08/12/2003 11:10 PM ET
Norton sends one to the moon
Three-run blast in the 11th sinks Expos
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
MONTREAL -- Greg Norton wasn't sure whether to run hard or jog, or simply turn around and pick up his bat as the ball floated high.
The 11th-inning moon shot finally landed just over the wall in the right-field corner for a three-run, pinch-hit homer for a Colorado Rockies 6-3 victory over the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium in front of 7,277.
Norton, baseball's most prolific pinch-hitter with 16 hits and a .327 batting average, gave the Rockies just their second win in nine extra-inning games. Colorado (61-61) stayed among the relevant in the National League playoff hunt, tied with the Expos (60-60) at 5 1/2 games behind Wild Card leader Florida.
"It's always nice to go to bed knowing that you won the game," Norton said in an appropriate choice of words, considering that the homer off Rocky Biddle (3-5) looked like a movie dream sequence.
"I don't know if it has any effect on tomorrow. We'll play a good team out there and see how things turn out."
It turned out well for the Rockies.
Colorado avoided nemesis Vladimir Guerrero, who hit a two-run homer for the second straight game and has driven in five of six Expos runs as the teams split the first two of a three-game set, by intentionally walking him twice to finish the night. Also, the Expos were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"It's the offense not cashing in on opportunities that we have," Expos manager Frank Robinson said. "We are not playing with a lot of fire.
"We are just not doing the things on the field we should do in situations. I don't know what it is. I can only talk so much and hope so much. Eventually it has to be done between the white lines. We are not getting it done."
The Rockies finally made the plays, and avoided the mistakes. Several key performances put the Rockies in position for Norton to win it, after Larry Walker led off the 11th with a single and Charles Johnson drew a one-out walk.
Brian Fuentes (3-1), who ended the 10th by getting Orlando Cabrera to pop out with two out and two on, and Javier Lopez (first career save), who struck out two in the 11th, completed a stellar effort by five Colorado relievers.
Catcher Johnson had one of his biggest nights, throwing out two on steal attempts and starting a key double play in the ninth when he pounced on Brian Schneider's poor bunt and fired to second.
Second baseman Ronnie Belliard made several acrobatic plays in the field, and ignited a two-run sixth-inning that gave Colorado a 3-1 lead with a hustle-driven leadoff double. Knowing that Guerrero would throw behind him if he rounded first hard, Belliard simply risked a dash to second, and made it.
Too often, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle has been left to explain something bad after close games. Not this time.
"Our bullpen was just nails," Hurdle said. "Offensively, we got (three) runs early. Then Norton's hit, that's a big hit. That's what he does the best."
The game also featured gritty starting pitching from Colorado's Chin-hui Tsao and Montreal's Tomo Ohka.
Tsao could have won if not for Guerrero's RBI double in the fourth and homer to tie the game, 3-3, in the sixth. Both hits came after leadoff walks to Jose Vidro, as Tsao continued to learn that he has things much tougher than in Double-A, where he was a little more than a month ago.
Tsao walked five, which raised his walk total in four starts to 20. That's six fewer than he walked in 18 starts at Tulsa, where he wet 11-4 with 125 strikeouts. But Tsao was otherwise stellar for 5 1/3 innings during which he struck out five and held the Expos to three runs on five hits.
Tsao was most impressive in the fourth after the Guerrero double. He forced Cabrera into a groundout that moved Guerrero to third, but finished the inning by fanning Brad Wilkerson and Wil Cordero.
Ohka held the Rockies to three runs on five hits, and struck out seven. But at least he didn't lose, like he did on May 18 at Coors Field when he limited Colorado to two runs in six innings.
Colorado managed a Chris Stynes double and a Todd Helton RBI single in the first, and RBI singles by Preston Wilson and Jay Payton during a two-run, three-hit sixth. But Colorado didn't manage a baserunner in any other inning against Ohka.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.