Rockies roll in rowdy NL opener
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
PHOENIX ” Make it 18 out of 19 for the remarkable Rockies. Neither a ruckus by the Arizona crowd nor a four-day layoff could slow them down.
Jeff Francis outpitched Brandon Webb, Brad Hawpe got the big hit and Colorado won the NL championship series opener 5-1 Thursday night in a game interrupted when fans angered by an umpire’s disputed interference call threw objects onto the field.
After several water bottles landed near Colorado players, umpires pulled the teams off the field in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“There comes a point in time when you need to make a point. Enough’s enough,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
After an eight-minute delay, umpire crew chief Tim McClelland told Hurdle to have Francis throw a pitch and “fight through it.”
He did, the wild-card Rockies escaped a jam and their superb bullpen did the rest.
Colorado won on almost a daily basis during its surge. But the Rockies hadn’t played since completing a three-game sweep of Philadelphia on Saturday.
The time allowed the nervousness to mount for the first NLCS game in Rockies’ history.
“As soon as I stepped on the field, I’m sure I speak for everybody else, you had butterflies,” said Hawpe, whose bases-loaded single brought home two runs in Colorado’s three-run third. “It was an emotional, high-energy day for all of us. We weren’t in the flow of it like we had been. So you know today’s win, I think, is even more special because of that.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Phoenix, with Arizona lefty Doug Davis facing hard-throwing Colorado rookie Ubaldo Jimenez.
Francis dominated while Rockies hitters, coming off a first-round sweep over Philadelphia, patiently waited out Webb. Then again, they were familiar with the 2006 NL Cy Young winner ” this was the seventh time he started against Colorado this year.
All seven hits Webb surrendered were singles.
“It was just bloops over short and second,” he said. “It was tough luck. There’s really nothing you can do.”
Colorado’s lone loss during its streak came to Webb and the Diamondbacks at Coors Field on Sept. 28. This time, the Rockies won by bunching singles against the Arizona ace ” it was the first time this season they won without an extra-base hit.
“Our offense can find a lot of ways to win games,” Francis said. “It’s been fun to have them behind me this year.”
On a hot night in the desert ” it 93 degrees outside at gametime ” tempers flared after a relatively calm six innings.
Down 5-1, Arizona put runners at first and second with no outs in the seventh. Augie Ojeda bounced to third baseman Garrett Atkins, who threw to second baseman Kaz Matusi.
Justin Upton, running from first base, slid over second base and then rolled his right shoulder into second baseman Kaz Matsui’s left leg, knocking the infielder to the ground. Second base umpire Larry Vanover immediately called Upton out for interference, resulting in a double play.
“I was just playing the game. I did what I was supposed to do,” Upton said. “That’s what you’re taught to do when you slide is pop up.”
“It’s his decision,” he said. “I told him I was close to the bag.”
Vanover wasn’t buying that explanation.
“You had obvious intent on the part of the runner to break up the double play, and when it turns into intentional, that’s when he’s out for interference,” he said.
“Once he got to the base, I thought he threw his hip up into the guy, and his intent at that point is not to get to the base. His intent is to crash the pivot man, so you’ve got obvious intent there,” he said.
Said Hurdle: “It looked like a good, aggressive slide going in, and I thought he went out of his way to make contact.”
Upton, barely 20 years old, was in Class A when the season began, but on this big stage he didn’t hesitate to let Vanover know how he felt in arguing the call.
“He’s battling out there,” Melvin said. “He’s trying to take somebody out. He’s trying to get us an extra out. He’s trying to break up a double play. He was emotional about it.”
Fans started throwing water bottles onto the field from the upper decks. When more debris followed, umpires told the teams to get back in the dugouts.
“We were tired of getting water bottles thrown on the field, that’s all,” Hurdle said.
The Rockies returned to the field after admonishments from the public address announcer that anyone throwing objects on the field would be ejected.
“It was just fans being upset. It’s too bad,” Hawpe said. “A few like that label a lot of people, but sounds like the other fans took care of it and were pulling the people out who were throwing stuff at us.”
Even though thousands of tickets were available at midweek and there were a smattering of empty seats, the crowd of 48,142 was called a sellout.
Francis threw just one more pitch, giving up a bunt single to pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo. Matt Herges relieved and walked Chris Young, loading the bases.
The Rockies brought Jeremy Affeldt from the bullpen, and he retired Stephen Drew on a fly ball to end the threat.
The game ended on a bad baserunning play by Arizona. Miguel Montero singled with two outs, but was tagged out when he overslid second base trying for a double.
Webb and the Diamondbacks swept the Chicago Cubs in the first round. Arizona kept it going in the first inning, taking a 1-0 lead on a single by Drew and a double by Eric Byrnes.
Hawpe, long a nemesis of Webb, drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single in Colorado’s three-run third inning. Hawpe, who also singled, improved to 15-of-40 (.375) against Webb with 14 RBIs.
Matsui’s RBI single brought home the speedy Willy Taveras with the go-ahead run earlier in the third. Taveras, who missed the previous 24 games with a thigh strain, had singled and stolen second without a throw.
The Rockies also got a break in the inning when Matt Holliday’s trickler down the third-base line started foul before swerving fair and rolling into the bag.
Webb, who won a career-best 18 games in the regular season, allowed four runs in six innings.
Colorado added an unearned run in the seventh when first baseman Conor Jackson bobbled Matsui’s grounder, allowing Yorvit Torrealba to score from third.
The teams met for the 19th time this season. Colorado has won 11 of them. … It’s the first time two NL West teams met in the NLCS. … Helton dropped his bat and started toward first, thinking he had been hit by a pitch with two outs in the fifth. But McClelland, the plate umpire, called him back. Helton grounded out to first.
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado