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08/25/09 4:31 AM ET
Spilborghs redeemed by walk-off slam
Rockies expand Wild Card lead to four games over Giants
By Cheng Sio / MLB.com
DENVER -- Ryan Spilborghs watched the flight of the ball as he ran to first base, but once it landed into the Rockies bullpen, he raised his arms in celebration and jetted around the bases -- literally. After rounding halfway past third base, he threw his helmet off toward the Rockies dugout and jumped on home plate into the waiting arms of his celebrating teammates. Spilborghs hit the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history, his second career grand slam and his first walk-off homer in the 14th inning to squeak by the Giants, 6-4, Monday in front of about half of the 27,670 paid fans who remained at Coors Field. "When I was running the bases, I was just trying to get to my teammates as fast as I could," Spilborghs said. "It's the 14th inning, I think we've all had enough." Before the pandemonium Spilborghs created, he was as low on himself as anyone could be. In the fourth inning, he struck out to strand runners on the corners, and in the 10th, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with two men on. As bad as those missed opportunities sound, it wasn't as bad as what happened in the top of the 14th. Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria sliced a one-out liner off Adam Eaton down the right-field line. Spilborghs, who had started in left field but shifted to right to start the 11th, tried to cut the ball off and hold Renteria to a single. Instead, the ball bounced around the corner, skipped past Spilborghs and then rolled along the right-field wall, which allowed Renteria to reach on a triple. After a walk, Eugenio Velez drilled a two-run triple into the left-center-field gap to break a 1-1 tie. Velez later came around to score on Juan Uribe's fielder's choice to make it 4-1. But all the Giants did was set up Spilborghs' heroics. Dexter Fowler led off with a walk. After a Clint Barmes popout, pinch-hitter Chris Iannetta smacked a single up the middle to move Fowler to second. Troy Tulowitzki followed with a walk to load the bases to bring up the pitcher's spot. One problem, though. The Rockies ran out of position players. Pitcher Adam Eaton, a career .194 hitter, had to hit in his spot. "The Tulowitzki walk was absolutely huge because I had told Adam Eaton that if they walked Tulowitzki, don't swing," manager Jim Tracy said. "I don't care if he throws three right down the middle, don't swing because I want Spilborghs to have a shot with the bases loaded. If [Giants pitcher] Justin Miller throws the ball over the plate and there's three pitches thrown for strikes, he struck out. But we're not going to let him take a swing and hit a ground ball and end the game." Miraculously, Eaton drew a five-pitch walk off Miller to force in a run and make it 4-2. Giants manager Bruce Bochy went to the bullpen and summoned Merkin Valdez, his last available reliever, to face Spilborghs. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Spilborghs said he knew the ball was going yard when he slammed Valdez's 96 mph fastball into a Rockies win. "When [Fowler] started off the inning, I was almost shaking because I wanted the chance to redeem myself -- just give me one more opportunity to come up and do something," Spilborghs said. "It was surreal to go from zero to hero in a heartbeat." Catcher Yorvit Torrealba added, "That was amazing. That reminds me, actually, of the one-game playoff that we have against the Padres [in 2007]." The win pushed the Rockies' lead over the Giants to four games in the National League Wild Card chase. But maybe more importantly, they closed to within three games of the idle Dodgers in the NL West. The Rockies host the Dodgers for three games starting Tuesday. "What can I say?" Tracy said. "You guys have heard me sit here how many different times in this chair since the end of May and talk to you about the fact that they don't quit? I don't think we need any better example than the one we just got. "You play 27 outs. In tonight's case, I can't multiply that quickly. 14 innings times three is a lot of outs." The Giants, on the other hand, had their hands on their heads and stared into their lockers in disbelief. "We came back with three, they came back with five," starting pitcher Barry Zito said. "It was just a matter of us not being able to drive the nail in. I think it almost hurts sometimes when you're in the 14th inning and you're up by three. That intense focus that you've had every inning with zero margin of error, now you could say that you have a huge margin of error and you let a team in the door and they blow it wide open." While Spilborghs was the man of the hour, he said he was not alone. Fowler hit a foul ball off his right leg before earning a walk to start the rally. He stayed on the ground for several minutes writhing in pain. Earlier, Carlos Gonzalez pinch-ran for Todd Helton in the 10th hoping to win the game then. When it didn't happen, he had to play the field and even batted once even though he couldn't on a puncture wound that he suffered in his left hand Saturday night while eating. He was replaced when Iannetta pinch-hit for him in the 14th. "Look at Carlos Gonzalez," Spilborghs said. "He came in, he has a stitch in his hand and he's going up there to try to take at-bats, playing defense. He doesn't need to be out there. But he's doing the best he can because we're trying to win." Tracy said he was just happy his team didn't have to play another inning. Had they tied the game, he said he would've moved Torrealba to first base, Eaton to right field and brought in Matt Herges to relieve Eaton. Torrealba said he had chatted with Tracy about the potential change and was fine with it. He said he was prepared because he had played more than 20 games at first base in winter ball in Venezuela last year. Eaton (1-0) earned his first win with the Rockies despite surrendering three runs in two innings. It was also the first extra-innings win at Coors Field this season. Miller (2-3) received the loss as he failed to retire all three batters he faced. Oh, and in case you wanted to know how it got into extra innings, the Rockies tied the game when Helton drew a bases-loaded walk -- the last of his three on the night -- in the fifth. The Giants scored in the opening frame on Pablo Sandoval's sacrifice fly, plating Velez.
Cheng Sio is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.