Rox follow CarGo's lead to four-game sweep

Rox follow CarGo's lead to four-game sweep

Rox follow CarGo's lead to four-game sweep
DENVER -- Not every Rockies game starts with a record-setting feat, but a good number of them start with a bang.

Carlos Gonzalez's first-inning, three-run homer put him in team and Major League record books for homers in four straight at-bats and plate appearances. More important, the homer paced a five-run inning that led the Rockies to an 11-5 victory to complete a four-game sweep of the Astros at Coors Field on Thursday night before 31,799.

The Rockies (21-29) have seen a lot of big early scoring. They have scored 50 first-inning runs in 50 games this season, which makes it their most productive inning. At home, it's 34 runs in the bottom of the first in 27 games, including the sweep of Houston (22-29). They have scored 23 opening-inning runs in their last 10 games, the first six of which were on the road, where the club often struggles.

Not always have they made the most of their early scoring. But if the Rockies can continue the early production and find elusive pitching consistency, a surge in the standings is possible.

Now would be a good time. On Friday night, the Rockies will start a three-game set with the National League West-leading Dodgers, who are 10 1/2 games ahead of the fourth-place Rockies. The Rockies scored 40 runs against the Astros. This is the team's longest win streak of the season.

They go into it with the hottest hitter in baseball in Gonzalez -- whose three homers Wednesday night and one off beleaguered Astros starter Bud Norris (5-2) on Thursday beat a club mark accomplished five other times and marked the 38th time a player had homered in four straight at-bats and 22nd time it had happened in four straight plate appearances.

"I had hit three, and I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run, so why should I be thinking about hitting another one?" Gonzalez said. "It just happened."

Norris was pitching through a minor hip flexor strain. Dealing with Gonzalez proved too much.

"You have to pitch around him in situations and unfortunately in the first inning I didn't put myself in a situation to pitch around him," said Norris, who thought his 1-0 fastball in the first inning was a good pitch. "Good luck trying to cool him off."

The Astros interrupted the plate appearance streak by having Norris -- who gave up nine runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings to see his ERA rise from 3.34 to 4.52 -- walk Gonzalez after the count went to 2-0 in the second. In the fourth, Gonzalez's bloop double against David Carpenter gave him five straight extra-base hits, which is one shy of the Major League record set by former Rockies star Larry Walker May 21-22, 1996. Gonzalez popped out against Brandon Lyon in the sixth.

Other Rockies enter the series with the Dodgers on productive streaks.

Leadoff man Dexter Fowler (1-for-3, two walks, two runs Thursday) has reached in 14 of his last 21 plate appearances. No. 2 hitter Marco Scutaro homered and had five RBIs in the sweep. Michael Cuddyer (3-for-4, double, three RBIs), now the cleanup hitter with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki having gone to the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain, has seven RBIs in the last two games. Jordan Pacheco (3-for-5, double, two RBIs) has hit .342 with five doubles and 12 RBIs while hitting safely in 15 of 16 games.

"There is a big series in front of us, but we don't have to take it that way," said Gonzalez, hitting .332 with 14 home runs, 44 RBIs and a .653 slugging percentage that leads the NL. "When you do that, you try to do too much. That's not our game.

"We could be playing the Bad News Bears or we could be playing the Yankees. It's the same. You've got to go out and do your job. Play together just the way we've been playing."

Big innings at any point often depend on production from the bottom of the order. Pacheco and catcher Wilin Rosario, who leads NL rookies in homers (seven) and is slugging .522, are keys to that.

"In Troy's absence, we are trying to help, and to do that, it's nice," Pacheco said. "Guys at the top of the lineup are helping us by getting on base."

Manager Jim Tracy said, "A lot of it has to do with our plate discipline. We're not expanding strike zone, getting ourselves into good counts. We're a very good offensive team when we make people throw the ball over the plate."

With such offense, all the Rockies need is decent pitching. Righty Jeremy Guthrie (3-3) sufficed, going seven innings and giving up 12 hits, which tied a career high, and five runs, one on J.D. Martinez's fifth home run of the season, in the second inning.

"They're in a groove," Guthrie said. "CarGo is in another world. Cuddy puts in a good at-bat every single time, drives somebody in. Scoot, Dex, everybody. You start talking about somebody, you leave somebody else out."

It was Guthrie's third game going seven -- no Rockies starter has gone longer. He struck out one and didn't issue a walk for the first time since last Aug. 11, for the Orioles against the White Sox. Obtained in an offseason trade with the Orioles, Guthrie jokingly relished seeing his home ERA dropping from 9.92 to 8.87.

"I think 9.00 is the new 3.00, so I feel great about it," he said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.