09/07/09 8:45 PM ET
Stewart's homer helps Rox keep pace
Two-run seventh inning sets up dramatic finish
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
The win maintained their two-game lead in the National League Wild Card race without losing ground in the NL West race, where they trail the Dodgers by 3 1/2 games.
Stewart's game-winning homer was set up by a seventh-inning rally sparked by pinch-hitter Eric Young Jr., who beat out a grounder to second for an infield single. Carlos Gonzalez drew a walk, and Seth Smith sacrificed the runners to second and third. Todd Helton lifted a shallow fly to left, and the speedy Young tagged and scored in a close play at the plate. Troy Tulowitzki came up big with a single to right to tie the game, but he strained his back on the hit and was removed from the game. He is considered day-to-day.
"It shows the kind of character we have on this team," Smith said of the come-from-behind win. "We never feel like we're down, no matter how many runs we're down. We always feel like as long as there's an out left in the game, we have a chance to win the game. A bloop and a blast, or just having a big inning, or anything like that. Until the game's over, we're in the game, whether we're losing by one or five."Runs were hard to come by with a pair of flame-throwers hurling peas in the upper 90s throughout the first six innings. Colorado got on the scoreboard first with a short-lived rally in the third inning, when starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez singled to the pitcher and Gonzalez singled to second. Helton drove a two-out knock to left, scoring Jimenez, but Gonzalez was easily thrown out on a relay from right-fielder Darnell McDonald to Phillips to Corky Miller behind the plate. The play cost Jimenez his fastball in the following inning, as he felt a minor pull in his left hamstring when he scored, making it difficult for him to land with the full force of his fastball delivery and forcing him to throw more breaking balls than normal. "I'm not going to get any more hits," Jimenez joked. The Reds seized momentum after the inning-ending play at the plate, getting to Jimenez for three runs to take the lead in the top of the fourth. Scott Rolen plated Janish with a single to right, and Jonny Gomes gave the Reds the lead with a two-run homer into the left-field seats off Jimenez's splitter.
"They knew I was throwing a lot of breaking balls after I scored," Jimenez said. "So [Gomes] probably was ready for it. Because of my leg, I couldn't use my fastball too much, and I threw a lot of breaking balls."Jimenez gutted it out for two more innings, bringing the fastball back into his mix and keeping hitters off balance, giving up a leadoff single in the fifth and a pair of walks to open the sixth, but retiring everyone else he faced. "The last two innings I just let it go, even if it hurt, because they were looking for the breaking ball," Jimenez said.
The right-hander is not concerned about the hamstring, and doesn't expect to miss a start.Manager Jim Tracy pulled Jimenez for pinch-hitter Garrett Atkins in the bottom of the sixth, but with runners on second and third and two outs, a ball got away from Miller and Brad Hawpe broke for home, only to get tagged out when Miller threw to reliever Nick Masset. The Rockies got two perfect innings from Matt Daley and Rafael Betancourt, and a dramatic ninth inning from Franklin Morales, who earned his fourth save in four opportunities since taking over for the injured Huston Street. The Reds rallied against Morales, getting a pair of leadoff hits from Phillips and Rolen, but Morales induced a shallow fly to left for the first out. Then catcher Chris Iannetta threw out Rolen on a double-steal attempt on a 1-2 count with McDonald at the plate, bouncing the throw to Clint Barmes, who made the pick and the tag. Morales struck out McDonald on the next pitch for the save. "We can talk about the hitting and the pitching and all that stuff all we want," manager Jim Tracy said. "The play our second baseman made when we threw behind the runner in the ninth inning, it's the play of the day. It's that simple. We did some things, obviously, the big home run by Stewart to put us ahead, the big hit by Tulowitzki to tie the game, but that play is the game right there." In addition to Barmes' execution in completing the play, credit goes to Tracy, who gathered his battery and all his infielders to make a plan. "I don't want to sit in my dugout and be surprised; I want to be prepared," Tracy said. "The plan was we were going to throw the ball behind the runner, because you've got a right-handed hitter that may pull the ball, the length of the lead from Phillips was such to where I don't know how good our chances would have been at throwing him out at third, and if you get a swing from the hitter and Stewart goes to cover third base, he rolls a ball through the left side because we vacate the area. If Scotty Rolen had stayed, we're still into the count with McDonald, and the opportunity is there for him to pitch and get the ball on the ground and get a double play and end the game. The risk that you take is if he steals third and Rolen stays, he hits a sacrifice fly. We're the home team. We've got another whack at it."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.