DENVER • Run, Raimel, run.
If there is a life lesson from Raimel Tapia’s walk-off winner on Monday, it is this: be yourself, dude. The Rockies want nothing more and nothing less from the best hair at 20th and Blake.
“Have fun!” Ryan McMahon encouraged a nervous Tapia before the latter spoke to a crowd of media at his locker in the Coors Field clubhouse. “You were the best player today!”
Thanks to “Tap,” the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks 4-3 in a game that would never end. Four hours, 23 minutes, of grit, grind and goof-ups came to a close when Tapia, the swift outfielder, slapped a single into center and scored Ian Desmond in the 11th inning. The reaction from his teammates was welcoming and warm, as if they want Tapia to feel wanted.
Charlie Blackmon, on the 10-day injured list with a strained calf, drenched Tapia with a Gatorade bath along the dugout railing. Bud Black lauded Tapia’s defense for a change. Desmond offered his longest soundbite since Desmond arrived in Colorado — all about Tapia.
“I love the fact that he just continues to grind. He’s been up and down for the last few years since I got here. He’s done everything he possibly can in the minor leagues,” Desmond said.
“We all knew it was coming. We all believed in him. He’s continued to fight. Even on days he got sent down and didn’t think it was the right move, he kept his chin up and kept on grinding,” Desmond added.
Baseball likes what baseball likes, and right now it’s not players like Tapia, a contact hitter who makes up for a lack of pop with his speed and quick hands. Monday, he saved the day — twice.
Prior to the game-winner, Tapia made a diving catch in left field that prevented an Arizona run.
“That was a great play by Tap,” Black said.
This was a great weekend for the Rox — three walk-off wins in four days. Friday, a walk-off homer by Trevor Story. Saturday, a walk-off sac fly from Tony Wolters. Monday was Tapia time.
“You can’t discount what we’re doing. It’s real,” Black said. “These are good at-bats late in the game.”
The Rockies are in a danger zone, already. They’re hanging on with precious little room for error. At 25-27 after Memorial Day, they’ve not been good enough, but they have been resilient enough. With the Dodgers racing ahead and almost out of sight in the National League West, the Rockies desperately need each and every win to keep things interesting.
“We got through April and May and we hoped to be better. But we’re not,” Black said. “So I think this series — with a division opponent that beat us two out of three here — is a big one.”
From McMahon getting thrown out at third base to Desmond dropping a fly ball that led to a Diamondbacks triple, the Rockies were fortunate to escape their own mistakes with a victory.
“We can’t afford to have too many lapses the next two-thirds of the season. I’ll put it that way,” Black said.
As Tapia spoke through a translator, Aaron Munoz, it struck me: with Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra gone, there are few Spanish speakers on Tapia’s side of the room. That must be difficult for a 25-year-old from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. Credit the likes of Blackmon and Desmond for going out of their way to embolden Tapia along the way.
“Here, let me translate!” McMahon offered to Tapia.
Of all the locker rooms in Denver, the Rockies’ is by far the most serious of the bunch. They are all about the process and staying true to their strict regimens. Perhaps they could use a touch of Tapia’s hair-on-fire, run-till-they-make-you-stop approach. Sports are better with emotion involved, anyway.
Soon as the winning hit dribbled past the infield, Tapia raised his right hand to the sky. Ballgame.
“I was celebrating early,” Tapia explained, “because Desmond is fast.”
After a sloppy start, the Rockies can secure their first three-game win streak of May on Tuesday. Don’t leave early. Their fun usually starts late.