PHOENIX (AP) – The Colorado Rockies had been resilient all season, scraping their way into the playoffs after the best start in franchise history fizzled.
The Rockies were able to summon some of that resolve again in the NL wild-card game, but never could fully dig their way out of an early hole during an 11-8 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night.
“Right away, all hell broke loose and from there on it was a heavyweight fight,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We got close a couple times, they stretched the lead, we came back. It was a crazy game.”
The Rockies had an up-and-down regular season and their first playoff appearance since 2009 followed suit.
Colorado fell behind 6-0, roughed up one of baseball’s best pitchers and rallied to pull within one twice. The Diamondbacks had to dig deep down in their bag of scoring tricks to beat the Rockies, needing two homers, four triples, 17 hits, an RBI bunt single by a catcher and the first three-bagger by a relief pitcher in postseason history.
The Diamondbacks’ scoring cornucopia sends them to the NL Division Series against the Dodgers, starting Friday in Los Angeles. Colorado heads home to Denver.
“That was a crazy game from the beginning all the way to the end,” outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. “It is too bad we didn’t get the win, but only one team can go farther.”
The Rockies opened the season 44-26, but had to play some tense games down the stretch just to make the playoffs after faltering in the second half of the season. They made it, finishing 87-75 and a game ahead of Milwaukee for the second NL wild card to earn their first postseason berth in eight years.
For the playoff game between NL West rivals, Colorado had hot right-hander Jon Gray on the mound with a lineup that included a pair of MVP contenders in Nolan Arenado and batting champion Charlie Blackmon. Gonzalez also had rounded into form after struggling much of the season, finding his stroke just before the playoffs in what could be his final season in the Mile High City.
PHOTO GALLERY: Diamondbacks 11, Rockies 8
But their hopes of advancing were immediately in jeopardy as Gray struggled to locate his pitches during the shortest postseason start in franchise history. Paul Goldschmidt ended his 0-for-11 career skid against Gray with a three-run homer in the first inning and Daniel Descalso added a two-run shot off Tyler Anderson, putting Arizona up 6-0 before the Rockies could get nine outs.
“It was tough, tough emotionally,” said Gray, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 1 1/3 innings. “I really want to be good for the guys behind me. It is a really big situation, really a big game. It was costly.”
But Colorado has 10 players with postseason experience and found ways to fight back all year.
After struggling against Arizona ace Zack Greinke early, the Rockies chased him with a four-run fourth inning and cut the lead to 6-5 in the seventh.
Colorado found itself in a hole again in the bottom half, when reliever Archie Bradley, a career .098 hitter, became the first reliever to hit a postseason triple, driving in two runs to put the Diamondbacks up 8-5.
Again, the Rockies tried to answer and, no surprise, it was Arenado that started it.
Colorado’s third baseman had an MVP-type season, hitting .309 with 37 homers and 130 RBIs to become the eighth player in major league history with at least three straight seasons with 35 homers and 130 RBIs. He hit .377 in September and in the wild-card game hit a ball deep to center for a solo homer in the seventh inning off Bradley.
Trevor Story followed with a home run to right, pulling the Rockies to 8-7.
But that was it. A.J. Pollock hit a two-run triple and catcher Jeff Mathis put down a bunt single that put Arizona up four runs.
“This is a sign that we all need to work harder and get better,” Arenado said. “Everyone, all of us – there’s still room to grow.”
Blackmon went 0 for 4 to close out a spectacular season that had him in the MVP conversation as well.
He was the NL batting champion at .331 and had a major league-high 213 hits. Blackmon set records as a leadoff man with 103 RBIs and 383 total bases, while his 37 homers and 86 extra-base were third-most from the leadoff spot.
Gonzalez finished the regular season hitting .262 with 14 homers in 57 RBIs, well off his numbers in previous seasons. He’s at the end of a seven-year, $80 million contract, but the Rockies have a plethora of outfield options and have seemed in no rush to offer a new deal to their longtime star.
“I don’t really know what the future holds for me,” Gonzalez said. “I am really thankful for all the nine years I have been with this organization. I am who I am today because of them, the fans. The way they treat me, there is not enough words to thank everybody.”
By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Sports Writer
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