DENVER (AP)—Staked to a three-run lead before he took the mound for the first time, Esteban Loaiza should have felt comfortable.
Not at Coors Field. He’s pitched there too many times to know he can’t let up.
Loaiza stayed focused at the hitter-friendly park, pitching into the seven inning for his first win in a month, and Jose Guillen hit a two-run single in the first inning to help the Washington Nationals hold off the Colorado Rockies 4-2 Friday night.
“We are in Colorado and the ball flies,” Loaiza said. “I had two runners on a couple of times and you know that with one swing they could tie up the ballgame. I just try to do everything possible to keep the ball low and do my job and get it in play and get groundballs.”
He did and it’s a good thing for the Nationals.
Washington had just seven hits, with only four coming after the first inning. What got the Nationals through was solid pitching.
Loaiza (7-8) did his part, pitching well early and escaping of couple of jams late. Luis Ayala bailed Loaiza out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, and Chad Cordero worked a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 38th save in 42 chances.
The result was the Nationals’ fourth win in 16 road games, keeping them three games behind Houston in the NL wild-card race
“It was a great win, but we’ve got to come out tomorrow and win,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.
Loaiza entered the game with a 7.77 ERA in four career starts at Coors Field, but was sharp early in this one. He gave up an RBI single to Wright in the second inning before retiring 11 of the next 12 batters, then got Jorge Piedra to pop out and Garrett Atkins on a soft grounder with runners at first and third in the sixth inning.
Loaiza allowed a run and five hits in 6 1-3 innings to win for the first time since July 16 against Milwaukee.
“He had great command of his fastball,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “He could have hit a gnat on its rear end with his fastball.”
Colorado still had its chances.
Piedra cut Washington’s lead to 4-2 with a solo homer off Ayala in the eighth, and Atkins followed with a single to center. But Joey Eischen replaced Ayala and ended that threat, getting J.D. Closser to hit into an inning-ending double play to set the stage for Cordero in the ninth.
“The bullpen is outstanding,” Loaiza said. “We have great pitching from starters to bullpen, and the only thing we have been struggling with is the hitting.”
So have the Rockies.
Helton had a pair of doubles and made a spectacular diving stop to rob Brian Schneider of extra bases in the eighth inning, and Piedra hit his third homer for Colorado. It still wasn’t enough for the Rockies, who had seven hits and were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position to lose for the third time in four games.
“We had so many chances,” Hurdle said. “All of these situational outs. A sacrifice fly in two situations and it would have been a tie ballgame going into the ninth. We weren’t able to execute. Very poor.”
It didn’t help that Jamey Wright (6-13) put the Rockies in a hole right from the start. The right-hander walked leadoff hitter Brandon Watson, gave up a single to Jose Vidro, then Nick Johnson hit a run-scoring double. Guillen followed with a two-run double, putting Colorado down 3-0 before Wright could get an out.
Of course, falling behind early is nothing new for the Rockies. They gave up six first-inning runs in an 11-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday and have been outscored 97-46 in the opening frame this season, worst in the majors.
“That first inning keeps giving us a headache,” Hurdle said. “We’ve tried all different things. Pitched more, pitched less, do something. It didn’t work.”
Wright at least limited the damage after that, giving up a run in the fourth inning on Schneider’s RBI double and four more hits. He left with one out in the sixth inning after allowing four runs and seven hits.
What got Wright in trouble was his command. He started three innings with a walk and three of the five batters he walked ended up scoring. Wright, who threw 43 balls in 94 pitches, is 1-5 with a 7.71 ERA in his last seven starts.
Washington SS Cristian Guzman returned after missing two games with an abscessed molar. He finished 1-for-4. … Wright made his 128th start for the Rockies, one behind Pedro Astacio’s team record. … Closser threw out Watson in the fourth inning, just the third runner he’s caught in 47 attempts.