Owings gets retribution for NLCS defeat
DENVER -- When Micah Owings last walked off the Coors Field mound, it was October, he was a loser, and so was his team, after the Colorado Rockies swept the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League pennant.
When Owings stepped off the same mound Friday, this time he and the Diamondbacks were winners, spoiling the NL champion Rockies' home opener with an 8-1 win. Just 25 years old, Owings led his team's youth movement with a great performance; he allowed one run and two hits, struck out a career-high nine, and at one point retired 17 straight batters.
"He remembers," said second baseman Orlando Hudson, referring to Owings' loss in Game 4 of the NLCS. "He'll never admit it, but he does. He pitched a hell of a game today against a good lineup. He was phenomenal."Described by teammates as a quiet Southern boy (Owings is from Georgia), the right-hander threw his fastball up in the zone and was aggressive against a free-swinging Rockies lineup. Aside from a leadoff double to Willy Taveras in the first inning and a Todd Helton homer in the seventh inning, Owings allowed only two other Colorado baserunners on walks.
Entering Friday's game, he said his last Coors Field memory was a champagne-soaked clubhouse carpet, after Arizona clinched the division on the final day of the regular season. As for his last performance here, Owings said he left it all out on the field that night, when he gave up six runs (though just two earned), and he and his teammates had to watch Colorado celebrate a trip to the World Series."He's a competitive guy," manager Bob Melvin said. "Each time he had to go through some periods of doubting himself, he responded in big games."
As he made his first start of the 2008 season, Owings was coming off an inconsistent spring. He finished with a 9.77 ERA and tried pitching from a different side of the rubber, but he didn't let any of his spring difficulties creep into his mind Friday.
"This game will eat you up if you go there," Owings said. "You have to stay even keel about it."
It didn't hurt that his offense spotted him a three-run lead before he threw his first pitch. It was a nice -- even if brief -- turnaround for a team whose lack of runs last year was no secret. Much was made about Arizona being outscored by 20 runs by opponents last season even though it won the NL West title. On Friday, however, the offensive charge was led mostly by its core of young players.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds, 24, hit a two-run double in the first inning, added a solo homer in the fifth for a 4-0 lead and finished 2-for-4. Chris Young, the team's 24-year-old center fielder, got on base three times and scored twice, and Justin Upton, just 20, went 3-for-5 and hit a solo shot in the seventh for the fourth homer of his career.For years it seemed as though Tampa Bay led the majors with the youngest roster, but this year Arizona claims that honor with an average of 27 years, 184 days.
"Our rookies aren't rookies anymore," Melvin said. "The experience you get from postseason and going down the stretch last year help you in playing games like this."
In what should have been a celebratory beginning to the game, the crowd at Coors Field --- with empty seats in the upper right-field deck -- seemed a bit more muted than its rowdy demeanor just six months ago.The Rockies chose to spread out the pennant-winning festivities over the weekend, with plans to showcase their NL championship banner on Saturday and have the ring ceremony set for Sunday. That left the crowd with a standard Opening Day (complete with a flyover and highlights of last year's incredible run), but it elicited barely a peep when Arizona was introduced. Only Eric Byrnes, who incited Colorado's fans during the playoffs last year, was booed.
"I'll get booed here for the rest of my career," Byrnes said, with amusement.The Rockies inspired little emotion from then on, looking somewhat lifeless. They were two-hit at Coors Field for just the fifth time in team history, and never before in a home opener had they been held to just one run. Even shortstop Troy Tulowitzki struggled. He went 0-for-4 and made an uncharacteristic error in the third inning when he bobbled Upton's softly hit grounder. In the previous inning, the 23-year-old shortstop fumbled a grounder up the middle by Hudson, but held on for the forceout.
Tulowitzki's starting pitcher was not much better. Mark Redman seemed to be in trouble all day. There was a collective groan when the 34-year-old left-hander walked Young to lead off the game, almost as if the fans knew what was to come. He allowed five runs and nine hits and walked three in 5 2/3 innings. And now his team is 1-3."It can't get any worse," said left fielder Matt Holliday, who tied a career high with four strikeouts. "It's one of those things that it's magnified because it's Opening Day. We've got a lot of games left and hopefully [we'll] start playing good baseball.
"Somebody's going to pay at some point. Hopefully, that'll be soon."
This time, though, Owings can walk away and know it wasn't him.Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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