The first time he struck out, Nolan Arenado flipped his bat into the air, then caught it. The second time, Arenado threw his bat to the ground in disgust. His helmet too, and his batting gloves.
Arenado is one of the elite players in the National League. He has endured long and lean years in Colorado, frustrated by his team’s struggles to win, mindful that he can take his talents to any team in the league after next season.
For the first time in his career, Arenado is playing in a postseason series. It has not gone well. He batted four times Friday, twice with a man on base, twice with the bases empty. He struck out both times with a teammate on base, singled both times with no one on base, but the two hits were no consolation in the Rockies’ 4-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It doesn’t really matter in the playoffs,” Arenado said. “It’s all about big-time moments. You’ve got to be able to do something then, and I wasn’t able to do it.”
And, for perhaps the first time in the history of a mile-high franchise, the Rockies are getting tagged with the label of a team that cannot hit. They have played 19 innings in two games here, and they have failed to score in 18 of them.
The Rockies have 10 hits, none of them home runs.
On Friday, they did not manage a run of any kind. Jhoulys Chacin and four relievers combined on a five-hit shutout, lifting the Brewers to a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five NL Division Series. The Brewers can advance to the NL Championship Series when the series resumes Sunday.
“You can do one of two things: You can forfeit, or you can go out and play,” Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta said. “We’re going to go out and play.”
The Brewers’ road could be rocky. Colorado will be playing the next two games at home, with its best two pitchers set to start: German Marquez on Sunday, Kyle Freeland on Monday.
“Feels like we’ve been on the road forever,” Colorado second baseman DJ LeMahieu said.
In the Rockies’ last four games, they are batting .176. They have failed to score in 37 of 41 innings, and they have not hit a home run in their last 32 innings.
Those last four games have come on the road: the NL West tiebreaker at Dodger Stadium, the NL wild-card game at Wrigley Field, and these two NLDS games at Miller Park.
The Rockies’ futility on offense here was not a total surprise. They led the NL in runs scored at home, but they were below average in runs scored on the road. They ranked last in the NL in road batting average at .225.
The Rockies could not score Friday, but they could seethe.
Gerardo Parra threw his hands up in disgust, repeatedly, after being called out on strikes in the sixth inning. Carlos Gonzalez lined out in the eighth inning, lowered his head, and put his hands on his knees in disbelief. Trevor Story followed Gonzalez to bat, struck out amid a backdrop of fans waving gold towels from every direction, then flung his bat almost all the way back to the dugout.
But no inning illustrated the Rockies’ futility and annoyance as well as the seventh. The Brewers were clinging to a 1-0 lead, and the Rockies had a runner on third with none out.
Iannetta snapped his bat in half, over his knee, after striking out. A 13-year veteran, Iannetta said he had broken a bat over his leg before, but only in a tunnel behind the dugout.
“Not where anyone could see it,” he said.
With Milwaukee strikeout machine Josh Hader warming up, Rockies manager Bud Black then opted for the right-handed Matt Holliday to face the right-handed Joakim Soria, rather than the better hitter, left-handed David Dahl, to face the left-handed Hader.
The Rockies needed to put a ball in play, even for an out, because they could score the tying run that way. Holliday struck out.. Charlie Blackmon, who already had lost two hits to the infield shift, then lined out for the final out of the inning.
The final score belied the tension. The Brewers nursed that 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, when Mike Moustakas singled home one insurance run and backup catcher Erik Kratz singled home two more.
Arenado is not one of the most glaring offenders in this series. He led the NL in home runs, but his two hits in the series are singles. Still, his two hits are one more than Blackmon, the leadoff man and three-time All-Star, or LeMahieu, the 2016 NL batting champion, has.
Story, a longshot but legitimate candidate for NL MVP, is hitless in eight at-bats in the series, with five strikeouts.
“It’s do or die now,” Story said.
Arenado thought the Rockies were swinging and missing at good pitches. Story thought the Rockies were swinging and missing at bad pitches.
“We’ve got to clean that up for us to have a chance,” Story said.
None of this is to slight the Brewers’ pitching. On the day after the Brewers dispensed with the traditional starting pitcher and used six relievers, they deployed an actual starter and four relievers.
Chacin, who led the major leagues in games started this season, worked the first five innings. Corey Knebel, Soria, Hader and Jeremy Jeffress, who had combined for five innings Thursday, teamed for four scoreless innings Friday.
Say what you will about the Brewers’ unorthodox strategy, but the two pitchers who started for them have not given up a run. Chacin went five innings Friday, after Brandon Woodruff went three Thursday.
“I really don’t think anything we did was that unorthodox,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I don’t. In the American League wild-card game, a really good starter pitched four innings. Our guy pitched three.”