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Big bats are lumbering along

Rockies hitters in need of a swing shift

BOSTON -- It was the top of the sixth inning, the Rockies trailing by a run but threatening to finally bust loose in Game 2 of the World Series.

Matt Holliday's third of four singles and a walk to Todd Helton had finished Curt Schilling's night after 5 1/3 innings, and here came Red Sox southpaw Hideki Okajima out of the bullpen.

Waiting eagerly for the Japanese reliever were Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe, run producers of the highest order. They'd combined to drive in 227 runs over the regular season, 116 by Hawpe, whose 66 RBIs with two outs led the National League.

In a pivotal moment reflective of their postseason struggles, the Rockies fell silent. Atkins rolled to first base, the runners moving up, and Hawpe struck out on three pitches.

The festive crowd at Fenway Park, knowing a Big Moment when it saw one, erupted. The Mile High outfit had been cut down to size once again, and before long the final eruption would come with Jonathan Papelbon pumping premium gas past Hawpe for the 27th out of a 2-1 triumph and 2-0 Series lead.

"I was surprised to see him in that spot," the right-handed-hitting Atkins said of Okajima, whose unorthodox delivery and ability to change speeds have made him almost as difficult on right-handed hitters as lefties in his debut season with Boston. "Obviously, he's got a good changeup and is as capable of getting outs against righties as lefties."

Hawpe's sweet swing has produced just one single in eight at-bats against the Red Sox, six times going down on strikes. He had company in his frustration against Okajima, who struck out four of the seven hitters he faced.

"I give their pitchers a lot of credit right now," said the lefty-swinging Hawpe. "They're throwing strikes and getting ahead every at-bat. That's what they want. They're throwing strikes right away, pounding the zone."

Atkins also has one hit in eight trips, a double, and the Rockies are hitting just .180 as a team -- a full 100 points below their season average as they were generating 860 runs, or 5.3 per game. Only the Philadelphia Phillies produced more offense than Colorado.

Their postseason run production is down to four per game, and even though they swept through the Phillies and Diamondbacks with seven consecutive October wins, they're hitting just .229 overall in the postseason.

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"We scored two runs in 18 innings in this ballpark," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "That makes it tough to win. And the guys on the bubblegum cards are pretty good, too. They had some pitches to hit tonight, didn't square it up."

Clearly, the guys on the bubblegum cards are in need of an elixir. Coors Field, known since its inception as a wonderful place to swing the bat, would be a fine place to find it on Saturday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.

"It has to change," Atkins said. "We've got to hit better. We've had a lot of swings and misses. We have to do better, all of us. Holliday had a good night, but that was about it.

"We have to have more quality at-bats, put more runners on. I don't know if there's an explanation. We just have a few guys struggling. They're getting a lot of easy outs. We have to be more disciplined, put together quality at-bats."

The malaise is lineup-wide, meaning options for alterations are minimal. Hurdle could juggle a few players, perhaps try for a different look at the top of the order. But beyond that, there's not much that can be done. And he'll lose a bat with no designated hitter in the games at Coors.

Table-setters Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui have been kept off base, each reaching just once in the two games. Matsui singled in Game 1, and Taveras was hit by a pitch leading off Game 2.

Holliday's single and Helton's infield out produced a run that produced the first Colorado lead of the Series, but Atkins grounded out to leave Holliday at third.

The lead lasted until the fourth, when the Red Sox got young Ulbado Jimenez in trouble with their plate discipline, piecing together runs in the fourth and fifth.

"They came up with the clutch hits, and we didn't," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "We need to go home and take care of business. Hopefully, we can kick-start our offense.

"We've gone through streaks during the season where we kind of got cold. Hopefully, we'll all heat up together."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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