Day roughed up as Rox drop opener
Rally falls short after righty yields five runs in 2 2/3 innings
DENVER -- The Rockies came home sitting on top of the standings, in sole possession of first place in the National League West, but by the time their long journey through the night ended Friday, their slip into second place seemed like an uphill battle from inauspicious start to heartbreaking finish.
Zach Day found trouble early and often, hitting the second batter he faced, who later went on to score on a sacrifice fly.
Ultimately, it was the long flies in the second and third that chased Day from the game before closing out the third frame. Day gave up a two-run home run to Aaron Rowand in the second and back-to-back homers to Pat Burrell and Chase Utley in the third. Two singles later, Day gave way to Sun-Woo Kim, his ERA elevated to 7.45 as he took his first loss of the season in a 10-8 defeat to the Phillies at Coors Field.
"He really didn't have any weapons out there," said manager Clint Hurdle. "His balls were very hittable tonight. He didn't have anything to challenge the left-handers, to counterpunch that left-handed attack they had. It wasn't getting any better. If you don't put up a zero in this ballpark from the pitching side of the fifth inning, you're fighting uphill the rest of the way."
As Day saw it, the climb from sea-level San Diego -- where he pitched seven innings and gave up three earned runs for the win in his last start -- to the Mile High City accounted for much of his trouble.
"It was a bad day to leave the ball up," Day said. "I got behind on some hitters. I just didn't make the adjustment coming from San Diego to here as far as the level of my sinker."
Sinkerball pitchers have generally done well in Colorado --with Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook as exhibits A and B -- but no pitcher does well at Coors Field when his pitches are elevated. The park has a way of getting into pitchers' heads, and in just his fourth home start, Day looked to the mountains to explain his woes.
"Obviously, here in Coors, the sinker's not going to sink as much," Day said. "You start it off at a different level. You try and throw a sinker that normally would end up in the bottom of the zone and it just kind of stays a little higher than you would like. It's just a matter of me lowering my sights and talking to the guys that have thrown here and trying to get information as far as what I need to do to make the adjustments."
Those who have succeeded on the Rockies' pitching staff have generally claimed that they don't change their approach when pitching at altitude, but in the cat-and-mouse game of getting Coors Field into the opposition's head, it's hard to tell what to believe.
The bottom line, as Day stressed, was that without his primary pitch working, he was a sitting duck.
"I wasn't getting ahead of the hitters in key situations," Day said. "The sinker being up -- it's a go-to pitch for me -- and when I get behind they know it's coming. I still have to be down in the zone."
Having been outscored, 15-12, in the first inning this season, the Rockies know a little something about uphill struggles. They scratched their way back, taking a short-lived lead with a barrage of singles in the first and tying the game with small-ball bunt singles and sacrifices in the second. They went to the extra-base-hit attack in the fifth, putting a leadoff triple from Todd Helton together with a run-scoring double from Garrett Atkins to get a fourth run on the board.
Finally they tapped the Coors magic, staging a four-run rally in the ninth, loading the bases before Matt Holliday delivered a three-run double to cut the deficit to 10-7. The surge ended abruptly, however, when Jason Smith made the last out of the game running from first to third on Miguel Ojeda's pinch-hit single to left field, scoring Holliday.
It was the final example of a team trying too hard to climb back up out of the hole it had dug itself into early, but Hurdle said there was no excuse for a runner taking the club out of an inning by making the last out at third.
"That's a bad baserunning play," Hurdle said. "That's what you get paid to do. You don't make the third out at third. You've been taught that since you were 6 years old. We've done it twice in the last three ballgames."
Following so closely on the heels of a Holliday/Danny Ardoin snafu Wednesday night in Arizona, it is hard not to wonder what Smith was thinking.
"In that situation, I looked to the outfield," Smith said, affirming that he didn't look to the third-base coach. "They were playing no double, so they were playing deep. Ball off the bat, I thought I could make it easy. It turned out to be, obviously, a stupid play.
"Off the bat, I was going 100 percent," he added, noting that he had no hesitation. "[Outfielder Shane Victorino] was running towards center field, so I said, 'No chance he's going to throw to third.'"
Victorino -- a ninth-inning defensive replacement -- didn't need to wait for the postgame to know what Smith was thinking.
"It was a tough play to make, going to my left," Victorino said. "He was probably thinking there was no way I could make that play. I saw him rounding second just as I received the ball, so I knew I had a chance."
A quick glance at the replay showed how close the call was, and Smith may, in fact, have slipped under the tag from David Bell, but as he pointed out, a different result would not have changed the fundamental problem with his baserunning.
"If I'm safe there it's still a stupid play because they made an attempt on me," Smith reiterated. "In that situation, you have to make it to third without them making a play. I screwed up."
The Rockies took solace in the big-league debut of Ramon Ramirez, acquired last summer in the trade that sent Shawn Chacon to the Yankees. Ramirez pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one hit while striking out two.
"Ramon was a bright spot," said Hurdle. "The young man came in and pitched very effectively. He used all his pitches, his slider, his fastball, his changeup. It had to be a big night for him, a big thrill."
For Ramirez, it must have felt like he'd reached the mountaintop. For the rest of the Rockies, they can only hope their nine-game homestand offers a few more downhill thrills.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.