Rockies can't solve Suppan in loss
Colorado's late-inning rally against St. Louis bullpen falls short
ST. LOUIS -- Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis left Saturday night's game with five-run deficit against the Cardinals. Little did he know that by the time he left the park, he'd be lamenting just a few pitches.
The Rockies offense put on an unexpected power display after Francis' departure from the game, but all that did was raise Francis' frustration over the 6-5 loss in front of the largest crowd of the year at new Busch Stadium, 45,968.
"It hurts even more when your team comes back and falls short," said Francis, who had held the Cardinals to one earned run in 13 2/3 innings in his previous two starts against them.
Colorado must win on Sunday to avoid absorbing a three-game sweep at the hands of the National League Central-leading Cards. A victory also would put the Rockies (34-34) back above .500 heading into a six-game Interleague homestand against the Athletics (Monday through Wednesday) and the Rangers (Friday through Sunday).
Three pitches in particular hurt Francis (5-6). He yielded two Juan Encarnacion homers -- a two-run shot in the first inning and a leadoff job in the fourth -- and hung an 0-2 breaking ball that Aaron Miles knocked for a double to drove in the Cards' final two runs in the fourth for a 6-1 lead.
"It's location," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "Especially in the fourth inning, he had pitcher's counts and made mistakes."
The Rockies' offense once again foundered against Cards starter Jeff Suppan (6-4), who went 7 2/3 innings and gave up two runs -- one on Matt Holliday's second-inning solo shot, his team-leading 14th on the season -- on five hits. However, Garrett Atkins knocked a three-run homer off Josh Hancock in the eighth, and JD Closser made it a single-run game with a solo shot off Cards closer Jason Isringhausen.
But Isringhausen struck out three to notch his 23rd save and assure Suppan of his 100th career victory. Suppan is 4-1 in six career starts against the Rockies, including 2-0 this season.
Trailing, 3-1, the Rockies loaded the bases in the fourth on an infield single by Todd Helton and walks to Holliday and Atkins. But Suppan worked Brad Hawpe into a broken-bat popup in foul ground and coaxed a Yorvit Torrealba grounder to third.
"One hundred wins is 100 wins," said Suppan. "Not something I think about. It's an exciting win. I wasn't focused on it, and I am glad it's over."
The first Encarnacion homer came on a changeup that Francis was trying to throw inside but left over the plate. The second was a fastball to the same location. Francis was kicked himself over attempting to throw inside again.
"Right after he hit it, I wondered why we went there again," Francis said. "That was not only misexecution, but a bad pitch choice on my part."
Scott Spezio singled and John Rodriguez, who had tripled and scored in the second, was hit by a pitch to set up the Miles double.
In the wide-open National League West, the Rockies can't afford to simply delight in competing rather than winning, but there was reason for Hurdle to be pleased on Saturday. Colorado absorbed an 8-1 loss to the Cards on Friday night and seemed headed in that direction again before the late surge.
"I was very happy with the effort coming back because we had been manhandled here for a game and a half," Hurdle said. "We were able to throw a punch back at the end, which was good to see."
Atkins said, "Any time [we] score runs off the bullpen late, it gives us confidence that we can carry into tomorrow."
Closser's homer came in a rare pinch-hit opportunity. When Closser backs up Torrealba as he did on Saturday, Hurdle is careful about using him and not having a second catcher available later. But he wanted the switch-hitting Closser to swing from the left side against Isringhausen.
"To be able to put a good swing on the ball and drive a home run is good, but I'd much rather have maybe gotten a double and Jorge [Piedra] had gotten a homer or something to put some runs on the board and come back and win that ballgame," said Closser, whose homer was his first of the season.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Conor Nicholl, an associate reporter for MLB.com,l contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.