DENVER — When Colorado Rockies closer Greg Holland took the mound in the ninth Sunday, it seemed he was going to simply add to the Phillies’ misfortune.
They had just had a runner thrown out at home in the eighth. And Charlie Blackmon’s go-ahead, two-out double in the seventh off Aaron Nola gave the Rockies a 2-1 lead after a blatantly bad ball-strike call went against Nola that changed the nature of the at-bat.
So on came Holland for the ninth, the best closer in the majors this year. He had converted 34 of 35 save opportunities and took the mound with a 1.56 ERA (40⅓ innings, seven earned runs) and 18 walks, 53 strikeouts, 23 hits allowed and opponents batting a mere .168 against him.
Those gaudy numbers largely explain why the Rockies were 59-0 when leading after eight innings, the longest such streak to start a season in franchise history.
Odubel Herrera opened the ninth with a single to short center, a hit on an 0-2 slider that he hustled into a double.
“He’s been criticized for lack of hustle,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after the Phillies' 3-2 win (see Instant Replay). “But for him to take the extra base was outstanding and good to see.”
Herrera moved to third on a single by Maikel Franco, whose homer in the second tied the game at one. Hyun Soo Kim hit a grounder to shortstop Trevor Story, who was playing back and threw out Herrera at the plate. Herrera hesitated before heading home.
“First and third, you’re on third base, you have to go,” Mackanin said. "Because if they get a double play, you don’t want to be standing at third with two outs. He hesitated for the simple reason that he didn’t know if the pitcher was going to catch it.”
Cameron Rupp, who had been easily thrown out in the eighth trying to score from first on pinch hitter Andres Blanco’s double that rattled around the left-field corner, then drove Holland’s first-pitch slider into the gap in left-center, scoring Franco and Kim.
“It was a quick at-bat,” Rupp said. “He hung a slider, left it out over the plate, I drove it to the gap.”
Holland said he had a chance at 0-2 on Herrera “to throw a couple pitches the guy couldn’t put the bat on.” Instead, Holland threw what he termed “a pretty good pitch” that Herrera put in play to begin the rally.
“But the two-run double was a pitch where I thought he was looking to swing early in the count,” Holland said. “My thought was to throw a borderline pitch and see if he would chase. It was a little too good.”
The Rockies put runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth, but closer Hector Neris got Blackmon to ground to first.
Blackmon’s two-out double in the seventh gave the Rockies a 2-1 lead against Nola, who saw a certain 0-2 count vanish. With the count 0-1 on Blackmon, pinch hitter Raimel Tapia, who had walked, stole second base. Before the pitch, Blackmon stepped out of the batter's box to call time, which home plate umpire Carlos Torres didn’t grant.
The pitch to Tapia was down the middle, but Torres called it a ball, meaning Nola was 1-1 rather than 0-2 on Blackmon much to the disbelief of catcher Rupp.
“After I threw the ball, and I looked at the scoreboard and it said 1-1,” Rupp said. “I said, ‘You called that a ball?’
“He goes, ‘Yeah.’
“I said, ‘How, it was right down the middle?’ I guess when I came up to throw, I blocked his vision.”
With the count 3-1 to Blackmon, Nola threw a changeup that Blackmon drove into the gap in left-center. And then Rupp was thrown out at home in the eighth. And then Herrera was thrown out at home in the ninth against the vaunted Holland.
After five straight losses on their current trip, the Phillies seemed to be staring at yet another defeat, which was going to be followed by a glum flight to Atlanta where they will be off before playing Tuesday.
“It’s nice to salvage a win out of this series,” Mackanin said. “But it’s even nicer winning on a getaway day with an off day the next day, so you got more time to savor it.”