All the fables about Coors Field are true. This ballpark is hell on pitchers and mere misery for the rest. The altitude taxes the lungs. The clouds can spit rain or snow in an instant. When a baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand, it rarely cooperates. When a baseball connects with a bat here, the outfield grass feels endless.
To visit this place is to engage with all these horrors. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts detests these tri-annual trips. But it is worth remembering: The home team must play here, too. In their 26 years of existence, the Colorado Rockies have not yet formulated a solution for their own ballpark. In the seventh inning of a 12-4 victory on Saturday, the Dodgers unleashed an eight-run fusillade that could only happen here.
They launched balls over the fence (a two-run homer by Matt Kemp). They hit grounders that produced runs (a two-run single by Breyvic Valera). They smashed line drives which whistled through the thin air (a two-run triple by Chris Taylor). They benefited from the fatigue and incompetence of their hosts (two walks, a run scored on a wild pitch).
“There were so many things that kept that inning going,” Roberts said. “Obviously, our biggest inning of the year.”
The flurry carried the Dodgers (28-30) to a series victory over their National League West rivals. They can secure a sweep on Sunday. Walker Buehler lasted five innings, surviving a four-run burst by Colorado in the second inning. Joc Pederson hit a pair of home runs and scored four times. Taylor reached base four times, including twice in the seventh.
Buehler had pitched here twice before last season. He gave up two runs in three innings as a reliever. This marked his first start in Denver. He came to the mound fresh of an efficient end to the month. In his final two starts in May, Buehler logged seven innings both times while throwing fewer than 94 pitches. Saturday would not be so brisk. “The biggest difference is your body feels a tick different in the altitude,” Buehler said.
Moments later, Kemp led off the second with a single. Pederson followed with a double. Kemp scored on a groundout by Yasiel Puig. Valera came through with an RBI single for another run.
The lead did not survive the bottom of the inning. Colorado amassed four runs on five hits. Some of the contact was soft. Some of it was more forceful. Buehler gave up a leadoff single to shortstop Trevor Story and walked first baseman Ian Desmond, who started the day with a .242 on-base percentage.
Buehler left a changeup at the waist of Rockies catcher Tony Wolters. Wolter hit an RBI single. Colorado second baseman D.J. LeMahieu poked a 98-mph fastball down the third-base line. The ball bounced through an area vacated by Justin Turner for a two-run double. Buehler gave up a run-scoring single to third baseman Nolan Arenado to cap Colorado’s lead at two runs.
“Tough second inning,” Buehler said. “You battle your way through it, and [you hope it] leads to the offense going and getting the lead the way we did.”
The Dodgers halved the deficit in the fourth. Pederson lifted a hanging slider from Rockies starter German Marquez. The baseball carried beyond the left-field fence for a solo home run.
Pederson tied the game in the sixth. Marquez challenged him with a 3-2 fastball. Pederson hit a towering drive which arc over the right-field fence before crashing into the seats. It was only his third home run of the season.
“I’ve missed some pitches this year — a lot of them,” Pederson said. “So it was nice to connect on a few.”
The tie was broken in the seventh. After singles by Taylor and Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal grounded out but beat out a double play to bring home Taylor. Kemp devised a more effective method for driving in runs. Kemp took a 93-mph cutter from Colorado reliever Bryan Shaw and blasted it out to left.
The pounding had only just begun. Disgusted with Shaw, Rockies manager Bud Black turned to another reliever, Mike Dunn. He didn’t do much better. Bellinger walked. Pederson singled. Puig walked. Valera poked a two-run single up the middle.
Black tried another reliever, a fellow named Harrison Musgrave. He walked Enrique Hernandez and lost a wild pitch as Taylor stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning. A day earlier, Taylor had tripled and smacked a three-run homer. Now he ripped a 90-mph fastball into center field. The ball bounced around as Taylor landed at third base for the final salvo of the eight-run inning.
“Guys are pretty excited with where we’re at and how we’re playing,” Kemp said. “We’ve just got to keep going, because we know it’s a long season.”