PHOENIX – The Colorado Rockies open their 25th anniversary season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix at 8:10 p.m.
The last time the Colorado Rockies played at Chase Field was one wild October night.
It was the National League wild-card game, and the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged with an 11-8 victory in a game that featured 30 hits, 17 by Arizona. The Diamondbacks had four triples, two by Ketel Marte, a crucial one late by A.J. Pollock and a highly unexpected one, driving in two runs, from reliever Archie Bradley.
“That game will linger in my memory as long as I’m alive”, Bradley said.
Colorado All-Star Nolan Arenado, who homered in that game, isn’t forgetting, either.
“There hasn’t been a week I haven’t thought about that game”, he said.
Now the two teams, who share a spring training facility and are ever-so-familiar with each other in the NL West, will be back at it on Thursday night in their season opener.
“It doesn’t get old, right?” Bradley said. “We only saw them 15 times during spring (a slight exaggeration). Now we get them to start the season.”
Jon Gray, who never made it out of the second inning that night, will be on the mound again for the Rockies.
“It’s a whole new season”, he said. “I’m focused on that. The past happened. I can only control what happens in the future. I’m ready to see what we can do.”
Gray, 26, will be Colorado’s opening-day starter for the second straight season after going 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA last year.
“For players, there are steps to be taken all the time for growth”, Rockies manager Bud Black said. “I think that was one of them last year for Jon. He pitched in a big game and he’ll be better off for it moving forward, hopefully in his long career.”
But the Rockies won’t be facing Arizona ace Zack Greinke. A minor groin issue altered his schedule and he’s not expected to pitch until the series finale on Saturday. Instead, manager Torey Lovullo chose left-hander Patrick Corbin to start.
PHOENIX, AZ – OCTOBER 04: Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies follows through on a swing against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the National League Wild Card Game at Chase Field on October 4, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Corbin was an All-Star in 2013 and was in line to be the 2014 opening day starter, but an elbow injury that spring led to Tommy John surgery and he’s worked his way back from there. Last season, Corbin was 14-13 with a 4.03 ERA.
“A very well-deserved honor”, Lovullo said. “Told him, ‘That’s a lot of hard work and dedication that got you back to this moment.’”
Both teams believe they are good enough to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Dodgers won the division and swept Arizona in three games in the NLDS.
Lovullo was named NL manager of the year last season, his first as a big-league skipper, as Arizona went 93-69 to earn the league’s top wild card berth and first postseason appearance since 2011. The Diamondbacks return nearly everybody this year.
“We have to embrace these new expectations”, Lovullo said. “We’re in new territory now. We might have an ‘x’ on our back. But I want us to have that underdog mentality to go out and say we’re a tough, smart baseball team and we’re going to earn it every single night.”
Black got the Rockies into the postseason in his first season in Denver. The team is loaded with offensive talent and a young rotation that was surprisingly effective a year ago. As a player, Black pitched on opening day three times.
It is a special day, playing in front of a packed house, he said.
“It’s emotional because that game is different than the rest”, Black said, “even though it counts the same. Just because of the pageantry and the fanfare, it’s cool to be part of that as a player.”
It will mark the debut of a couple of new Chase Field wrinkles. First, the balls used in the game will be stored in a humidor to try to counter the dryness of the desert air that has made the park a very hitter-friendly ballpark.
And, there’s that bullpen buggy to bring in relievers from the bullpen. Pitchers have the option of using the cart or jogging in as usual.
Diamondbacks reliever T.J. McFarland rode in on the cart Tuesday in a preseason game against Cleveland.
“From the outside looking in I’m sure it looks pretty odd – funny, entertaining”, he said. “But when you sit in there it doesn’t really get you out of your zone or anything. It was kind of weird. I was facing backwards as I’m going in.”
Will he keep riding into the game?
“I don’t see why not”, McFarland said. “Might as well use it.”