Rockies Hawpe to it in opening win of NLCS
PHOENIX – The distance from edgy first pitch to hand-slapping final out is easily navigated by the streaking Colorado Rockies these days.
All it took Thursday was a Hawpe, flip and an ump.
The Rockies dispatched the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1 at Chase Field in Game 1 of the National League championship series with early offense against ace Brandon Webb and a controversial call that muted the only serious rally the Diamondbacks mounted after the first inning.
Outfielder Brad Hawpe continued his career-long dominance of Webb, keying a three-run third inning with a bases-loaded, two-out single. Hawpe singled twice and walked against the Diamondbacks' right-hander, raising his lifetime average against him to .375. He's 11-for-17 this year off Webb.
If Hawpe established the Rockies' momentum, a call by second base umpire Larry Vanover in the seventh inning kept it from ebbing.
The Diamondbacks put two runners aboard with none out against left-hander Jeff Francis, who had stymied them after a rough first inning. Augie Ojeda hit a chopper to third baseman Garrett Atkins, who threw to second for a force out.
Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks' precocious 20-year-old outfielder, slid hard into second baseman Kazuo Matsui, but it was his ensuing body block that flipped Matsui and prompted Vanover to call interference – meaning Ojeda was also out and that Chris Snyder had to return from third base to second.
The call seemed ticky-tack, yet technically correct. Even some of the Rockies weren't sure about it.
"I thought it was a good, hard slide," Colorado first baseman Todd Helton said. "It certainly was a momentum changer."
Said Vanover: "Once (Upton) got to the base, I thought he threw his hip up into the guy, and his intent at that point is not to get to the base. His intent is to crash the pivot man, and you've got obvious intent there."
Upton, who reached base when Francis hit him with a pitch and glared at the pitcher while trotting to first, seemed less upset by the call than the fact that Troy Tulowitzki, the shortstop, began jawing at him when he glared at Francis.
"Nothing I said was directed at Francis," Upton said. "I don't see why (Tulowitzki) would say anything to me. He's the leader of that team, apparently. He obviously thought I was saying something. So that's his business.
"I was obviously surprised (by the call), because I thought I was playing the game of baseball."
The ruling roused a somnolent crowd of 48,142, apparently padded by the Diamondbacks handing out free tickets. Debris was thrown onto the field, booing intensified and the Rockies left the field until order was restored.
"We got tired of having water bottles thrown on the field," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's all. There comes a point in time where you need to make the point that enough is enough."
Said Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin: "Obviously we don't condone that. You don't want stuff thrown on the field. We're not in favor of that."
The game resumed about 10 minutes later, but all life was sapped from the Diamondbacks and soon enough the Rockies had their 18th victory in their last 19 games, having vanquished Webb, the only pitcher to defeat them since Sept. 16, and negating their opponents' home-field advantage.
The Rockies unraveled Webb by waiting him out, a new twist. During the regular season they had swung at one of every four pitches he offered out of the strike zone. But this time they got deep into counts, and Webb made 61 pitches through three innings and 98 through six.
"You've got to see the ball a long time to have a chance against him," Helton said. "You never have a comfortable at-bat."
Yet there they were, the team with a paltry $54 million payroll, nickel-and-diming the Diamondbacks' ace. Helton led off the second with an opposite-field single, Atkins followed with a ground-ball single, and after Hawpe walked, Troy Tulowitzki brought Helton home on a double-play grounder to tie the score 1-1.
The third inning deluge started with a one-out single and stolen base by Willy Taveras, who played his first game in five weeks after recovering from a strained calf. Matsui, who had batted leadoff in Taveras' absence, singled to score him. Matt Holliday followed with a roller down the third-base line that hit the bag for a single, and with two out Atkins walked to load the bases, setting the stage for Hawpe's line-drive single to right that made the score 4-1.
"He threw a curveball and I didn't try to do too much with it, just put the barrel on it," Hawpe said.
The rest of the game was left in the capable hands of Francis and several relievers. Francis improved to 5-0 at Chase Field, and he has allowed only five earned runs in his last 33 1/3 innings here.
"I can't explain my success in this park," he said. "I think it's just a small sample size of me having a good run against one team."
How to explain the inexplicable Rockies? Nearly everyone in the clubhouse was asked why Hawpe has such success against Webb. They kept their answers light.
Said Holliday: "I hope Brad will share with me soon what his secret is."
Said Helton: "I'm going to ask him tonight, then I'll let you know."
The truth is that Hawpe is a low-ball hitter and Webb is a sinker specialist. Oddly, though, Webb has been more successful lately when he gets his pitches up in the strike zone.
"He doesn't give in, he keeps coming at you," Hawpe said. "It makes the game fun."
The Rockies can relate. Their charge hasn't slowed, and nobody in baseball is having more enjoyment.