Rockies wild-card lead shrinks due to 'pen
The Colorado Rockies insist they're not feeling the squeeze as the NL wild-card race tightens around them.
"We control our destiny still," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said after the Rockies' 5-4 loss to the San Diego Padres on Thursday night trimmed their lead to 3 1/2 games over idle Atlanta. "I think we're in a good spot."
San Francisco had a chance to pull within three games of Colorado but lost 3-2 to the Chicago Cubs on former Rockies infielder-outfielder Jeff Baker's two-run homer in the ninth. The Giants remain four games back.
"Obviously, it would have been good to win tonight to put some more pressure on them," Tulowitzki said. "But we control it. If we win some games, we're going to win it."
Next up for the Rockies are the St. Louis Cardinals, a possible first-round playoff opponent. The Cardinals begin a weekend series at Coors Field on Friday night that features the return of slugger Matt Holliday for the first time since his trade to Oakland last winter.
Two of the players the Rockies got in return - closer Huston Street and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez - have played major roles in the Rockies' playoff push. Holliday was dealt to the Cardinals this summer and helped them take command of the NL Central.
The Cardinals are bringing their cases of champagne in hopes of clinching a playoff spot this weekend. The Rockies insist they'll have their own celebration soon.
The Padres, however, played as though they were the ones in a playoff race, winning two of three in Colorado.
"It's big for this young club," infielder David Eckstein said. "We are a club that wants to shoot for those clubs and be there next year."
Nick Hundley homered to start the comeback from a 3-0 deficit courtesy of Tulowitzki's 30th homer on Thursday night and then drove in the tiebreaking run with an eighth-inning single off Rafael Betancourt.
Joe Beimel (1-6) took the loss for Colorado, allowing one run while getting just two outs, and Adam Russell (3-1) retired the only batter he faced to pick up the win. Rookie right-hander Luke Gregerson got five outs for his first career save in six chances.
Tulowitzki gave the Rockies an early 3-0 lead with a three-run homer off Clayton Richard in the first inning, but Colorado's bats went silent after that.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who is 68-39 since taking over in May, said he had no regrets over letting starting pitcher Jason Hammel hit for himself with two outs in the sixth and runners at second and third with Colorado clinging to a 3-1 lead.
Nor did Tracy rue his decision to pull Hammel after he faced just two batters the next inning even though he had thrown just 87 pitches. Tracy said it made the most sense with the hitters who were coming up and the relievers he had at the ready.
Struggling left-hander Franklin Morales, however, threw 11 balls and just four strikes, giving up a bloop single and walking to batters, including one with the bases loaded to send home a run and make it 3-2.
Matt Daley came in and surrendered a sacrifice fly to David Eckstein that tied it before Beimel got the final out.
In the eighth, Hundley broke the tie with an RBI single off Betancourt, stole second base - TV replays show he should have been called out - and scored on Tony Gwynn's single to make it 5-3.
The Rockies got a run back in the bottom half when Ian Stewart hit his 25th homer, off Ryan Webb with one out. Clint Barmes followed with a single and the Padres brought in Gregerson, who struck out pinch-hitters Jason Giambi and Carlos Gonzalez.
Gregerson gave up a one-out single to Dexter Fowler in the ninth but got Todd Helton on a flyout to left and Tulowitzki to pop out to first base to end it.
Hammel, who allowed just two runs on six hits over 6 1-3 innings, was seeking to become the fifth Rockies starter to post double-digit wins. His only mistake was a pitch that Hundley hit for his eight homer in the fifth, making it 3-1.
The Rockies have lost seven of 11 but Tracy said he's not concerned about his team's trajectory.
"The mathematics are totally in our favor," he said. "If we can win a few baseball games, we're going to make it."
Tulowitzki is trying to become the first SS in major league history to hit 25 or more homers and field .990. ... The Rockies are the first team in the major leagues to have five starters with 10 wins since Houston and St. Louis in 2005. ... Rockies LHP Jeff Francis, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in spring training, had an encouraging three-inning stint at the Arizona instructional league on Thursday, throwing 89 mph. Also, reliever Manny Corpas (elbow spurs) threw an inning. He's hoping to pitch again this season.