DENVER • Two of the youngest late-inning relievers the Cardinals will count as they speed toward and into October experienced a new ballpark Monday, weathered uncharacteristic results and were left to quickly embrace a lesson from manager Mike Matheny.
He’d like them remember where they’ve been, not what just happened.
The Colorado Rockies repelled any chance of a third Cardinals comeback in the game with four runs in the eighth inning for a 6-2 victory at Coors Field. The decisive four runs came off Trevor Rosenthal, and the Rockies had earlier dinged lefty Kevin Siegrist for a key go-ahead run.
Neither of the Cardinals’ high-leverage rookies had ever pitched at Coors Field before, but that wasn’t the location Matheny meant when he referenced how far both have come. He doesn’t want one evening at 5,280 feet above sea level to keep them from staying grounded.
“It’s real important to take every outing and not forget what got you to the place we’re at right now, which is a good place with our bullpen,” Matheny said. “You may have some things happen, but you wipe it clean. They’ll bounce back.”
Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario broke a 2-2 tie with a line-drive single off Rosenthal that cleared the outstretched glove of a leaping Daniel Descalso and scored the eventual winning run. Three more runs would score off Rosenthal, including two on a sharp groundball double by pinch-hitter Ryan Wheeler off John Axford.
Lance Lynn pitched a solid 6 1/3 innings for his second consecutive quality start and the kind of traction he needed. A rally in the eighth inning for a two-out RBI double from Matt Carpenter made sure that Lynn wouldn’t wear his sixth consecutive loss despite his strong evening.
Rosenthal (2-4) inherited a 2-2 tie going into the bottom of the eighth inning and walked the leadoff hitter. Four of the six batters he faced reached base, and the five hits the Rockies had in the eighth were one fewer than they had the entire game against Lynn.
“It’s part of the game. It’s definitely not the fun part,” said Rosenthal, who had not allowed a run in nearly a month. “It can really stink to be in that situation and be that guy.”
The loss came at the beginning of the Cardinals’ final road trip of the regular season, and it wasted an opportunity to gain a game on Pittsburgh. The Cardinals (87-63) and Pirates (87-63) are tied atop the National League Central with 12 games remaining. A combination of Cardinals wins and Washington losses that equals six will assure the Cardinals of at least the second National League wild-card berth.
Matheny has discussed in the recent weeks the youth of his pitching staff and the trials a late-season schedule and playoff push can present them. The bullpen is rich with rookies, from double-play specialist Seth Maness to setup man Rosenthal to revelation Siegrist. The Cardinals’ bullpen’s 3.47 ERA is the third-lowest among NL teams that are postseason-bound today, and it has been built around greenhorns.
Siegrist has gone 20 consecutive appearances without allowing a run — a streak that continues because an inherited runner scored on him Monday. Rosenthal had thrown eight no-hit innings and struck out 12 in his previous seven games before the Rockies reached him Monday. Both have strikeout stuff. Both saw what can happen at Coors without strikeouts.
“The bad luck of baseball just happened to pop in there,” Axford said.
In the seventh inning, the two things Siegrist has limited this season — inherited runners scoring and lefthanded batters hitting — bit him as the Rockies took a 2-1 lead. Lynn left two runners on base, including the go-ahead run at third, for Siegrist. Lefties were five for 56 (.089) against Siegrist before Charlie Blackmon poked a single to left for Colorado’s second lead of the night. It was more of the same in the eighth, as a bloop to right and a liner Descalso nearly caught fueled the rally against Rosenthal.
“It doesn’t take long for something to add up in this park,” Matheny said.
The wide-open ranges of Coors Field’s outfield and the thin air were a big reason that before the game, as he watched batting practice, Matheny called the start a “great test” for Lynn. If there was a ballpark that could try a pitcher’s focus or turn a Jekyll outing into Hyde it’s Colorado’s Coors. There are many places for hits to go at the big ballpark, and that’s even before they find their way out of it. Lynn walked the leadoff batter, and he scored on Troy Tulowitzki’s double, but Lynn recovered and retired NL batting leader Michael Cuddyer and All-Star Todd Helton to defuse the inning.
Lynn struck out batters on a 93 mph fastball and a 94 mph fastball in the sixth inning as he continued to press ahead, suppressing the Rockies and letting the offense rally twice.
“I’m getting back in a rhythm that I really like,” Lynn said. “Hopefully with bullpens and in between starts I can keep that rhythm down the stretch.”
David Freese’s RBI single in the fifth inning off Rockies starter Collin McHugh scored Matt Adams to tie the score at 1-1. Carpenter hit his 51st double of the season off Chad Bettis (1-3) in the eighth to score pinch-runner Pete Kozma and knot the score at 2-2. Matheny went from there to his formula. Flame-throwing Rosenthal for the eighth in a close game, and closer Edward Mujica readying for when the Cardinals had a lead. That’s the backbone of the bullpen.
Though the youth slumped in the late innings, it’s still firm for October.
“I’m not putting that focus on them,” Matheny said. “I want them to keep pitching like they have. Do what they’ve been doing. There are times when you get in and start passing messages. There are times when you just let them be. Do the thing that they do. This is one of those times where you just let them do their thing.”