Rockies walk off on Torrealba's sac fly
Club defeats Cards to maintain 3 1/2-game Wild Card lead
DENVER -- Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba, a leader in this playoff drive, noted that wins this time of year -- and runs on Friday night -- were too scarce to waste any time scoreboard watching.
Torrealba's one-out sacrifice fly drove in the winning run as the Rockies held their 3 1/2-game National League Wild Card lead with a 2-1 victory over the Cardinals.
The Braves, the Rockies' closest competitor for the playoff spot, beat the Nationals, 4-1, on Friday. But Torrealba's full concentration was on a game that featured a pitching duel between Rockies standout Aaron Cook -- pitching for the first time since suffering shoulder soreness five weeks ago -- and Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.
"I don't really look at the scoreboard," said Torrealba, who has 13 RBIs in September after managing just 14 the previous five months. "We've just got to keep winning. That's it."
A sellout crowd of 48,847 spent much of the night debating the return of former Rockies star Matt Holliday in a Cards uniform with cheers and boos. Holliday, traded to the Athletics during the winter because of contract issues and sent from the A's to the Cards in July, went 1-for-4, with Rockies pitchers besting him at key times.
But there were more important pursuits.
The Rockies' magic number for clinching the Wild Card is six (victories plus Braves losses). By prevailing in the ninth, they left the Cards' magic number for winning the NL Central at one. Not only was Friday the opener of what could be a series full of close games, but it could also be a playoff preview.
"It's just a great win," said Rockies manager Jim Tracy, whose team had lost its past two games at home to the Padres. "In my opinion, it's two great baseball teams in front of 50,000 people -- the type of baseball that if I was a fan in the seat, I certainly would have wanted to watch."
Even Cards manager Tony La Russa could enjoy a game that made up for the lack of runs with plenty of twists.
"I'm disappointed, but I have no regrets," La Russa said. "It was a heck of a game. Either side could have won. They won, and it was exciting. It's fun to be a part of something like that."
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, a key part of the package the Athletics sent the Rockies in return for Holliday in November, returned from missing two starts with left hamstring tightness and doubled off Carpenter to open the bottom of the first.
Not expecting much off Carpenter, the Rockies had Dexter Fowler bunt Gonzalez to third so he could score on Todd Helton's sacrifice fly.
The Rockies' hunch about Carpenter proved correct. He held them to one run on five hits in seven innings.
"I jammed [Gonzalez], but it happens in the game," Carpenter said. "... They bunt him over and Helton brings him in. It's good fundamental baseball. That's how you win close games like this."
Cook, in his first outing since Aug. 21, held the Cards scoreless on four hits in five innings. Cook forced 12 groundouts and struck out two, making the most of his 76 pitches.
"I know when I'm myself and I'm on, I'm usually pretty efficient with my sinker," said Cook, who expects to have a higher pitch count next time. "I pretty much stuck with that the whole time."
Cook twice faced Holliday with a runner at third -- it was first-and-third in the third -- and worked him into grounders each time.
In the third, third baseman Ian Stewart made a diving stop near the bag, got to his feet and made a laser throw to get Holliday at first base.
Jose Contreras, pitching for the first time since suffering a right quadriceps strain on Sept. 10, struck out three and gave up two hits in two innings. But one of the hits was big. Ryan Ludwick, who nearly ended up with the Rockies when the Cardinals tried to trade for Holliday during the winter, led off the seventh with his 21st homer of the year.
"Thank God that the team won -- I wouldn't have slept tonight," Contreras said, with assistant equipment manager Joe Diaz translating. "It bothered me a lot with Cookie out there pitching the game that he did and then me giving up that home run."
Rockies reliever Rafael Betancourt ended a threat in the eighth by forcing Holliday into a double-play grounder with runners on first and second. Huston Street (4-1), another piece of the Holliday trade with the A's, threw a spotless ninth with one strikeout.
In the ninth, pinch-hitter Jason Giambi's one-out single put runners at first and third and set up Torrealba against Cards reliever Kyle McClellan (4-4). Helton drew a walk from Trever Miller to open the ninth and Troy Tulowitzki reached on a fielder's-choice grounder.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.