It was probably past time for Jim Tracy to get thrown out of a game. Too bad he didn’t kick dirt over home plate or pull up first base or turn his hat around so he could go nose-to-nose with Greg Gibson. I mean, if you’re getting tossed anyway, get your money’s worth. That’s what Earl Weaver used to say.
On the precipice of a five-game losing streak, their starting pitching now in the conversation for the worst of all time, the Rockies came to bat in the bottom of the ninth Sunday trailing the Los Angeles Angels 10-7.
They got one back immediately. Tyler Colvin led off with a double to the opposite field off Scott Downs, a tough left-hander, and Marco Scutaro followed with a single to center. Colvin scored and the Rocks were within two. It was the first earned run Downs had surrendered in 24 appearances covering 20 2/3 innings this season.
Despite the sorry state of the home team, which fell to 11 games below .500 at 24-35, 37,722 fans showed up at Coors Field on a beautiful, cool afternoon, and most of them were still there. They rose to cheer a comeback that might salvage one game from the series.
Carlos Gonzalez, who had three hits, including both his 16th home run and a bunt single, drilled a shot head-high back up the middle. Downs lifted his glove, at least partly in self-defense, and the ball found it.
“He caught the ball,” Tracy said afterward.
Scutaro had started toward second and Downs realized he had a chance to double him off first. He reached into his glove even as the momentum of CarGo’s shot drove him backward. The ball fell out of his glove and hit the ground. This happens all the time at second base as pivot men try to turn the double play. The umpire calls the runner out at second, signaling that the catch was made and the ball dropped in the exchange to the throwing hand. This was not the call Gibson made.
“He called it a no catch, and I’m not going to speak any more about it,” Tracy said before speaking just a little more about it.
“I put myself in a real position to get in a heck of a lot of trouble, but personally I felt like he caught the ball. He caught the ball and was reaching for the ball because ‘Scootie’ was kind of hung out to dry. On a ball that’s hit that hard, if that ball is not caught, you see the ball hit in the glove and immediately come back out. He had possession and he was starting to fall back and he was reaching into the glove to try to take the ball and throw it to first base. That’s what I saw. That’s all I have to say about it.”
Gibson not only made the wrong call, he made it badly, failing to communicate to fans or even the runner at first base what the heck was going on. Suddenly, the Angels were picking up the ball, throwing it to second, then throwing it to first for a conventional double play while Scutaro and Gonzalez looked on in amazement.
Tracy bolted from the dugout with surprising alacrity and confronted Gibson along the first-base line, obviously stupefied. It took him maybe a minute to get tossed. The effect of the call was to leave the Rocks with two out and nobody on. Michael Cuddyer managed a two-out single, but Todd Helton’s pop out completed the Angels’ sweep (the Rocks are now 0-6 in interleague play) and extended the losing streak to five.
“You don’t want to see that, especially in the ninth inning with no outs, representing the tie run at the plate and having Cuddyer on deck and Todd,” CarGo said. “It’s frustrating. It’s even more frustrating than everything else.
“He caught the ball. It’s amazing he caught that ball. It was even harder for me to see the ball coming off the bat and I’m sure the pitcher didn’t see the ball well. And the umpire didn’t see it at all. I guess the first thing he saw was when (Downs) was doing the turn to throw the ball to first base and as soon as (Gibson) saw the ball on the ground, he called it was no catch. But I watched the replay.
“I hit the ball, I saw he caught the ball, I shut it down, and then I was looking to first base when the umpire was calling no catch. So I turn around because I was confused, I didn’t know who was going to make the call, and I didn’t see the umpire because his hand was already down. He was just standing out there. Confusion. They throw the ball to second and they throw the ball to first. There was no chance for me to get to first base. It was tough. I think it was the wrong call because he caught the ball.
“It’s a different situation, man on first, one out. With one out, we still have a chance. With two outs, you have to create a situation again. Cuddyer did a great job getting on base and it’s a tough lefty for a lefty. That’s why Todd didn’t come through and hit the ball up to third base.
“I was in shock. First I was surprised that he caught the ball. I was more surprised that he called it a double play. I leave everything to the manager. He did anything possible to make a change. What can I do about it? I just walked back to the dugout. I knew I was out because he caught the ball, but not a double play.”
This has nothing to do with the team’s basic problem, of course. The Rocks put up 13 hits and scored eight runs. Christian Friedrich lasted four innings, which was longer than three Rockies starters in the last four games, surrendering nine runs, eight of them earned, and 10 hits. The day before, Jeff Francis surrendered eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. The starting pitching is just stunningly bad.
“I actually felt great,” said Friedrich, who now carries an earned-run average of 1.80 in four road starts and 12.60 in three starts at Coors Field. “I felt better than the last start. We had a good plan, I just didn’t execute the pitches.”
The position players don’t want to hear that any more than you do, although you do feel a little sorry for Friedrich, a rookie, taking the weight for veteran pitchers who have spit the bit.
“Offensively, we did a great job,” CarGo said. “It was a bad day again for the pitchers. To score 10 runs is a lot of pressure for us, but we did everything possible. We did everything we can. We just fell short again.”
Gibson’s bad call killed the Rockies’ final hope for a comeback. The umpires were escorted off the field to a symphonic catcall chorus from the faithful.
But, hey, Gibson’s screw-up did have one redeeming quality: For one day, it gave the Rocks someone to be mad at other than themselves.