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Rockies' climb taller after bullpen meltdown

Rockies' climb taller after bullpen meltdown

DENVER -- First went the manager, then the lead.

Are the Rockies' playoff hopes next?

The Phillies packed as much punch as one team can effectively wedge into a one-game series, crushing the Rockies' spirits in a 12-11 victory at Coors Field on Thursday night.

Fatigued from a herculean workload this season and, potentially, an ugly week of travel, the bullpen blew a four-run lead in the seventh that eventually amounted to the club's worst inning of the year.

"They got to our middle guys," said Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who was ejected in the sixth. "And they got to them good."

Really, the wheels fell off when Tracy was tossed by home-plate umpire Paul Emmel after Rockies reliever Matt Belisle struck pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney with a fastball and he was awarded first base.

At the time, the bases were loaded and the Rockies led, 6-2. Sweeney started his swing and tried to stop. Tracy thought he'd gone too far.

"I thought it was a swing," Tracy said. "That simple. I thought he swung at the pitch."

As it turned out, Belisle's brief appearance was the least of the bullpen's revolving-door problems.

One by one, they came. And no sooner did they step onto the mound did those relievers take a long walk off it with an ugly line following them all the way back to the first-base dugout.

First, southpaw Joe Beimel, usually reliable in a pinch this season, gave up a double, a single and a three-run blast to Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard. Beimel left without retiring a batter.

Next, Manny Delcarmen -- acquired this week from the Red Sox and making his Rockies debut -- surrendered the lead by way of a solo homer to Jayson Werth and the go-ahead RBI on a single to Ben Francisco. Not the warm welcome he was hoping for.

"It's baseball," Delcarmen said. "It happens. But definitely not the best way to start."

Rookie Matt Reynolds, also sturdy since his recent callup, gave up the back-breaking grand slam to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. All in all, the seventh inning totaled 12 batters, nine hits and nine runs.

"One thing about playing out here, it's hard to stop momentum in a game," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "When a team starts getting hits, they can put some runs up on you."

But it wouldn't be a Rockies game at Coors Field without a little late-inning excitement. Colorado plated three in the seventh to cut the deficit to two. In the ninth, center fielder Dexter Fowler and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez reached before shortstop Troy Tulowitzki plated another with a grounder to second.

Todd Helton, Clint Barmes and Ryan Spilborghs all came to the plate representing the potential winning run, but only Helton reached base.

The Rockies and Phillies combined for 35 hits, tying the Major League high for a single game this season. Texas and Baltimore accomplished the feat in late May.

The Rockies left 14 on base in the game, two critical runners in the ninth. According to ESPN.com, it was the first time a losing team notched 20 hits since the Rangers did it on Aug. 12, 2008.

"It's just frustrating because when you're on the road, you don't hit and when you're at home, you hit but still lose," said Gonzalez, who also hit his 31st homer of the year in a 3-for-5 effort. "That was a tough one. We needed that one really bad."

It's difficult to overstate how critical Gonzalez has been to the Rockies of late. The outfielder is riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he's notched an extra-base hit in each contest. He's homered in six of the past 10 games and leads the National League batting title race with a .332 clip, seven points ahead of second-place Joey Votto.

As far as early September one-game series go, this was a must-win for Colorado, which was 3 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card earlier this week. Now 6 1/2 games behind Philadelphia, the club faces a steep uphill climb as players scrambled to pack their bags, heading back on the road to face first-place San Diego.

"We have to win," Gonzalez said. "We have to go out there and try to win the series. Not just win the series, we have to win every game."

Joey Nowak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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