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Speier's key outing stuffs Padres rally

Speier's key outing stuffs Padres

SAN DIEGO -- The life of September callups is a pattern of luxurious boredom -- of first-class accommodations and working conditions, followed by bench rides. But Rockies right-handed reliever Ryan Speier sensed he could be along for more.

Speier stuffed a potential fifth-inning rally and helped the Rockies tighten the National League Wild Card race with a 6-2 victory over the front-running Padres on Saturday night in front of 35,020 at PETCO Park.

"They didn't offer much, but the way things were shaking out, I figured I'd be getting the ball in some semi-crucial situations because the bullpen has been getting so much work," said Speier, who pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out scare.

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The Rockies matched a season high with their seventh straight victory and pulled to 2 1/2 games behind the Padres, whose advantage over the also-surging Phillies shrank to a half-game. Oh, and the Rockies matched their club record for victories, 83 in 1996 and 1997. In strike-shortened 1995, their lone playoff season, they went 77-67.

"That's not important right now," first baseman Todd Helton said. "We're still battling. These games coming up are very important."

The Rockies, beneficiaries of four hits and two RBIs from Brad Hawpe, won without stalwart Matt Holliday, who hoped a night of rest would calm his strained left oblique. Holliday hopes to return Sunday, when the Rockies attempt a three-game series sweep.

Speier (2-1) entered with a 3-2 lead after starter Mark Redman, working on short rest, gave up a Khalil Greene leadoff homer and eventually walked Brian Giles with the bases loaded. Speier froze Mike Cameron on a third strike and forced a Scott Hairston popup, and followed that with a perfect, two-strikeout sixth.

In his previous outing, Speier gave up two runs and blew a lead against the Dodgers on Wednesday night, only to be bailed out. Manager Clint Hurdle put an arm around him afterward and told him he would continue to be used when it matters.

"I told him, 'You're out there to pitch because you can get outs,'" Hurdle said.

The Rockies gave Speier three brief promotions before September, but he spent most of the year earning 33 saves and Pacific Coast League All-Star status at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

"This is probably the greatest outing of my career -- the best feeling afterwards," said Speier, who also won Rolaids Minor League Relief Man Award winner at Double-A Tulsa in 2004, but has not yet gained a big league footing because of inconsistency, not to mention that he missed all of last season with a torn labrum.

Padres manager Bud Black felt Speier's impact. In the Rockies' 2-1, 14-inning victory on Friday night and Saturday night, the Rockies' bullpen has given up one run and four hits in 12 2/3 innings.

"The key to both nights for them is great bullpen work," Black said. "Again tonight, Speier did a great job there in the fifth inning, part of the key of the game for them."

Hawpe knocked an RBI double in the first inning off Jack Cassel (1-1). Garrett Atkins and Hawpe added RBI singles in the third, and Helton's run-scoring single in the seventh made it 4-2. Two more runs scored in the eighth when Cameron dropped Joe Koshansky's deep fly ball.

Not bad for a club missing Holliday, who leads the NL in several categories and entered Saturday's play second in the league with a .337 average.

"Hitting is contagious, but I don't know if that can happen if you don't have a lot of good hitters," said Hawpe, who won Friday night's game with a home run. "We've got guys that can flat-out hit."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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