Between the time Marco Gonzales threw his last pitch Wednesday afternoon and the end of the game, he could have made the 110-mile round trip between his home in Fort Collins and Coors Field.
But he would have missed another wild and crazy game in the mile-high home of the Rockies, and he wouldn’t want to do that even if he had not been making his major-league debut.
The Cardinals made it a start to remember for the 22-year-old left-hander when they rallied from a 5-1 deficit for a 9-6 victory that started their three-stop road trip to the NL West with a series victory.
Gonzales didn’t get the decision but, all things considered, he made it a day that he will remember fondly.
He breezed through the first three innings, allowing only a one-out walk in the third. He made the NL’s leading hitter, Troy Tulowitzki, swing and miss three times — twice with his trademark changeup — in a first-inning strikeout.
But Gonzales was welcomed to the majors — and Coors — when the Rockies roughed him up for five runs in the fourth. He walked one and gave up two singles, two doubles and a homer to Drew Stubbs while making 29 pitches and leaving the Cardinals in a 5-1 hole.
Gonzales said an inability to command his off-speed stuff led to his problems, but he showed a lot of cool when he was able to regroup and pitch the fifth without allowing a run. "Throwing up a zero there was huge and kept us in the ballgame," he said.
It also left him with a good feeling that would only improve when the Cardinals rallied.
"It was one of the best starts I’ve had as far as strength-wise," he said. "For me to get to the fifth in my first start, I was pumped."
"He did exactly what we asked," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was able to enjoy this but also able to separate all the excitement and just go out and pitch. That’s what he did."
At the plate, Gonzales looked like someone who someday will give Adam Wainwright a run for his unofficial title as the team’s best-hitting pitcher. Gonzales doubled and scored in his first at-bat and routinely put down a sacrifice that set up a run in the fifth.
To complete the best comeback of the season, the Cardinals scored three in the fifth, one in the seventh and two each in the eighth and ninth innings. Four relievers, including two who had thrown at least 25 pitches the night before, held the Rockies to one run over the final four innings.
"A great, gutsy win," Matheny said.
In what could be called the defining at-bat of the series, Trevor Rosenthal squared off with Tulowitzki representing the tying run in the ninth. It took 11 pitches, but Rosenthal won the battle when he zoomed a 100-mph fastball at the top of the zone past Tulowitzki. Rosenthal then retired Justin Morneau on a fly to center to earn his 23rd — and perhaps his toughest — save of the season. He needed 41 pitches to get the four outs, which could leave him unavailable until Saturday.
With the Cardinals due to face some tough pitchers in LA and San Francisco — including three who have thrown no-hitters in the past month — the effort was worth it.
— Matt Holliday. He did nothing to hurt his .360 career average at Coors Field in this series. Holliday had three hits and a walk Wednesday to go with a pair of two-hit games. He also scored a run in each game and drove in two for the series, a successful enough showing that figures to keep him in the two-hole for a while longer.
— Bottom of the order. The Cardinals got three doubles, four runs and an RBI out of the eighth and ninth spots in the batting order. Eight-hole hitter Mark Ellis scored the go-ahead run in the eighth when he raced around from first and used a headfirst slide on the first-base side of the plate to avoid the tag. He was running on a 3-1 pitch that pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso sliced down the left-field line for a double. Gonzales, in his first big-league at-bat, doubled and scored the Cardinals’ first run in the third. Ellis added a double and a run in a three-run third.
— Sacrifice flies. The Cardinals had four sacrifice flies in a game for the first time since 1980 and only the fourth time in franchise history, according to the club. Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig all came through with RBI fly balls to account for nearly half of the club’s runs.
— Fourth innings. The Rockies scored 16 runs in the series, and half of them came in the fourth, including five off Gonzales. The rookie left-hander gave up five hits and a walk in the inning, including a leadoff homer to Stubbs. On Tuesday, rookie left-hander Nick Greenwood gave up a three-run homer to Morneau in the fourth that wiped out a Cardinals 4-3 lead.
LET’S GO CARDINALS:Check out these photos of fans and the excitement around Cardinals baseball.
— Jon Jay. After hitting .345 on the homestand, he got off to a slow start on this trip. Pinch-hitting for Gonzales with two out in the sixth, Jay grounded out weakly to first with two on and the Cardinals trailing by two. On Tuesday night, in a pinch-hit role with the bases loaded, Jay struck out to give him five runners left on base in two games.
— Pete Kozma. Before even catching a glimpse of him in the dugout on the FOX Sports Midwest telecast, he was on his way back to Memphis. Kozma was called up Monday to give the Cardinals an extra backup but was designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Gonzales. By midafternoon, Kozma had cleared waivers and the team announced his return to the minors.