06/12/2003 11:08 PM ET
Oliver struggles in Rockies' loss
By Patrick Donnelly / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been a bizarro season for the Rockies pitching staff this year. Up is down. Black is white. And pitchers can't wait to get back to Coors Field.
Colorado's pitchers continued to buck the odds with another dismal performance away from cozy Coors Field on Thursday night, as starter Darren Oliver dug a first-inning hole and the bullpen shoveled in the dirt in a 15-3 loss to the Twins at the Metrodome.
Not only did the Rockies miss a chance to win their first road series of the year, but with the Padres winning at Cleveland Thursday, they resumed their status as the worst road team in the league at 8-24 this year.
The pitchers are the main culprits for the Rockies' woes away from home. Most teams expect to pitch better at home and struggle on the road. Then again, most teams don't play at a hitter's haven like Coors Field. This year, the Colorado pitching staff has compiled a 5.38 ERA on the road, versus 4.91 at home, a statistic that has manager Clint Hurdle baffled.
"You need to ask those guys," he said. "The ball's in (their) hands. You'd have to ask them if they feel something different. We haven't gotten anything out of them."
Oliver is the leading example of the team's home/road disparity. At hitter-friendly Coors Field, Oliver is 3-0 with a 2.97 ERA. But in the land of gray uniforms, room service and hostile crowds, he's 0-5, 6.91.
Like his manager, Oliver is at a loss about why the losses keep piling up on the road. "I wish there were an explanation," he said. "It's just bad location."
Location got him in trouble in the first inning, when the Twins essentially put the game away with a seven-run outburst. Lew Ford -- a rookie filling in for All-Star Torii Hunter in center field -- led off the game with the first of his four hits, an infield single. Cristian Guzman followed with his ninth triple of the year, and the Twins had a quick 1-0 lead.
Oliver's troubles mounted as he walked two left-handed hitters, Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz, and gave up RBI singles to Matthew LeCroy and Dustan Mohr that put the Twins ahead 3-0.
Then, the roof caved in. Oliver left an 0-1 fastball over the plate, and A.J. Pierzynski crushed it over the right-field fence for a grand slam. Oliver retired two of the next three batters, but limped off the mound with a 7-0 deficit.
"The worst thing that could happen, happened, basically," he said of the grand slam. "It's just part of the game. Unfortunately it had to happen with all those guys on base. When you give up seven in the first, you pretty much put your team in a big hole right there."
Oliver settled down and threw four scoreless innings, and the Rockies' hitters tried mightily to get back in the game. They scored single runs in the second and third innings against Twins lefty Kenny Rogers (5-2), but stranded two runners in the first, second and fifth innings, before the Twins' offense awoke.
Steve Reed relieved Oliver in the sixth inning, and the Twins quickly came back to life. Pierzynski led off with a single, and Reed balked him to second. One out later, Ford singled for an 8-2 lead.
But the damage was just beginning. Javier Lopez, working on a scoreless streak of 18 2/3 innings, took over in the seventh and gave up seven more runs while getting only two outs.
LeCroy hit a two-run homer to left and Pierzynski added a three-run shot to right, his second of the game and career-high eighth of the year. Lopez's ERA soared from 0.72 to 3.16 after allowing seven earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
"I was leaving some mistakes out there, but I probably had the same stuff I've had all year long," Lopez said. "Some days it gets people out, and some days it doesn't.
"I gave up a couple early ground ball base hits. I'm a ground ball pitcher and when things start getting through for base hits I'm digging myself a hole because I'm not the kind of guy who can come back and strike people out. I have to find ways to get people out and tonight I didn't find those ways."
Larry Walker's sixth home run and Juan Uribe's three hits were about all the highlights the Rockies could muster. Their only solace is that their next stop on the road trip is Detroit, where the Tigers have posted the worst home record (5-24) in the Major Leagues.
"We've got business to take care of in Detroit," Hurdle said. "We tried to take care of it here and we couldn't get it done. We won the first game and weren't able to win one of the next two. We need to win a series on the road. This will be our next opportunity and it's one we need to handle."
Without question, the opportunity is there. The Rockies' next 25 games are against teams that are under .500 -- 14 on the road, and 11 in the bizarro pitchers' haven of Coors Field.
Patrick Donnelly is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.