Alvarez's heroics go for naught in Denver

Alvarez's heroics go for naught in Denver

Alvarez's heroics go for naught in Denver
DENVER -- So you want to talk about flash points, those instants in a season that turn it all around and define it?

How is this one? On the first pitch following a 58-minute rain delay with one out in the ninth on Monday night, Pedro Alvarez punched left-hander Rex Brothers' offering into the left-field stands of Coors Field for a three-run, game-tying homer.

It was such a shocking, electric moment that not even the ultimate anticlimax -- a 5-4 defeat on Dexter Fowler's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth -- could detract from it. The Rockies came right back against Jason Grilli, with Wilin Rosario's leadoff single and Jason Giambi's one-out pinch-hit single setting up Fowler.

"They hit a homer, and it is deflating," Fowler said, "but we're going to win as a team and lose as a team."

Ditto, Pirates. Even though Grilli had a hard time dealing with this one.

"Pedro gave us a chance, but I just didn't do what I wanted out there," said Grilli, whose season as setup-man extraordinaire hit a low-point. "A night like this stings pretty good, but I'll bounce back. I made some pitches and left them up, they did what should've with them. They put good swings on pitches that were hittable."

Grilli thus made an unwitting contribution to what Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called "a pretty exciting last 20 minutes."

"For fans who stuck around, that was pretty exciting," reiterated Hurdle. "I'm very happy with the way we battled back. You never know what can happen. ... We got some momentum going, they put the tarp on, then one swing of the bat -- boom! -- then they came back and answered."

Coors Field and its pitching inhabitants, Colorado's National League-worst staff, were an unlikely tandem to gang up on the Pirates. But in a season of unlikely positive developments, this series opener lived down to expectations -- for 8 1/3 innings.

Then Andrew McCutchen pulled his second single of the night, Neil Walker -- long after extending his hitting streak to 16 games -- punched his third single to center. That's when the skies opened, forcing the umpires to call the grounds crew into action.

When play resumed, right-hander Rafael Betancourt gave way to the lefty Brothers, and Alvarez blew up the sensible strategy with his 18th homer.

"It's tough to have to sit around so long, not doing anything," Alvarez said, "then resume play like nothing happened. You've got the adrenaline going before [the delay], then get stagnant just hanging around. But we deal with it all the time, so we're used to it."

"[The Pirates] are in the position they're in," saluted Colorado manager Jim Tracy, "because they're not going away until you record all 27 outs."

With Arizona's 5-3 victory over Cincinnati staring at them from the right-field scoreboard -- an opportunity to reclaim a share of the NL Central lead abetted by Justin Upton's 3-for-4 -- the Bucs waited a long time to answer that call.

Jeff Karstens was solid for six innings. Unfortunately, the right-hander pitched seven and was done in by a fifth-frame implosion in which he gave up four of the Rockies' runs and four of the six hits he allowed. Karstens was also sabotaged by a possibly catchable drive to right that went for the go-ahead two-run double.

Jeff Francis held the Pirates to one run in the five innings he squeezed out of his 75-pitch limit, then Josh Roenicke (nephew of the Milwaukee manager) took over to put up three zeros before Betancourt, Colorado's closer, took over.

The bottom of Pittsburgh's batting order, the most unlikely segment to do such a thing, dented the scoreboard in the fifth. With two outs, Clint Barmes singled to left field -- his drive short-hopping into a diving Carlos Gonzalez's glove -- moving Alvarez to third, then Karstens chopped an RBI single over first baseman Michael Cuddyer's head into right field.

Karstens' third RBI in 131 career at-bats was not loud, but it was the only real noise the Pirates could make until Alvarez's thunder-clap.

The Rockies quickly trampled that 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the inning. Josh Rutledge singled for the tying run, then pinch-hitter Eric Young Jr., batting for Francis, enabled the left-hander's victory with a two-run double for a 3-1 lead. Young's liner to right illustrated why the Pirates are so eager for outfield reinforcements: It bounced on the warning track, but Josh Harrison, an infielder pressed into outfield duty, appeared turned around by the drive and had to play it off the wall.

"If he's 8 feet tall [maybe he makes that play]. I don't know," said Hurdle, who values Harrison's versatility and did not find him at fault. "Josh broke one way, and might've turned halfway the other way. We weren't able to make that play."

Marco Scutaro eventually punctuated the go-ahead rally with a single to score Young, giving the Rockies a 4-1 lead.

By the middle of the fourth inning, the game became Coors Field's longest scoreless deadlock of the season. Only once in 46 prior games did the Rockies and their guests match zeros through three -- on June 30, in an eventual 8-4 win over San Diego.

You didn't have to be a meteorologist to recognize that the pregame storm that cooled down temperatures also cooled off both lineups. Hard-hit balls did not have that infamous Coors Field carry. A second-inning drive by Rod Barajas turned into an acrobatic catch at the center-field wall by Fowler.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.