Marquis keeps Pirates grounded

Marquis keeps Pirates grounded

DENVER -- Regardless what the numbers say, it's not as if Rockies right-hander Jason Marquis has been touched by magic. On Friday night, for example, the sinker was the only pitch he had working.

Nonetheless, Marquis vanquished the Pirates for 8 2/3 innings of a 7-3 victory -- the Rockies' 14th in their last 15 games -- with know-how, using the only pitch he had to induce 20 ground-ball outs.

"It's not the best I've felt all year, but it was good enough to get the job done," said Marquis, who is 5-1 over his last seven starts. "It's definitely fun when you get deep into games and watch those guys out there making plays."

Such savoir faire is the reason the Rockies acquired Marquis (9-4) from the Cubs during the offseason. It's why Marquis (9-4) is tied for the National League lead in victories and, should he continue for another month, have the right to hang by the phone when All-Star calls are made.

Actually, the entire club demonstrated its ability to push the right buttons and on Friday, before 31,248 at Coors Field, pushed above .500 for the first time since it was 3-2 on April 11.

"It's huge," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who homered to deep center off Ross Ohlendorf (6-6) in the second and added a sacrifice fly that almost cleared the fence in the eighth. "It means a lot. It means we have a lot of talent.

"It's impressive. I mean it got pretty bad. Now look at it. There's still along way to go, but to be one game over .500 we've come a long way."

Actually, the pitching has been there all along. Marquis, who gave up three runs on eight hits, turned in the Rockies' 40th quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer runs). But on Friday and throughout the current run, the Rockies demonstrated the staples of winning baseball that were absent early in the year as they played poorly enough to have manager Clint Hurdle replaced by Jim Tracy.

Tracy called the situational hitting "exceptional." In the fifth, Marquis singled, took second when Delwyn Young bobbled the ball, moved to third on Dexter Fowler's sacrifice bunt and scored on Clint Barmes' sacrifice fly.

Brad Hawpe followed Barmes' plate appearance by knocking two of his three RBIs on his 10th homer of the season. But in the eighth with Todd Helton at second, Hawpe knocked a hard grounder to put a runner at third. Tulowitzki, whose homer was also his 10th, made Hawpe's unselfish at-bat pay off with his sacrifice fly.

Also, mainly because Marquis kept forcing the Pirates to beat the ball into the ground, the defense was exceptional.

In the fourth inning, third baseman Ian Stewart snatched one, did a complete spin and threw out Robinzon Diaz. Tulowitzki galloped to the grounder of the next hitter, Jack Wilson, and put an extra graceful lean into his throw to first. Plays like that happen when everyone is alert.

"They want the ball put in play; they want to be involved," Tracy said. "I've commented more than once about the guys in that clubhouse how they're feeding off one another."

Pirates manager John Russell watched his team come up with next to nothing until a solo shot from Jack Wilson in the seventh and two more runs when Marquis ebbed in the ninth.

"It was frustrating," Russell said.

But at least there was something to watch in the ninth. After Eric Hinske's two-out RBI single, Tracy went to the mound to visit Marquis. The Rockies fans made it known they wanted to see Marquis finish the game as Tracy was cheered when he went back to the dugout with the righty still on the mound. But he had established a condition: Marquis could have his second complete game of the season if he could retire Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen tripled past a sliding Hawpe, and reliever Alan Embree was called on and forced Nyjer Morgan into a game-ending grounder.

But all Marquis lost was a shot at a complete game. That's no big deal in a clubhouse that, lately, not much losing is happening.

"We have a lot of young guys in this clubhouse, and they just need to be on the winning side, to get that wining feeling," Marquis said. "No matter what happens from here on out, I think we have that feeling."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.