It was another day of disjointed baseball for the Rockies, 20-36 and at the bottom of the National League -- not where the defending league champs expected to be.
The Rockies got a home run for the second straight day from the surging Todd Helton, and two more long balls from the unlikely pair of Omar Quintanilla and Scott Podsednik. They received scoreless bullpen work. They drew five walks. Yet, they struck out 12 times, went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and managed just one hit off the Cubs' bullpen.
They are now 8-22 on the road, where they have dropped 17 of their past 19.
But there were a couple of reasons the day wasn't a total loss.
Left-handed pitcher Glendon Rusch (1-3), called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs to try to solidify a troublesome rotation spot, was competitive for 87 pitches and 4 2/3 innings. Rusch, who began the season in the Padres' bullpen but was released after 12 appearances, gave up five runs and nine hits.
His start was big news at Wrigley Field, where 41,529 of Rusch's former loyalists rooted against him while cheering the Cubs -- baseball's best team at 35-21 -- on to their sixth straight victory. Rusch hadn't started a Major League game since July 9, 2006, for the Cubs against the Brewers. After finishing that season in the bullpen, Rusch nearly had his career ended when he came down with a blood clot in his right lung and missed the 2007 season.
"I prepared myself to retire after that happened -- I was going to be on blood thinners [and] miss a whole season," said Rusch, 31. "I'm not exactly young anymore. I'm getting up there. I was prepared to not pitch again, but I was pleasantly surprised when I came off the blood thinners and got to pitch again."
The Rockies, who have seen rookie Franklin Morales, veteran Mark Redman and acquisition Jorge De La Rosa lose left-handed rotation spots, needed Rusch, who pitched two games for Colorado Springs before joining the Rockies. After Quintanilla's first Major League homer, off Ryan Dempster (7-2), gave the Rockies a 2-0 lead, Rusch ran into trouble with two out in the second.
Dempster, one of Rusch's closest friends, doubled off the left-center wall to drive in a run for his first extra-base hit since July 17, 2002. Then Alfonso Soriano knocked his 12th homer of the season for a 3-2 lead. It was clear the hit by Dempster changed the game.
"It was a fastball," Rusch said. "I was trying to get ahead and he jumped on it. Sometimes there's nothing you can do.
"We're really good buddies. He'll hear it from me, and I'll probably hear it from him even more."
Dempster, who yielded the homers to Quintanilla and Helton but struck out seven and gave up just three hits and four walks in five innings, delighted in Rusch's return to the Majors.
Oh, yeah, he delighted in the double, too.
"I think it's really remarkable," Dempster said. "Here's a guy who had his career stopped short because of something that was non-baseball-related, to have a blood clot in his lung, to have to sit out all that time. Then to come back this spring and have a great spring for the Padres, the emotions he must have been riding to get back out there. He got sent down, and he got designated. He didn't let it get to him.
"I'm going to see him here in about 30 minutes. I'll razz him then [about the double]."
It was also a big day for Quintanilla, who is known in the Majors as a "glove man" -- a term usually preceded by "light-hitting." But manager Clint Hurdle revealed after the game that while growing up in El Paso, Texas, Quintanilla was known as "Rooftop."
Quintanilla smiled and said, "'Rooftop' -- with aluminum.
"[Dempster] had two strikes on me and he gave me a pitch high, a changeup, and I just put a good swing on it. That's all it takes here."
The Rockies had a chance to make it a better day. Quintanilla drove a pitch to deep right against Carlos Marmol (three saves), but Kosuke Fukudome made a leaping catch against the wall. Podsednik followed with his first homer of the season, but Marmol struck out Willy Taveras looking.
So much for the feel-good stuff. To cap the day, outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, who has hit well during this rough stretch, was hit on the left wrist by a pitch in the third inning and left after the sixth when the area tightened. He's listed as day-to-day.
Helton said the Rockies must rely on day-to-day effort and try not to wonder if they can pull out of the hole they've dug.
"You can't think about that -- you may come to that realization, and you don't want to do that," Helton said. "We're just concerned about winning the game tomorrow.
"As long as we play hard, that's the biggest concern. As a team, that's how you take the temperature. If guys start slacking up, they're kind of giving up. We're definitely not going to get there."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less