Blackmon reminds Braves what happens to mistake pitches at Coors

DENVER – On Sunday in Denver, Rex Brothers was asked about the coming return to Coors Field, where he was once a successful Rockies closer, and what it took to be successful at the unique hitter-friendly ballpark with its mile-high altitude and vast outfield.

When Rex Brothers was a closer for the Rockies in 2013, he didn't have many nights like the one he had Monday in his first game pitching at Coors Field for the visiting team. He gave up a leadoff triple in the eighth to start a three-run inning in what had been a scoreless game. (AP file photo)

“That’s a place where you’ve really got to execute,” Brothers said. “And if not you might see the touchdowns on the scoreboard. ... That outfield is so big, doubles turn into triples, singles turn into doubles. That’s what I call the merry-go-round -- whenever you see the dang merry-go-round take off you know there’s probably been some instance in an inning where a single’s turned into a double, a double’s turned into a triple, those sorts of things. It just gets going and it feels like it doesn’t stop.

“It’s a big yard, you definitely want to keep the ball on the ground, keep it on the infield as best you can.”

A day later, late Monday night, Brothers got his first chance to pitch at Coors Field since 2015, and his first time as an opposing pitcher. He did not keep the ball on the ground. The first batter he faced, Charlie Blackmon, hit a leadoff triple to start the eighth inning, the game-changing inning when the Rockies scored three times to turn a scoreless game into a 3-0 Braves loss.

“When I had the count in my favor I didn’t execute, it’s as simple as that,” said Brothers, who was ahead in the count and meant to throw Blackmon a slider low, but threw him a hanging pitch belt-high over the middle of the plate and, “At this level you see what happens.”

In Brothers’ impressive 2013 season, the best of his career, he had a miniscule 1.16 ERA, .574 opponents’ OPS and nine saves in 34 road appearances, and a similarly superb (given the Coors Field factor) 2.23 ERA, .654 opponents’ OPS and 10 saves in 38 home appearances. He didn’t give up a triple all season, home or road.

He didn’t leave many pitches up that season, particularly against hitters like the 2017 version of Charlie Blackmon.

Blackmon, a leadoff hitter who ranks third in the majors in batting average (.335) and slugging percentage (.615) – yes, he has a higher slugger percentage than both Bryce Harper (.614) and Aaron Judge (.608) – might as well have had that pitch put on a tee. He hit it to the left-center gap – those gaps where doubles turn to triples at Coors -- for his majors-leading 14th triple, which is five more than anyone else in the majors.

Thirteen of his 14 triples have comes at Coors Field, which is as many as the combined total of the home triples for the next two on the major league leaders list – Billy Hamilton’s seven triples at Cincinnati and Nicholas Castellanos’ six triples at Detroit.

Blackmon, a North Gwinnett High School graduate who played at Georgia Tech and Young Harris College, has the power, speed and hitting ability to thrive at Coors Field, and this season he’s mastered it. He’s hitting .395 with an .814 slugging percentage and 1.279 OPS in 55 games at Coors Field compared to .285 with a .452 slugging percentage and .783 OPS in 61 road games.

A good hitter on the road, a formidable hitting machine at Coors Field. Blackmon is a leadoff hitter, but the only players who’ve hit more homers in their home ballparks this season are sluggers Aaron Judge (24), Giancarlo Stanton (21), Cody Bellinger (18) and Khris Davis (18).

Ender Inciarte was thrown out at the plate when he tried to turn a triple into an inside-the-park home run leading off the first inning of Monday's 3-0 Braves loss at Colorado. (AP photo)

Brothers knew Blackmon was dangerous, having been Rockies teammates with him from 2011-15, though Blackmon wasn’t nearly the hitter then that he is now. Everyone knows how good Blackmon is now, and all pitchers who’ve worked at Coors Field know how dangerous it is to make mistakes in that ballpark, with those who’ve pitched for the Rockies even more familiar with the circumstances than others.

But every pitcher also makes mistakes, and those are more likely to be exploited at Coors Field than anywhere else except perhaps Cincinnati. Especially when those mistakes are made to hitters like Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez, who had a two-run single four batters later in the eighth inning off Braves reliever Jason Motte, coincidentally another former Rockies pitcher (though he only spent one season with them in 2016).

All three runs in the inning were charged to Brothers, who faced two batters after Blackmon, walking DJ LaMahieu intentionally to put runners on the corners before inducing a grounder from Gerardo Parra that skipped under the glove of shortstop Dansby Swanson and was initially ruled an error but later changed to a hit.

The eighth-inning came undone quickly on two Braves relievers, after Julio Teheran had pitched seven scoreless innings in one of his best and most encouraging performances in an overall disappointing season for the two-tie former All-Star.

Teheran allowed just four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings and 110 pitches, the last of those pitches used to work out of a tight spot in the seventh when, with two runners on base and none out, he struck out Pag Valaika, got major league RBI leader Nolan Arenado to pop out and struck out Alexi Amarista.

“You hate not to get that one for (Teheran),” Brothers said. “Props to him, he really pitched well and kept us right there where we needed to be to win it.”

The Braves haven’t won at Coors in more than three years, a staggering 11 consecutive losses at the downtown Denver ballpark and 15 losses against the Rockies in their last 17 games against them home and away.

Tonight, the Bravos turn to rookie Sean Newcomb, who really needs to avoid issuing walks – he had seven walks two starts ago but only one in his last start – if he hopes to succeed at a ballpark where free passes have been known start that merry-go-round that Brothers referenced.

“Exactly,” Newcomb said when a reporter mentioned the importance of avoiding walks at Coors Field. “Just because of how it plays here -- obviously the home runs, but anything low in the gaps tends to carry a little further for extra bases. But at the end of the day I’ve just got to pitch my game. Like I said from the last outing, pound the zone, keep it down and just try to get contact, hopefully weak contact.”

Let's close with one from the great Jimmie Dale Gilmore. This is a live version of "Another Coloreado" with Dave Alvin helping him out.

"ANOTHER COLORADO" by Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Down by the banks of the Colorado

My true love and I one night did lie

And we laughed and played and made fun

Of the entire world spinning 'round the sun

Down by the banks of the Colorado

Up from the banks of the Colorado

Nightwatchmen stood guard 'round the wagon yard

And I took a pillar for a sign

That the salt of the earth was surely mine

Up from the banks of the Colorado

There is another Colorado

Wise have told me, wise women too

That I may find sweet El Dorado

Down by the banks of one sweet Colorado

Down by the banks of the Colorado

The years flowed softly before my eyes

And the circus joined me in my quest

And stayed with me throughout my test

Down by the banks of the Colorado

There is another Colorado

Wise men have told me, wise women too

That I may find my sweet El Dorado

Down by the banks of one sweet Colorado

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.