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Balks help Nationals rally past Rockies

The SportsXchange

DENVER -- As if losing three players wasn't bad enough, the Colorado Rockies lost the lead Thursday on two balk calls in the seventh inning and fell 5-4 to the Washington Nationals.

Rockies starter Jeff Francis turned a 3-2 lead over to reliever Wilton Lopez in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff single to Ian Desmond, who stole second as Kurt Suzuki struck out. Desmond scored the tying run when Lopez was called for two balks while pitching to Steve Lombardozzi.

Home plate umpire James Hoye and second base umpire Bob Davidson simultaneously called the first balk with Desmond on second. Third base umpire Jim Reynolds called the second balk. In each case, the umpires ruled that Lopez stopped and started with his hands, said crew chief John Hirschbeck, who was working first base.

"Actually, he did it three times," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "They only called it twice. He kept going toward his glove and then he would stop. ... It's an automatic balk."

Rockies manager Walt Weiss had no quarrel with the first balk call but questioned the second.

"The first one, I did see he started and stopped," Weiss said. "You could say the first one was a balk. The second one, I'm not sure if it's part of his pre-pitch routine."

Lopez took a throw while covering first base for the final out of the inning and said something to Hirschbeck, who ejected him. Reynolds ejected Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright, who, according to Reynolds, got his attention from the bench and made a "you're crazy" sign, twirling a finger around his ear.

The Nationals scored twice in the eighth off Matt Belisle to go ahead 5-3.

Belisle surrendered back-to-back doubles with one out, the second by Ryan Zimmerman, who hit a two-run homer in the third off Francis. With two outs, Belisle gave up a walk followed by a run-scoring infield single by Desmond, who went 4-for-4.

Injuries hit the Rockies hard during the game, the most serious being to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He has been dealing with rib soreness for about a week, Weiss said, and got hurt diving for and snaring Desmond's infield hit in the eighth.

"When he came off the field, it was very evident he was done," Weiss said.

Tulowitzki went to get an MRI and neither he nor the results of the exam were available after the game.

Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez suffered a left foot contusion when he was struck with a foul ball while waiting to hit in the first inning. The ball ricocheted off the backstop and nailed Gonzalez. X-rays were negative, and he is listed day to day.

Colorado center fielder Dexter Fowler was hit on the knuckle of the ring finger on his right hand with a Ross Detwiler pitch while moving to bunt in the third. Fowler left the game in the top of the fifth, before he was due to bat in the bottom of the inning.

"I don't think I had a chance of swinging the bat," Fowler said. "It started to tighten up on me, and it was throbbing."

X-rays were negative, and Fowler is listed as day to day.

Francis pitched a season-high six innings for the third time in 10 starts for the Rockies. He allowed two runs and struck out eight for the first time since May 24, 2008, against the New York Mets.

Weiss said Francis' fastball location was the best he had seen this season.

"I thought I commanded it well," Francis said. "I think I threw a few more first-pitch strikes than I had been. It kept me ahead in a lot more counts. Little more purpose with my curveball. I was able to keep the ball down for the most part and keep the ball on the ground except for the homer to Zimmerman."

Detwiler came off the disabled list to make the start for the Nationals and gave up three runs in five innings on a limit of about 75 pitches. He had been sidelined with a back strain and pitched for the first time since May 15.

The win was the fourth in five games for the Nationals. Winning their first series at Coors Field since Aug. 4-7, 2008, moved the Nationals one game above .500 for the season.

"I don't think we're at the point in the season emotionally that we're begging for them to balk in runs," Desmond said. "We believe in ourselves. Obviously, it's nice to catch a break like that, but at the same time, we're on base, we're making him do it. We did a lot better things in the game than to talk about a balk."

NOTES: The Nationals optioned RHP Erik Davis to Triple-A Syracuse to make room on the roster for Detwiler, who had been on the disabled list retroactive to May 16 with a back strain. Johnson said RHP Ross Ohlendorf, who made an effective spot start Wednesday, would be kept in a long relief role. ... Colorado's Michael Cuddyer returned to the lineup after missing the past five games with a left rib cage strain. ... Johnson was chosen by National League manager Bruce Bochy to be a coach at next month's All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. He managed the Mets to their last World Series in 1986. "Going back to New York, it'll be a zoo," Johnson said, "but other than that, I'm looking forward to it." ... Desmond extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games. ... Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg (right lat muscle) made it through a bullpen session and is scheduled to come off the disabled list Sunday and start at Cleveland.
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