Jim Tracy wasn’t sure what happened. All of a sudden, the ball was rolling behind the pitcher’s mound, and Juan Francisco was racing home with a run for the Atlanta Braves.
As it turned out, with the only run of the game.
An inexplicable error on a routine toss from the catcher to pitcher wound up costing the Colorado Rockies a second straight 1-0 loss to the Braves on Thursday. In both games, the only run was unearned — the first time a team has won back-to-back games that way in more than 28 years.
”It’s very difficult to take,” said Tracy, the Colorado manager.
Tim Hudson (14-5) pitched seven scoreless innings for the Braves, but this game will be remembered for the catch his counterpart didn’t make — on a play that every pitcher from Little League to the big leagues does without even thinking.
After making a pitch in the second, Jhoulys Chacin dropped the ball when his catcher threw it back. While the Rockies starter frantically scrambled to retrieve it between the mound and second base, Francisco alertly scored from third with a headfirst slide.
”It’s one of those crazy things, but baseball is a crazy game. A lot of weird things can happen,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. ”As long as you’ve got more runs at the end of the game, that’s all that matters.”
Francisco, not exactly a speedy player, surprised the Rockies leading off the second when he dropped down a bunt and reached first easily. Uggla followed with a ground-rule double down the right-field fence, actually getting a bad break when the ball hopped over the fence. Francisco likely would’ve scored, but he had to stop at third.
He scored anyway, on a play that was even more stunning than his bunt.
After a pitch to Brian McCann, Chacin (2-5) seemed to glance over toward third before making the grab on the return throw from catcher Wilin Rosario. The ball bounced off the side of Chacin’s glove and rolled far enough away to allow Francisco to score.
”I just missed it. It’s inexcusable,” Chacin said. ”It’s really embarrassing. It’s something normal we do all the time.”
That one miscue was enough for the wild card-leading Braves. Hudson stranded eight Colorado runners even without his best stuff. Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty combined on a scoreless eighth before Craig Kimbrel got the final three outs for his 34th save.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the last team to win consecutive 1-0 games with unearned runs, pulling it off against the Cincinnati Reds on July 28-29, 1984, according to STATS LLC.
”The game boils down to a throw-back to the pitcher,” Tracy said. ”I don’t know what the hell happened on the throw back. All I saw was the ball rolling off behind the mound and here comes Juan Francisco running to the plate. I couldn’t believe it.”
Both teams squandered all sorts of chances to push across more runs, stranding nine runners apiece.
The Rockies’ best chance against Hudson came in the third, when Dexter Fowler and Josh Rutledge led off with singles. Jordan Pacheco grounded out, moving the runners to second and third, but Rosario popped out to the shortstop and Tyler Colvin was thrown out after hitting a little squibber in front of the plate.
Atlanta was even more wasteful. The Braves loaded the bases with no outs in the third, only to come up empty. Francisco struck out, Uggla flied out to left — too shallow to bring home the run — and Brian McCann popped out to shortstop, dropping his head in disgust as soon as the ball left his bat.
In the fourth, Atlanta loaded the bases again, this time with one out. Same result. Jason Heyward flied out to shallow left, throwing down his bat in frustration, before Freddie Freeman popped up harmlessly on the infield to snuff out another threat.
But the Braves wound up taking three of four from Colorado — even after scoring just two runs over the final three games and going 3 for 35 with runners in scoring position during the series.
”To win the last two like we did is nice for the pitching staff,” Hudson said. ”We can puff out our chests a little bit.”
Pacheco went 0 for 2 with a couple of walks, snapping a 14-game hitting streak. Charlie Blackmon, on the other hand, went 4 for 4, the second four-hit game of his career. But he also made a baserunning blunder in the second after doubling with one out. Jonathan Herrera followed with a grounder to shortstop Paul Janish, and Blackmon took off for third.
He was thrown out easily.
NOTES: Braves SS Andrelton Simmons headed to Class A Lynchburg to complete his rehab assignment and could rejoin Atlanta as soon as this weekend for the series in New York against the Mets. … RHP Rob Scahill joined Colorado’s expanded roster for the final month. He spent the entire season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, going 9-11 with a 5.68 ERA. … Kimbrel was lugging five large boxes around the clubhouse before the game. They contained a bunch of goodies he ordered for his teammates from the All-Star game. His fellow relievers got All-Star gnomes, while everyone else received a gray T-shirt. Kimbrel also ordered something for himself: a baseball covered in 24-carat gold.