08/19/2002 5:54 pm ET
Hampton sees his luck improving
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Rockies pitcher Mike Hampton has believed in recent weeks that his luck is improving. Not even an ill-placed umpire's leg could change that on Monday afternoon against the Braves.
In the first inning, Hampton overcame a two-run homer by Julio Franco and a grounder that hit second base umpire Tim McClelland's leg, resulting in a single to load the bases. But he forced Javy Lopez to line into a double play -- on a sinker, the pitch he once said he wouldn't throw anymore after one of his unlucky games -- to end the inning. Hampton lasted 6 2/3 innings and had a chance for his a third straight victory for the first time this season.
"I've felt pretty good for awhile now -- sometimes I don't get the breaks that I'd like to have," Hampton said.
But there's only so far that recent good fortune can go.
After Hampton left, a rough day by reliever Justin Speier and some sub-par defense -- a Terry Shumpert error and a double off third baseman Brent Butler's glove -- cost him his third straight victory.
The Braves won it, 7-6, on back-to-back home runs by Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones in the bottom of the ninth.
Not feeling so lucky was Rockies relief closer Jose Jimenez (2-8), who gave up the homers while blowing a save for the fourth time in 37 chances. Neither was Speier, who allowed the first of Jones's two homers as the Braves tied the game in the eighth. Jimenez had a lead after Greg Norton's pinch-hit RBI double in the top of the ninth off Braves closer John Smoltz (3-2).
The silver lining is that the Rockies wrapped up their seven-game road trip by going 4-3, marking the team's first winning trek since May 27 through June 2 against San Diego and San Francisco.
Hampton, who is still 7-13 but did see his ERA drop 25 points to 6.25, understands how Jimenez must feel. But he knows from experience that there's no reason to mope about it.
"Feel for Jose?" he said smiling. "I don't feel for nobody after all the crap I've been through. I've been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a long time now. We just go out there as men and do the best we can."
After the homer and two walks, Hampton seemed to be headed for a rough first inning. It got rougher when what should have been a Vinny Castilla hit turned into a single to load the bases because the ball bounced off McClelland's leg.
Hampton held the Braves scoreless after the first, allowing six hits and four walks, including one to Franco to put two on base with two down in the seventh. Speier struck out Gary Sheffield to end the threat and preserve a 5-2 lead.
Hampton was more impressive than in his victory last week at Florida, when he needed a two-run Larry Walker triple in his final inning to give him the win.
"He caught a good break early in the road trip to get a 'W,' [but] caught a bad break today to get a no-decision," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "But it didn't change the way he handled himself or the way he pitched. He's getting on a little bit of a roll."
It was Hampton's first performance with no strikeouts since April 12, 2000 with the New York Mets at Philadelphia, but the lack of strikeouts was good in this case. After not being able to hit his marks with the fastball and changeup to the early hitters, Hampton didn't rely on the sinker. He mixed in a fastball, changeup and more curveballs than at any point since early in his pro career.
Hampton laughed when his no-strikeout day was mentioned.
"I tried not to strike people out today ... it was really cold out and I wanted to get my players loose," said Hampton, who laughed about pitching on a muggy day that was officially 88 degrees, but hotter on the field.
Walker leaves early: After an infield popup in the fifth, Colorado right fielder Larry Walker left the game with mid-back spasms. Walker entered the day tied with San Francisco's Barry Bonds in the National League batting race. Walker's 0-for-3 dropped his batting average to .357.
Walker said he experienced the same trouble during last year's trip to Atlanta and the beds at the team hotel were to blame.
Walker said he expects to be able to play Tuesday at home against Montreal after chiropractic treatments.
In other injury news, left-hander Denny Neagle, Tuesday's scheduled starter, has recovered from a flexor tendon problem in his left arm that flared after his last start. Right-hander Jason Jennings, hit in the ear and wrist by a pitch from Atlanta's Greg Maddux on Sunday, should have no problems making his next start.
Not much to say: Hurdle has to rotate his three late-game relievers -- closer Jimenez, setup man Todd Jones and seventh-inning man Speier -- to keep them fresh. Monday, he felt Jones needed the day off. Speier said it wasn't as if he was tired.
"I felt great. I just didn't throw the ball where I wanted," Speier said.
Jimenez refused to comment.
Man with the plan: Norton, who knocked his 15th pinch-hit of the season on the double to give Colorado a 6-5 lead in the ninth, said he had studied Smoltz and guessed right.
"I was sitting on a slider, and I guess he threw a changeup or a backup slider, but I was sitting [on a] 'soft [pitch],' " said Norton, who had fouled off a fastball on the previous pitch.
Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.