soft Chris Nelson popup in foul ground and striking out Tyler Colvin with two on base.
Lee worked Francis into a grounder with two on to end the fourth. Josh Rutledge doubled with one out in the fifth, but Lee escaped easily. The last true Rockies threat came in the seventh, when Charlie Blackmon and Dexter Fowler each singled with one out to chase Lee. But reliever Josh Lindblom fanned Rutledge and Jake Diekman forced a Gonzalez grounder.
In the top of the ninth, Jason Giambi drew a leadoff walk from Jonathan Papelbon (4-6), but DJ LeMahieu swung through a pitch on a hit-and-run, and Kratz threw out pinch-runner Andrew Brown at second.
"I appreciated [Tracy's] confidence in me to do that, and I was excited to get that call," LeMahieu said. "I just missed it."
It was a final miss for an offense that has been uncharacteristically misfiring. For much of the year, the Rockies have hit at a contender level, but struggled because of their pitching.
"We were so hot there for a while, but it'll come back," LeMahieu said. "We've got too many good hitters to not score runs."
Will Harris (1-1) walked Jimmy Rollins to open the ninth. After Pierre's bunt moved Rollins, the Rockies walked Utley intentionally. Harris' wild pitch let the runners move a base, and Schierholtz then singled through a drawn-in infield.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.