Spin Forward: Ball bounces for Boston
Series of heartbreaking plays pushes Rockies near elimination
DENVER -- Play enough games, and eventually the breaks will even out. Play one game, and the balance sheet almost never turns out equal.
The Rockies lost to the Red Sox on Saturday night for a lot of reasons, some big and obvious -- like starting pitcher Josh Fogg lasting 2 2/3 innings -- and some subtle and agonizing. An inch here, a foot there, a break here or a lucky bounce there, and Colorado might have beaten Boston in Game 3 of the World Series. To avoid a sweep, the Rockies will have to play a better game and catch a little good fortune.
"That's why you play the game," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. "That's one of the interesting aspects of any big-time sport, when you go back and you look it over -- would have, could have, should have, ifs and buts -- they're always out there. But there comes a point in time you've got to find ways to score runs, you've got to find ways to get out and you've got to find ways to make pitches, and they've been able to do that a little more consistently than we have."
The breaks came in all forms. A correct tactical decision blew up in a most unlikely manner. Two balls that should have been run-scoring extra-base hits instead went as loud outs. Two plays that could have and should have been made instead dropped in for base hits. Inch after inch, foot after foot, Colorado found that success was just out of its grasp.
It started as early as the third inning, when Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double in a scoreless game. Dustin Pedroia put down a bunt, looking only to get Ellsbury to third base with one out. Instead, Pedroia benefited from a wayward throw and reached base. The extra out helped Boston put together a six-run inning, which was capped when yet another of those funny bounces went in favor of the visitors.
Colorado pitched around Julio Lugo with two outs and men on the corners, choosing to pitch to pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka rather than Lugo. Stunningly, Matsuzaka bounced a single through the left side, bringing home two runs. One more tally crossed before Colorado got out of the morass.
"We would prefer to take our chances pitching to Matsuzaka," Hurdle said. "The way it worked out is, we walked him and we got the pitcher up with two outs. Matsuzaka found a way to get a ground ball through the left side of the infield. That was a swing of the bat that provided some discomfort for us."
That inning could have sunk the Rockies. Instead, they charged back, only to fall short in agonizing fashion more times.
A major rally brewed in the sixth inning, as four straight Rockies reached, and it was 6-2 with one out. Boston went to the bullpen twice in the frame, finally bringing out Mike Timlin to face the bottom of the order. Ryan Spilborghs connected on a high, deep line drive that carried and carried and carried to center field -- and stopped an eyelash short of the wall. What would have been a three-run homer didn't even advance the runners.
Pinch-hitter Jeff Baker followed that by screaming a line drive that should have been a gapper to left, but Lugo made a spectacular leaping catch at shortstop to end the inning. Timlin gave up two perfectly hit balls -- and got two outs.
Sometimes this game ain't fair.
"It's a game-changing play -- two outs, we're probably going to send that guy from first and it's probably going to go into the gap," Baker said. "It's a two-run swing right there."
Remarkably, the ball was still not finished bouncing Boston's way. With the score 6-5 Boston in the eighth and things starting to get a little hairy for the American League champions, a single and a walk gave the Red Sox two runners and a chance at insurance. Lefty Brian Fuentes, a lefty killer of the highest order, left a ball over the plate to Ellsbury. The lefty-swinging rookie turned on it, dropping the ball down the left-field line -- and catching the Rockies completely off guard. The Rockies had been playing Ellsbury to go the opposite way, figuring that he surely wouldn't pull Fuentes.
"With my first three at-bats, I was staying inside and going the other way, and I figured that they would be coming in in that situation," Ellsbury said. "Fortunately, I got out in front of the ball and it fell down the right-field line. But with the angle and how the ball was coming down, I knew it would be close."
Right fielder Brad Hawpe nearly had a play, but it barely bounced away from him, driving in a run and setting up Pedroia to drive in two more. The Red Sox never looked back.
That leaves the Rockies with one more chance to get a win and extend their season. The things they can control, they surely need to control. They need to take good at-bats. Starter Aaron Cook needs to make good pitches. The bullpen needs to keep the Red Sox in check and the defense needs to make plays.
But for goodness' sake, they must be wondering, can't we get a lucky break, too, while we're at it?
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.