Sometimes, there is crying in baseball. And the game is better off for it.
Friday night at Nationals Park, Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard hit a two-out, two-run homer in the sixth inning to put his team ahead, 7-6. After returning to the dugout, Hilliard, in tears, left his teammates for a few minutes. When he took his spot in left field, the tears were still flowing.
Then Hilliard, poetically, also scored the winning run in the ninth in Colorado’s multi-rally, 9-8 victory.
Elias Diaz led off with a solo homer, tying the game, 8-8. Then Hilliard singled to right, stole second, advanced to third on Garrett Hampson’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Brendan Rodgers’ single to left.
It’s been an emotional and poignant week for Hilliard. On Sunday, Hilliard’s father, Jim, passed away after a three-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hilliard, along with his mother, Tamara Hext Hilliard, spearheaded Team Hilliard ALS, which raises money for research and treatment of the dreaded disease.
Rodgers, who wrapped Hilliard in a bear hug after Hilliard hit the homer, was emotional talking about his friend and longtime roommate.
“I respect the hell out of him for what he’s doing,” Rodgers said. “Coming back a couple days after it happened, it’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to flush something like that. It’s definitely always in the back of his mind and he knows who he’s doing it for. It’s emotional for me, too. It’s tough to see.”
The Rockies, road woeful for most of the season, have become road warriors, winning four straight. They are 6-1 on the current road trip, winning both games at Atlanta after taking three of four at Philadelphia. They have clinched their first winning road trip of the season.
But a win looked doubtful in the eighth when the Nats took an 8-7 lead. Nats pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman lined a one-out double to left off of reliever Jhoulys Chacin and scored on Alcides Escobar’s single. Rookie lefty Lucas Gilbreath entered the game and walked the dangerous Juan Soto to load the bases. Josh Bell hit an RBI grounder to Rodgers at second, and although Rodgers tagged out Soto on the basepath he couldn’t complete the double play because he got tangled up with Soto.
Colorado rallied to beat the Nats despite a rough start by German Marquez. The first-time all-star was off from the beginning and ended up allowing six runs on eight hits in just four innings. The right-hander needed 80 pitches (just 48 strikes) to get through his short start.
Manager Bud Black was quite aware that Marquez was off of his game.
“The breaking ball wasn’t there the whole night,” Black said. “He’s got one of the best breaking-ball combinations in all of baseball. The slider and the curveball were not anywhere near his norm. They were well, well below his norm. The fastball command was not anywhere near his norm.”
In the first, Washington capitalized on a walk by Marquez and a throwing error by shortstop Trevor Story, then Kelbert Ruiz raked a two-run double.
But the Nationals’ four-run fourth inning was Marquez’s undoing. Washington sent nine men to the plate and ripped the right-hander for five hits. The big blow was a two-out, three-run homer to center by Lane Thomas that put the Nationals ahead, 6-2. Thomas crushed Marquez’s 0-1 slider.
Colorado rallied in the fifth on Rodgers’ two-run homer off of Josiah Gray. Rodgers has hit 13 homers, with 12 of them coming on the road this season.
“I’m really up there not trying to do too much,” Rodgers said. “I’m an aggressive hitter but I try to control my aggressiveness. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. That’s the main goal.”
Rodgers’ homer ignited the first comeback and set the stage for Hilliard’s big moment in the sixth. Story led off with a double and scored on Ryan McMahon’s opposite-field single to left. Up to the plate stepped Hilliard, who blasted lefty Alberto Baldonado’s 2-2, 93.8 mph fastball to right-center field.
“There is no better way to honor his family and his father than by going out and playing baseball the way he plays it,” Black said. “When he performs successfully, it puts a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces.”
Joe update. When left fielder Connor Joe first went on the injured list with a strained right hamstring on Sept. 4, manager Bud Black was hopeful that Joe would return before the end of the season. Now, Black’s not so sure. “If you’ve heard me say it once, you’ve heard me say it a thousand times — hamstrings are tricky,” Black said. “This is really the first time Connor has hurt his hamstring to a significant level, and they take time (to heal). “I was pretty optimistic (when asked) about his potential return. Now, I might have to backtrack on that and see where we are in a week to 10 days.” After getting called up from Triple-A Albuquerque for the second time on July 20, Joe took off, solidified his place as a candidate to be a starter in 2022. Joe is hitting .285 with eight homers and a.848 OPS in 63 games.
Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (5-8, 4.76 ERA) at Nationals LHP Patrick Corbin (8-14, 5.98)
2:05 p.m. Saturday, Nationals Park
Radio: 850 AM/94.1 FM
Freeland is scuffling a bit and didn’t pitch well in his last two starts. The lefty took the loss at Philadelphia, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. In his outing prior to that, Freeland was charged with seven earned runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Giants when he issued three walks and gave up four home runs. Freeland has served up eight homers over this last five starts after allowing only three homers in his previous 10 starts. Freeland is 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four career starts against the Nationals, including a 1-1 mark with a 2.30 ERA at Nationals Park. Corbin is fresh off a strong start at Pittsburgh. In the Nats’ 6-2 win over the Pirates, he gave up two runs on four hits and two walks. He recorded four strikeouts. After allowing leadoff hits in each of the first three innings, Corbin retired the last 13 hitters he faced. In 23 games (22 starts) vs. the Rockies, Corbin is 10-4 with a 4.51 ERA. Trevor Story has hit Corbin pretty well, going 7-for-24 (.292) with two doubles and one home run.
Trending: Second baseman Brendan Rodgers has been the Rockies’ best hitter on the road, batting .268 (45-for-168) entering Friday’s game. His 10 home runs were the third-most on the team, despite playing just 45 road games. That’s 21 fewer than Ryan McMahon, who leads Colorado with 11 road homers.
At issue: First baseman C.J. Cron, the National League player of the month for August, has cooled off considerably. He entered Friday’s game hitting .194 (6-for-31) over his last 10 games.
Sunday: Rockies RHP Ryan Feltner (0-1, 11.37) at Nationals RHP Paolo Espino (4-5, 4.18), 11:05 a.m., ATTRM
Tuesday: Dodgers RHP Tony Gonsolin (3-1, 2.47) at Rockies RHP Jon Gray (8-10, 4.16), 6:40 p.m., ATTRM