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Francis takes tough-luck loss to Padres

Francis takes tough-luck loss to Padres

DENVER -- This one played out just like the advertisement would read: Greg Maddux. Jeff Francis. An old-fashioned pitchers' duel in the Wild Card chase at Coors Field.

Well, the old-fashioned pitchers' duel is rarely advertised -- or achieved -- at Coors Field, but Saturday night both pitchers delivered. Maddux and the Padres picked up another game on the Rockies, winning 3-1 in front of 30,429 and taking a four-game lead on the Rockies in the Wild Card race with 21 games to go.

Maddux was simply classic Maddux. He needed only 67 pitches to get through six innings. He forced 12 ground-ball outs and held the Rockies to one run on three hits. He also extended his walk-less streak to eight games and 54 1/3 innings.

"He overpowers you with movement and command," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "We weren't able to square him up. ... He's going to the Hall of Fame. And when he's on, he's very, very difficult. He wins a lot of games when he's on."

Maddux nearly met his match Saturday night in Francis. Francis took his first loss in his last 12 starts at Coors Field and only his second loss in the last three months.

One mistake cost Francis and the Rockies the game. The Padres' Adrian Gonzalez led off the second inning with a walk. After Khalil Greene followed with a ground-rule double, Kevin Kouzmanoff drove in Greene on a single to center field.

Francis then forced Josh Bard into a double play, but Greene scored what turned out to be the winning run.

"It comes back to a leadoff walk, which is what they teach you at the lowest levels and it comes back to kick you in the butt," Francis said. "A leadoff walk was the difference."

Francis held the Padres scoreless and over his final six innings, retiring 20 of his final 22 batters faced. In eight innings, he yielded two runs on four hits and forced 15 ground-ball outs.

"I thought he was really good, really good," Hurdle said. "He finished very, very strong. His command got better as the game went on. He was only sketchy in the one inning really. The walk hurt, and a couple pitches up in that inning, but he pitched a fine ballgame."

The Rockies also scored their lone run against Maddux in the second inning when Todd Helton led off with a double and then scored on Garrett Atkins' single. But Maddux retired 15 of the final 16 Rockies he faced against a lineup that scored 10 runs in the first game of the series.

"It still is Coors Field, and they have a very good lineup," Maddux said. "They've always had good lineups here, ever since the Blake Street Bombers. They've got one of the best lineups I'll get a chance to face this year."

The Rockies didn't get anything going until the eighth inning. Willy Taveras had a two-out bunt single and then stole second, straining his right quad on the play. Kazuo Matsui proceeded to get an infield single, moving pinch-runner Cory Sullivan to third base. Matsui then had to leave the game with a strained right hamstring he injured running to first.

Matt Holliday, the Rockies leading RBI man, came to the plate with runners at the corners but was unable to drive in Sullivan and struck out against Heath Bell, adding more bad news to what looked like a promising comeback.

"Matty's having a big season for us and he's one of the big reasons we're battling right now where we are," Hurdle said. "That's one of your good matchups right there and that guy made good pitches."

The Rockies and Padres will play on Sunday for the series. With the schedule shrinking, the Rockies' playoff chances might start to do the same without a victory in the series finale.

"Every game it seems like it's the biggest game of the year so far," Francis said. "Today was and tomorrow will be. It's definitely really exciting and that energy's there."

The Rockies will most likely play on Sunday without Taveras and Matsui, whose statuses were both unknown after the game.

"Lot of guys in this clubhouse. Obviously, it's packed," Todd Helton said. "Guys are going to have to step in and do the job."

C.J. Moore 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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