Bandbox or not, this was no day for hitters. Jeff Francis held the league’s highest-scoring team in check, and the Colorado Rockies took advantage of one shaky inning by Cole Hamels to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in Game 1 of their NL playoff series Wednesday.
“Who would’ve thought a good old-fashioned National League game would break out in this ballpark?” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
Making just the second postseason appearance in their 15-year history, the Rockies played like October regulars. Colorado posted its second playoff victory, the other coming in 1995, and won for the 15th time in 16 games.
Matt Holliday, his chin still cut up from the face-first slide that won Monday’s wild-card tiebreaker over San Diego, hit a solo home run.
“Any time you expect a slugfest, you get a pitching duel,” Holliday said.
Francis pitched six effective innings and stayed out of big trouble, mostly by shutting down the Phillies’ top hitters.
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins combined to go 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts. Utley, a .332 hitter, struck out four times for the second time in his career.
“Some of the hitters may have been uptight, but Francis was way better than the other times I’ve seen him,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Francis’ lone problems came in the fifth when Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell hit consecutive homers.
The left-hander gave up four hits and struck out eight. Once the 17-game winner departed, three relievers pitched three hitless innings, with Manny Corpas closing for a save.
With the two highest-scoring teams in the league playing in two of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the majors, this series figured to see plenty of runs.
Instead, the clubs combined for six runs and 10 hits in the opener. Many hitters expected the late-afternoon shadows to be a problem, and they certainly struggled.
Francis used a mix of off-speed pitches to keep a potent lineup off-balance and improve to 9-0 in day games this season.
“I’m always aware of my success or nonsuccess I have against teams,” said Francis, who had a 15.12 ERA against the Phillies this season. “Today, my execution was better.”
Game 2 is Thursday afternoon with rookies Kyle Kendrick and Franklin Morales taking the mound.
Kendrick (10-4) made the jump from Double-A to bail out Philly’s depleted staff in June. Morales (3-2) made eight starts for Colorado, which lost three starters to season-ending injuries.
Despite the support of a rally towel-waving sellout crowd – the 45,655 fans in attendance was the second-largest total in four-year old Citizens Bank Park – the NL East champion Phillies came out flat. Perhaps they celebrated their first postseason since 1993 a little too hard.
Or, maybe Francis was just that sharp, especially the first four innings.
Rowand finally got them going crazy, lining an opposite-field shot to right to start the bottom of the fifth. Burrell followed with a towering drive that just cleared the left-field wall to cut it to 3-2.
But Francis worked out of a two-out jam to preserve the one-run lead, retiring Shane Victorino on a grounder with two runners on.
LaTroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless seventh, Brian Fuentes worked the eighth and Corpas finished.
Holliday, the MVP candidate, gave the Rockies an insurance run when he hit Tom Gordon’s pitch into the seats for a 4-2 lead in the eighth.
Hamels, the 23-year-old All-Star lefty, was outstanding except for one inning. Making his first career start against the Rockies, he allowed three runs and three hits in 6 2-3 innings.
Hamels uncharacteristically walked four and fanned seven. He kept his cool after walking Troy Tulowitzki on a 3-2 pitch to force in Colorado’s third run, and retired the next 13 batters.
“You want to succeed in the spotlight,” Hamels said. “Nothing can prepare you for what this situation is like.”
Roughed up by the Phillies in two starts this season, Francis seemed like he was in for another tough day after falling behind leadoff hitter Rollins 3-0. But the 26-year-old lefty regrouped and ended up striking out the first four batters.
The Phillies’ first postseason game since Joe Carter’s homer clinched the World Series for Toronto in 1993 left this championship-starved city disappointed once again. At least, they don’t have to wait 14 years for another playoff game.
Todd Helton lined a triple to start the second and Garrett Atkins doubled. Yorvit Torrealba’s one-out single drove in Atkins for a 2-0 lead.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Hamels got ahead of Tulowitzki 0-2 before walking him to force in another run. But he struck out Holliday swinging on a changeup to leave the bases full. Holliday nearly hit a slam, just hooking a long foul down the left-field line.
Both of these teams needed strong finishes just to get here.
Aided by the Mets’ historic collapse, the resilient Phillies went 13-4 to finally overtake New York for good on the final day. Their remarkable comeback made the Mets the first team ever to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games to play.
The Rockies were even better down the stretch, going 14-1 to erase a 4 1/2-game deficit in the wild-card race and beating San Diego in a one-game playoff in 13 innings after rallying from two runs down against closer Trevor Hoffman.