DENVER -- When Jason Giambi strode to the plate in the ninth inning of Friday's tied game with the Cardinals, he brought a .375 average (6-for-16) with the Rockies with him, along with 11 RBIs and two home runs in 15 games in September. As a .571 hitter with runners in scoring position since joining Colorado, it was a near no-brainer to send him to the plate with a man on and a man out. The only problem is that it was All-Star right fielder Brad Hawpe's turn to hit, and you don't typically think of pinch-hitting for a slugger of Hawpe's stature with the game on the line. "We know who Brad Hawpe is," manager Jim Tracy said. "He's one of the guys who helped to bring us to this point. But let's face it, Brad has been struggling some with the bat. He's driven in three runs in the month of September.
"We were in a position where we're trying to win the game in nine innings. I'm not going to hit for [on-deck hitter Yorvit] Torrealba [who is hitting .630 with runners in scoring position since May 29]. I'm not going to hit for [Ian] Stewart the way he's been swinging here as of late. [This was the spot that] Giambi needed to be plugged in to try and create something." So Hawpe was the odd man out. After hitting .320 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs before the All-Star break to earn his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, Hawpe's pace has slowed to .228 with six homers and 20 RBIs. September has been his roughest month of the season, hitting .146, with his only RBIs coming on a home run swing in Tuesday's win over the Padres. "I'm trying to get back in position to drive the ball into the middle of the field and help out the team a little bit more," Hawpe said before Saturday's middle game of the three-game set with the Cardinals. "But we're winning ballgames, and that's the only thing that really matters right now. Obviously, I need to get myself right to help the team win, but we're winning ballgames." Giambi's clutch at-bat when pinch-hitting for Hawpe resulted in a single to left that sent Troy Tulowitzki from first to third, where he scored on Torrealba's sacrifice fly in the next at-bat, preserving the Rockies' 3 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card race. "In that situation, I just come up there and just try to take a good at-bat," Giambi said. "I'm thinking in my mind, 'They're playing no doubles, you got Tulo on first ... just get a hit, because he can make it to third with his speed,' and that's how you continue it on for the next guy and put them in a situation to win a ballgame." It was the fifth "big-time" at-bat for Giambi since joining Colorado at the beginning of September, according to Tracy's tally, helping the Rockies earn five key wins and their modest cushion heading into Saturday's tilt. The win may have eased Hawpe's frustration at being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn't an easy move for Tracy, who called it one of the hardest things he's had to do since taking over as manager on May 29. "Part of your job as the guy in charge is to make a difficult decision and know full well that it might not be appreciated or understood, but sooner or later, we'll get to the point where it is, and sooner or later, Brad Hawpe is going to start swinging the bat the way we know he's capable of, the way he swung it to make him a National League All-Star in 2009," Tracy said. "And that scenario that you saw last night, it won't take place, because it won't have to." Hawpe continues to take a disciplined approach to the plate, and he appeared on the verge of breaking out of his September slump with his opposite-field three-run shot Tuesday, but a level of personal frustration is hard to avoid as he searches for a way to get his swing back in the sweet spot and continue to help his team in its playoff push. "If I could figure out what I needed to do, I would have fixed it weeks ago," Hawpe said. "I've been trying. We're working. Pitchers have just been getting me out lately. I'm still working, battling and going out there to compete." Tracy has maintained his confidence in Hawpe, keeping him in the lineup, though he was moved to seventh in the order Saturday after spending the vast majority of the season hitting cleanup or fifth. "His swings have not been Brad Hawpe-type swings," Tracy said. "I think if he's honest with himself, he'd recognize that. It's not a matter of pulling it all away from him. He's back in there today, because if Brad Hawpe is going to become the Brad Hawpe that we've come to appreciate on a day-in-day-out basis, his bat's not long enough to reach home plate from the dugout. So we move him down in the lineup to keep him involved. I firmly believe, with the type of swing that he has, he's one good swing away from working it out."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.